Designed To Fade

BY : tuatha
Category: Final Fantasy X > General
Dragon prints: 488
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy X, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

XxxxxxXxxxxxX

Jecht shook me by the shoulder roughly. "Where tha hell 'm I
shupposed ta sleep?"

"What?" He was leaning against me, his breath sour on my face and I
was instantly wide awake.

"'m not shleeping on the floor."

"Have you been drinking?"

"Sho what?" He slurred, drunkenly defiant. He was also too loud, and
would wake Braska if he continued.

I rolled away from him and he grunted as his head hit the mattress.
I padded over to where Braska was still asleep, and I pushed his
shoulder until he turned, giving me enough room to slide into the
bed beside him. Somehow despite the rude awakening I fell asleep
again almost straight away, but woke again hours before daylight.
Braska was now resting with his head against my chest, drooling a
little, and his elbow dug uncomfortably into my ribs. I looked
across at Jecht who was now snoring loudly, his head flung back in
his sleep. I turned, pulling Braska's arm out from my side and he
settled against me more comfortably, muttering something too low for
me to hear before he returned to slumber.

I closed my eyes, torn between two recollections from my childhood,
one that I wished I could forget, and one that I only wished I could
remember more clearly. In the strange way of memories, my parents
were a snapshot, both standing facing me, the light behind them
streaming in through the open window and door of our house, but
their figures were just a blur, an outline with no recognisable
features. When I recalled the only image that remained of them in my
mind I could imagine myself hugging her, my head no higher than her
waist as she put her arms around me. Lying there with Braska
reminded me of that feeling.

But in the dark and silence I still felt a sense of unease. Perhaps
it was being in the temple again. After my parents died I grew up in
the dormitory at Bevelle, and sharing beds with other boys became
the rule rather than the exception. It was only the oldest and
strongest boys who could choose their bed companions, and they were
the ones most likely to invade the space of the others.

I'd only been six or seven years old when I first went there, and
the youngest children thought nothing of it. Fights would break out
occasionally at night, and it wasn't until a few years later when my
own head was pressed into the pillows to muffle my cries while my
body was violated that I learned why.

The next day I'd felt too ill to move, and I'd been left alone, but
several nights later and I don't know how manyes aes after
that...I'd finally become desperate enough to slip away from my
usual assigned duties in the temple gardens. I'd gone down the hill
to where the warrior monks would practice swordsmanship and other
fighting arts, waiting till the head of the order noticed me.

"I want to fight." I'd told him.

He'd looked down at me, a scrawny child of no more than ten years at
that time, and shook his head. "You're too little."

"I will fight!" I replied, narrowing my eyes obstinately. Something
in my resolve may have impressed him, but still he gestured to the
pile of swords nearby, dismissively.

"I'm sure you will, but even the smallest sword would be too heavy
for you."

I ignored his sage advice and went over, looking at the pile of
bright blades, finally fixing my eye on the hilt of one. I reached
down with both hands and heaved.

"You'll never be able to lift it." The man said again, but I grit my
teeth and hauled it up off the ground.

"I will!" I think I was talking more to the sword than to him, by
then. My feet slid apart as my muscles strained for purchase, then I
swung the sword up in an arc. It was indeed too heavy, falling again
since I did not have the strength to balance it in the air, but I
braced myself and crouched beneath as it hit my shoulder. I
staggered under the weight, my back bowing, but I wouldn't give in.

My feet slid apart even further and my arm muscles trembled with the
effort of balancing it on my shoulder. I did not feel anything
approaching triumph, or pleasure at proving him wrong, only
determination, only the desperate need to try. I think it was the
latter that finally persuaded him to help me.

"Alright." He came over and helped lift the sword from me, dropping
it back in the pile with a clang of metal on metal. "You'll cut your
ear off if you're not careful, with a trick like that."

Then he led me over to the woodpile. The trunk of an entire tree
rested there, and he handed me an axe, showing me how to swing it
correctly. Then he pointed to the woodpile. "When this is all over
there, you can come back to the sword, right?"

I nodded gratefully, and bowed respectfully in gratitude. "Yes,
sir."

When the children returned from the fields that day, I was still
swinging the axe despite the blisters that had formed all over my
palms. One boy slowed down as he walked, watching me, and I raised
the axe, my eyes sharper than the blade I held in my hands. After
that I was left alone at night.

It was an unspoken secret that we shared as boys, and I did not
speak of it now either. I doubted that anyone like Braska or Jecht
who had not grown up in such an institutionalised setting would
understand, but it was something that I'd wanted to leave behind in
the dark. I preferred to keep the memory locked up in the past, and
telling someone else would make it real, not just a memory that I
could pretend to forget.

It was strange that even though I wanted to I couldn't forget it.
Like a wound, whenever my thoughts touched the edges of those
recollections they were clear and precise and painful, undulled by
time. Unlike my parents. That memory had been overshadowed by the
eventat fat followed them, running up the path, my sandals slapping
hard against the dusty ground, out of breath, the stitch in my side
that left me limping and wheezing as I struggled to go for help.

