Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 45: Sunrise
Final Fantasy X/X-2
Word Count: 2600
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Our Story So Far: Against all odds, Auron, Isaaru and their allies have not only defeated Sin, but delivered its host from Yu Yevon's bonds. Now they return to Bevelle in triumph on Brother's airship.
A/N: The next chapter is at least half written, so I'll dare to post this one. This chapter is written with the assumption you've forgotten most of the story, by the way, since it's been a while!
Sin was dead, but for those who had passed through the eye of the spiral, old echoes kept returning.
Here, now: a quiet space. An airship cabin. Thrumming walls and floor. Not quite room enough for two on a narrow bunk. Blue-black light spilling through a glass window curving from floor to ceiling, emanating cold. Warm blankets, the warmer flesh beneath. The mage's flickering presence dreaming nearby like a sword in its sheath, her powers slumbering, all polished curves and steel that his fingertips knew by heart. These things Auron remembered and savored, although he felt the irrevocable gulf between then and now like the knotted flesh under his right eyelid. Still once again he sat meditating on the cold deck beside her bunk, contemplating journey's end and the gleam of one pale shoulder in the first light of dawn.
It seemed to him that Lulu's hair held a faint translucence like the boughs of Macalania trees. Or maybe he was dreaming. He was very tired.
A crash roused him. He must have dropped off after all: the sky and cabin were dusted in a pinkish-gray light. Beside him, Lulu sat bolt upright with a feral hiss and a flash that smelled of burnt feathers. Auron flicked the top blanket out from under her hands and clapped it against the floor, snuffing out sparks.
"My sword fell," he said. "Propped outside."
"Ah." She exhaled. Nonetheless, the rigid line of her shoulders flinched in unwilling counterpoint to the clanking beats of the weapon tumbling down the staircase. He remembered how he had found her in the heart of Sin's nightmare, chained to ice by his own swords. Swallowing a surge of anger, he gathered her hands very gently and kissed her knuckles until he felt her relax.
"Bad dreams?" he said.
"Of course." Defiance drew her voice taut. "But they're my dreams."
He pressed his palm against hers, then rose and moved to the door. There he listened for any sound, hoping that none of the children had been clubbed by his sword on its way down. The silence beyond was reassuring. He started to move away, then paused at a minute sound— a sniff? He thumbed the switch. The door folded back. Young Yuna stood there petrified in her pajamas, clutching her shoopuf doll over her mouth.
"Come," he grunted, leaning out past her to check for casualties. The main cabin was deserted, but he could hear a few indistinct grumbles drifting up from the guest rooms adjoining it. The clamor must have roused most of the passengers.
"S-s-sorry." She edged around him, skittish as a minnow. Then she spotted the seated figure silhouetted against the window, barely a figure at all with head bowed and hair draping her in a veil of shadow.
Lulu failed to register the intruder before Yuna had hurtled up and into the mage's lap, thrusting the plush doll into her hands and flinging small arms around her waist. Lulu stiffened. The girl nuzzled close, making small noises like Valefor with a favorite summoner. The mage's right hand lifted in self-defense.
"Hold," Auron snapped.
White fingers hovered, hesitated, settled delicately on the girl's back. Time hitched. He saw the precipitous moment when shock and wonder burst over Lulu's features like a thunderclap just before she crumpled around Yuna and buried her face in the girl's hair, squishing the doll between them.
"We're on uncle's airship," Yuna said, muffled. "It's not the bad place."
"I know," Lulu said. "I hope I wasn't giving you bad dreams again."
"A little. I-it's okay."
"No, it's not." The mage was rocking her like a moogle. "I apologize."
Sleepy with trust, Yuna curled against her. Lulu continued to rock her, composed now, relaxed. Auron's skin prickled with a powerful pang of... something... not déjà vu, exactly, but thwarted possibilities, the ghost of a wicker cradle in Besaid's jungle.
"You know who I am, right?" Yuna said.
"Of course. My little patch of sun." Lulu breathed out, ruffling the girl's red-gold curls. "Yuna." She cupped the name exactly as she used to address their summoner, a prayer after every other sacred truth had shattered. Auron grimaced. He had expected to hear some tremor of– grief? regret? But no, the child who bore Yuna's name should not be laden with guilt or ghosts. "You were singing to me last night, weren't you? Or did I dream that, too?"
"We did," Yuna said. "You heard! Dad tried too, but he can't sing."
"No." Lulu smiled. "But look at you, now. So big! Let me see you properly."
"Hi." Uncurling, Yuna returned her inspection with shy awe. "You're smaller awake."
"I should hope so, Yuna." She raised misted eyes and looked across the room, seeking him out. "Both of you," she mouthed. He shrugged and drifted over.
Yuna gingerly touched a scar on Lulu's wrist. "It's all gone? You're not sick anymore?"
"It's gone. Forever, Yuna. Sir Auron helped me break my chains."