I'd arrived at the house of the nearest neighbours, unable to speak
with exhaustion and distress, stuttering with tears streaming down
my face. After what seemed like an eternity while I was unable to
speak the man turned away and gestured to his sons to go with him,
while his wife took me inside.

It was not Sin that took my parents, unlike many of the other boys I
met at the temple afterwards. My parents hadn't been taken by the
monster or its spawn, but a simple, stupid accident. They used
machina, temple approved machina in the fields, as did the rest of
the farming community where I'd grown up.

I'm not sure how I knew exactly what happened, in the following days
someone must have explained how my mother had been using a metal
pole to clear the hopper, walking along beside it as my father ran
the machine. She either fell in, or her dress or sleeve was caught,
and instead of turning off the machina my father tried to free her
in desperation and been caught as well. All I remembered was the red
of his blood and hers, everywhere, staining the grass, splattered
over the metal of the machina, and all over them.

Later I often wondered why he acted so stupidly and recklessly, as
if there could ever be an answer, if he'd just acted instinctively
to try to save her, or if he'd not cared about his own safety. After
that I was dispossessed, being too y to to be alone, and the farm
reverted to the community. And so I lost my family and my home. All
I had left was a faded memory. But lying here with Braska beside me
was a comfort. I had nothing to fear but my own memories that would
not let me sleep.

My troubling reflections might have continued indefinitely but
Braska half woke, and realised I was awake too. His hand patted my
face, mashing over my eyebrow uncomfortably, then slid over the side
of my head. "I can hear you thinking." He murmured, softly.

"hnnnn." I told him.

"Got to sleep." He murmured, his hand coming around my neck as he
curled against my side. I closed my eyes and listened to his soft
snores, his face pressed against my shoulder. Eventually I slept
again, sinking into dreams that I forgot by morning.


XxxxxxXxxxxxX


I drifted in Zanarkand, watching them, watching over him, but I
maintained a distance from the people around me. I 'visited' them
once a week to maintain the pretence that I had a life to return to
in the intervening days.

She wondered at mvotivotion to the promise I'd made Jecht, no doubt
imagining us in our cups one night and making foolish declarations,
never thinking there would ever be a need to keep them. I think
she'd expected that I would cease my visits once I'd allayed my
conscience, but she accepted it, as she did most things then, not
really caring about anything but her own sorrow.

The boy too accepted my presence, but not for the same reasons. It
was something he'd change if he could, banishing me from existence,
but was powerless to affect. I watched him from the deck as I'd
arrived earlier than usual that day. He kicked desultorily at the
ball, trying to bounce it against the mast, but more often than not
missing and having to run after it as it rolled away across the deck
of the houseboat.

I could see his frustration mounting as he lined the ball up once
more. He almost missed the ball entirely and it skewed away from his
foot, spinning wildly back towards me. He saw me standing there
then.

His anger was directed at the nearest object. "Stupid ball!"

I'd had enough. I went over and stopped the ball, picking it up and
placing it back between his feet. Then I crouched down to his level.
"Why do you let it defeat you?"

"I'm not. I'm trying..." He didn't look at me, his eyes resting
somewhere near my shoulder. He seemed to cringe slightly at my
proximity and I wondered if he was afraid of me. My scar was
unpleasant, even I disliked seeing it, so for a boy of his age it
was undoubtedly even more so. I tried not to let the thought bother
me.

"You try, yes. Here, and here." I grasped his upper arm, the muscle
there, and then knocked against his chest above his breastbone. "But
somewhere up here," and I pressed a hand against his head in
demonstration "...you listen to a voice inside that says 'I can't do
it.'"

He sniffled, and I was reminded of Jecht saying he was a crybaby.
Jecht had never had the patience to help the boy in the way he
needed. "You need to listen differently."

"How?" He still didn't look at me, but at least he was listening, as
though he was interested in what I had to say.

"You'll know when you hear it. When the voice says 'I *can* do
anything, if I keep trying.' you'll be more successful."

When I stood he looked down at the ball, lying between his feet, but
didn't move. "Enough for now. Go wash up, lunch will be ready soon."

He didn't look happy about it but he complied anyway. I turned to
see her watching me. She turned away to face out to sea, leaning
over the railing so I went over and stood beside her, also watching
the horizon.

"I'm glad you're here. I just sometimes feel like...I can't..." she
broke off whatever she was going to say, then she continued more
steadily. "It's a relief to know that someone..."

"I understand."

"Tidus just doesn't...he isn't very strong." It was an
understatement of sorts, both physically and mentally. She sighed.
"Jecht couldn't understand, he didn't know how to be gentle, the way
you are with him."

I remained silent, not sure how to take her words. It hurt to be
compared to the boy's father in that way. If Jecht had been able to
return I knew he would have changed that.

"Do you ever get more than one day away from your work?" Her
question was wistful, uncertain. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said
that. You probably have family, and you've already spent so much
time helping us."

"I...no. I have no family...living." I considered, choosing my words
carefully. "If I may I'd like to take Tidus to the stadium on
Saturdays, when I'm here in Zanarkand. There's a clinic run there in
the mornings, it would help him I think. And he can stay for the
matches in the afterno"
"

"You don't have to..."