"And it won't come back?" She twisted around, pleading. "You killed it for real, this time? No screw-ups?"
He nodded, mouth twitching. "We did."
"Good. I told Vidina he shouldn't have stepped on you." Her forehead crinkled. "But... no more gardens now, right? No more magic?"
"Well..." Lulu drew out the word in a purr, eyes unfocusing in a way that made Auron start scanning the room for flammable objects. "I filled your tanks before I left: plenty for a year or two, yes? And there's a new underground lake in Old Home's ruins that a clever Al Bhed could tap. As for magic, I can still do... this!" She wiggled her fingers over the back of Yuna's neck. A few large splats of water came tumbling down.
Yuna squirmed. "Tickles!"
"The Lady never tickles," Lulu said, raising both hands dramatically. Misunderstanding the gesture, Yuna dove towards Auron, squealing, "Safe zone!" Freed of her weight, the toy shoopuf stood up, teetering on its pudgy feet and lifting its trunk in imitation of the mage's spell-casting. There was a quite unnecessary crack of thunder. A fine caressing mist began to rain down around them, mild as a lullaby, tinted by sunrise to the color of Yuna's hair. Yuna whooped and released Auron's belt, laughing and reaching for the ceiling. The shoopuf twirled comically. Moisture beaded on windows, panels and cables along the walls, capturing the dawn in liquid gems like the ice-flecked canopy of Macalania Forest.
"Machina don't like water," Auron said gruffly. He would never admit it, but the damp fabric of Lulu's white tunic was difficult to ignore.
Lulu gave him a coy look. "You looked thirsty."
"Hmph." He frowned for appearance's sake, secretly glad to find her peculiar adolescent streak intact. It was her old game, masking flirtation behind magic's veils.
"Auron's a grouch," Yuna said, getting up to dance with the shoopuf. "Shoopuf, shoopuf, grumpy umpy shoopuf! Shoopuf, shoopuf, scoop 'em up....aw, wait!" She caught the doll as it toppled over, released from Lulu's spell. "Do it again!"
"Outside." Lulu ruffled her damp curls. "Outside, I'll show you how grouchy he can be when I release a cloudburst on his head... by accident, of course."
The deck pulsed once, and there was a subtle tug of deceleration. Tearing his eyes away from the pair, Auron looked out. The flare of a thousand mirrored points in the distance impressed even him. "Look."
Below, the forested shores of Macalania were sparkling with fire. The lake was directly underneath them, safely out of sight, while the Bay of Bevelle stretched out before them, bisected by the blackened sticks of the Highbridge jutting out of the water. The sea was painted pale lemon with crests of saffron. In the hazy distance, the mountain-city of St. Bevelle rose up, a children's toy enameled in blue and scarlet, chipped here and there. The stump of a tower on its crown was barely noticeable, dwarfed by the magnificent jewel-box buildings around it. Some were tarnished or had crushed roofs, but from afar these blemishes were hardly noticeable. Every eastern-facing window flashed.
"Wow," Yuna said.
"The city of St. Bevelle," Lulu said, falling back into travelogue so easily that Auron smirked. "Seat of the four maesters of Yevon. Sir Auron trained there among the warrior monks, and my first Yuna was raised there."
"Oh-h. But she was born in Bikanel, right?"
"I believe so."
"Lady Yuna." The girl spoke in a hushed voice. "I remember your dream-pictures of her. She helped you get ready in the morning, right? You liked that." Hugging Lulu, she crawled around her carefully, settling onto the pillow behind her. She combed her fingers through the mage's long mane and divided off a section with an air of solemn ritual. Her fingers twinkled through the black as she began to braid with deft, quick movements. The mage's lashes glistened.
Outside the window, Bevelle began to tilt, scrolling off to the left as the Celsius turned towards it. Sliding into view was a frozen headland shining with hoarfrost. Beyond it lay the open ocean, steel leafed with a broad avenue of white-hot gold leading to the sun peeping over the horizon.
It was a dawn. Sin had bathed in many of them, surely, its hard hide unlovely in the sun's blaze under a burnished sky. But Auron had not needed his brief, dangerous merging with the Lady, when Yu Yevon had tried to absorb him, to know that Sin was blind. It sensed only things outside its shell: densities, surfaces, energies, soul-sparks, but never light. Lulu shrank and shaded her eyes but would not look away.
"We'll get you some goggles," Yuna said. "Then you can be an Al Bhed!"
"That... that would be lovely."
"Mm-hm!" Yuna poked Auron with the braid she was working on. "Hey! You help too."
Auron glanced at the mass of hair still blanketing Lulu's shoulders. Rules of engagement tugged at the back of his mind: never on duty, never where others might see, never when someone might burst in and— Discretion be damned. It was not as if Wakka could kill him, and there was no longer an observant summoner who might balk at parting dear friends when it came time to send. Shucking his gauntlet, he plunged his hands into black waves and gathered up a tress for braiding. Lulu arched her back, leaning against his fingers as they moved across her scalp and down. The view from above was... rewarding.