"I was considering asking you about it, before. You could come too,
if you wanted."

She shook her head, but the next Saturday she came and sat in the
bleachers while Tidus participated in the training clinic. He was a
good swimmer, and he held his own as he and the other children were
set laps around the pool, not even touching the blitzballs that
floated near the centre of the smaller training sphere.

I left them there, implying that I had other 'work' to take care of,
and returned near midday. She was standing with Tidus, his hair
still dripping water at the ends, her hand on his shoulder.

"Do you want to?" she was asking him as I approached.

"Yes."

She turned to me. "I'm going home now...I'll leave him in your
care."

I nodded as she turned to the boy. "Be good." she admonished him.
"Do what Auron says."

Once she left I took him out to get tickets for the game and some
food at one of the stands. We watched the exhibition match and the
league game later, and I dropped the pretence of having any other
work to do. Tidus was too young to notice anything strange about the
fact that I could spend the afternoon doing nothing more than
sitting at a sports game with a little boy.

It became a new part of his life afthat,hat, spending the Saturday
with me, as his mother did not go with us again. She stayed at the
houseboat, alone with her thoughts and content to leave the boy to
me for a day.


XxxxxxXxxxxxX


Besaid was tiny, both the island and the village. No more than a
half dozen huts clustered around the temple, which was itself
situated on the top of a gentle cliff that overlooked the bay where
we'd arrived. Jecht made a disparaging comment about the primitive
conditions when the village came into view before us on the path,
but Braska stopped for a moment, looking around and seeming charmed
by the simple peacefulness of the place.

"This looks like a fine place to live. Auron..."

"Yes, my lord?"

"When this is all over...will you bring Yuna here? I want her to be
able to live her life somewhere like this, far from conflict."

I knew what he was thinking. He didn't have to say 'When I am dead.'

He knew that I would return alone. He wanted me to keep his daughter
safe, and bring her here where Sin would only be a memory. At least
until it returned again. My response of course was assent. "You have
my word. I will bring her here."

His gaze was serious. "Thank you, Auron. You're a good friend."

Jecht interrupted, looking at us impatiently. "What are you guys
doin'? Let's go."

He led us down the path complaining about his stomach. A little
child was crouched in the dirt outside one of the first huts. She
looked up and saw Braska first. He paused as the girl ran over to
him, and waved her hand up at him, her fingers splayed out to
display the dirt she'd collected. "Eesh!" She told him proudly.

He bent down to her, and examined her offering gravely. Then he
smiled at her and the little girl's face opened into a wider,
brighter smile, her blue eyes lighting up and sparkling brightly.

"Eesh!" she told him again.

A young woman ran over, bowing hastily at Braska as she pulled the
child's hand away.
Braska gave her an admiring glance as she gathered up the girl in
her arms, expertly swinging her around to avoid the muddy fingers
the little girl was still cheerfully waving around. She smiled back
at him. Beside me Jecht let out a long low whistle. She looked at
him and gave him a slow smile, completely unfazed by the way his
eyes travelled over her body.

"Hey, babe." He drawled. She eyed him but did not reply, turning
back to Braska instead. "My lord, Summoner?"

"I am Braska." He bowed gravely then straightened up. "These are my
guardians, Jecht, and Auron."

"Welcome to Besaid. Please, come to the temple, Lord Summoner."

Jecht was watching her as she walked away with Braska in tow.

"Don't." I warned him, as Braska followed the girl towards the
village centre.

"What?"

"Just don't. Her husband is probably out fishing, all you'll cause
is trouble for everyone."

"A man can look. Anyway, what's the big deal? Just 'coz you and
Braska like sucking each others..."

I turned without thinking, my shoulder pressed against his chest and
my sword across his throat. He broke off speaking, leaning backwards
to avoid the blade.

"If you want those to be your last words...continue."

I stared at him but he gazed back defiantly. "Is that sword your
answer to everything?"

'Yes' I thought, but didn't say. Somehow every word out of his mouth
was like salt poured on an open wound I didn't even know I had. Our
stand-off finally ended when Braska's arm inserted itself between
him and me, grasping my wrist and pulling me back from the edge.

"Auron!" He was shocked by my actions, and he looked between me and
Jecht like a man at his wits end. "Why? Why do you two do this, all
the time?"

Jecht shrugged, stepping away. "Auron just can't take a joke. Ask
him what *his* problem is." He turned and loped away. Braska turned
back to me. "Auron?"

I turned my back to him. "My lord."

He came around to face me, and put his hands on my shoulders.
"Seriously, Auron. I've never seen you like this. You have to tell
me what's going on between you and Sir Jecht."

I shook my head but he was adamant. "No. You will. As soon as I
greet the high priest and we can go somewhere to talk. Understood?"

I did not reply, but he knew I had no choice but to assent to
whatever he told me. He looked back towards the village, then pulled
me along until I complied, following him reluctantly, like a man
heading for his own execution.

XxxxxxXxxxxxX


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