Yuna beamed up at him. "Race you!"
Lulu chuckled, the louder for Yuna's pleased giggles.
"So," Yuna said. "You're coming home with us, right? Back to Bikanel?"
"Hmm," Lulu said. "I should like to. But there are a few things Sir Auron and I must do."
"Celebrate, for one." Lulu pointed towards the city. "When Sin falls, Yevon holds a festival to commemorate the new Calm. There will be parades and fireworks—"
Auron gave a soft snort.
"—and I hope your parents will let you stay for them. Would you like that?"
"Fireworks?" Yuna beamed. "Mum makes fireworks in the kitchen!"
"Bigger fireworks. Much bigger."
"Ooo! Yes, please." Yuna's face fell. "But after that, you're going away? Where to?"
Auron filled in when the mage hesitated. "Mount Gagazet. To check on the Ronso."
Lulu's voice softened. "Yes. To visit Sir Auron's family."
"Auron has a family?" Yuna looked from one to the other quizzically. "But I thought—"
"As you and I are family, Yuna."
"Oh, right. The Ronso!" She reached the end of the plait, licked the tip and made a neat knot before starting on the next. "And after that?"
"We shall see. Sir Auron and I are still guardians, Yuna."
"Awww." Her pout dissolved at a sudden thought. "Hey! Since Sin's dead, I can be a summoner now, right? And would you be my guardians? Sir Auron, too?"
The mage could not see the eyebrow Auron arched in her direction. "I'm sorry, Yuna. Even if your parents would allow it, there's no aeons left. The fayth asked me to free them. They've gone to the Farplane."
"All of them?" Yuna pressed. "But I wanted to meet them!"
Except Shiva, Auron thought, but did not say it. How many times now had Lulu undertaken one pilgrimage to head off another? "Summon dreams from the living, Yuna, not from the dead."
"Sir Auron is right," Lulu said, voice growing husky with focused tenderness and a hint of apology. "You know what it is to be a fayth, Yuna. Love them enough to let them go."
Yuna's face clouded over. The floor pitched suddenly, cutting off another building protest. The bulkheads rattled as the ship descended, buffeted by warmer air from the bay. At first Auron thought the noise was due only to turbulence, but the pounding racket grew louder as the ship steadied. Someone was hammering on the door.
"Daaa-aaad!" Yuna clapped her hands over her ears.
"Wakka, I hear these Al Bhed have a magical device called a doorbell," Lulu called. "Enter."
"Morning, Lu!" Beaming, Wakka ducked under the door as it opened. "Hey, Yunie! Thought I'd find you up here."
"We're doing Lulu's hair!" she said, waving the fluffy end of a braid. "And look! Lulu made it rain!" Hopping down, she skated across the wet floor, crashing into his legs. "Wheee!"
"That's great!" he said, catching her. "But now you gotta hold on tight. We're landing. Grab a quick bite in Bevelle, then we'll go home. Ready for some real food, Lu?"
"I...think so?" She gave a rueful laugh. "I suppose I should be famished."
Auron grunted behind her. "I am."
"But the fireworks!" Yuna wrapped around Wakka's leg, pleading. "We have to stay in Bevelle with Lulu!"
"Fireworks?" Wakka gave the mage an anxious look, then clapped his forehead. "Oh, the Calm Festival. I forgot. Well, uh..." Auron suspected that the mage's state of dress was affecting the man's vocal chords. Auron finished off a braid and moved to retrieve his coat while Wakka fumbled. "You wanna stay, Lu?" he said, bewildered. "In Bevelle?"
"Only for a little while, of course." Lulu shrugged into the coat with more dignity than the tattered garment deserved. "It's not that I don't want to see your home, Wakka. I just..."
"...need some time to think, ya?" He smiled. "It's okay, Lu. You do what you need. Yeah, this'll work. Elder Cid has to run straight back to Baaj, but Rikku and I can stick around and bum a ride with Gippal when he comes back. The kids, too," he said, seeing Yuna's stricken expression. "Then we'll see how you're feeling."
"Isaaru," Auron said, bracing himself against the wall through another sharp jerk. "Is he awake?"
"Uhhhh..." Wakka cleared his throat, gaze suddenly fixing on the man's hands resting in Lulu's hair. His brow furrowed. "Hey, what's he still doin' in here, anyway?"
"Wakka," Lulu prodded. "The summoner. He was injured, wasn't he?"
"Oh, right." Wakka shook his head. "Haven't seen him since we came aboard. Guess he's still in his cabin."
"Go on," Lulu said, taking the braid from Auron's hands with a light touch. "We'll catch up later."
He gave her a blank look.
She smiled up at him, sad yet approving. "One of us, at least, should see a summoner home."
Next Chapter: Departures
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