"I'm going to dance now, I'm afraid." --Neil Gaiman, Sandman
He is standing at the windows in the lounge of the airship, looking over the clouds, when he hears the footsteps coming up behind him. He can tell who it is; the bells in her hair-wrap chime and jingle softly as she moves. He does not speak. Neither does she; she simply draws close to stand next to him, her eyes following the direction of his, looking out over the plains of Spira.
A long moment passes; she clasps her hands together, nervously, and takes a deep breath. "Sir Auron?"
He does not answer, only shifts slightly. She takes that as her cue to continue, and the rest of her words come rushing out, tripping over themselves as they go. "Will you tell me how my father died?"
He has been waiting for this question, but the waiting has not made the question any easier to contemplate answering. It is another long moment before he can answer, and in that moment, he knows that there are so many things that he could say.
He does not say (because it so easily could have been her): it took us four days to cross the mountain that could have been traversed in one, and Jecht so close to drowning in the fluid from his own lungs the entire way. We would not have made it if it had not been for Braska's healing magic. We ran out of ethers halfway over the mountain, and Braska didn't even blink; he just kept reaching out his hands, over and over again, until I would swear he was so transparent that you could see through him. And never once did he even hint at how much it was costing him.
He does not say (because no child should ever know how her father behaves at high altitudes): Braska laid in the darkness, his body pressed up against me, and shivered in the cold. His back was warm against my side, and he did not look at me, just faced away into the darkness of the cave. We had summitted the mountain, finally made it over the damn mountain that was doing its best to kill us with altitude and cold and fiends and snow, and Zanarkand was on the other side of the last little hill, waiting for us. Braska knew that it might be the last night he would have. I was lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling of the cave without blinking, with Braska lying against one arm and Jecht lying against the other. I could feel Braska shivering, and I knew that it was not just cold; I could feel each tear as it slid down his face and dropped against my skin. And I knew that I could not let Braska know that I was awake, because the moment he knew that he was not alone in the darkness he would force himself to swallow the tears, to appear strong for his guardians.
He does not say (because he does not like to call up the memories himself): it was bright enough to see clearly even through the depths of night, and I'll never forget the way that the moon glinted off the snow. The sky was cloudless, and you could see every star in the sky. It was as if the mountain could sense that the footsteps falling upon its paths belonged now to the Lord High Summoner Braska, and not to the ragged party that had gone over its summit in the other direction. Braska did not speak, had not spoken a word since leaving Yunalesca's chambers. Two had gone in, and only one emerged, and that one did not acknowledge anything but the trail beneath his feet. You could see it when you looked at him, the way his purpose was gathered around him like a cloak. You could see it in his eyes. We walked through the night, lit only by the halo of the moonlight, and the fiends and monsters drew aside for us as Braska passed by.
He does not say (because it would give far too much away): Braska reached out a hand and brushed it against my cheek when we finally arrived on the plain of the Calm Lands. It was the faintest ghost of fingertips against skin, and the only words he spoke -- the last words he ever spoke -- were "Make sure that Yuna is taken care of." Perhaps he already knew about the similar promise that I had made to Jecht. Perhaps the burden that he carried gave him the ability to sift through my very thoughts and pluck out those few threads. I was number than the snow had left me as my summoner turned and strode out to his death. He held his hands wide, closed his eyes, and stood more still than I had ever seen him before. In the soft glow of the dawn, I would have sworn that he was not even breathing.
He does not say (because she already knows): Every summoner has an element, the one element that he or she simply resonates with above all others. Braska's was lightning; he always felt like a cool summer storm, washing in to bring rain to the dry fields, crackling with the purpose of the fanatic behind the placid exterior. It was the lightning that came to his hands when he finally spread them apart minutes or hours later; I could taste the ozone in the back of my throat as he took the first steps. Or perhaps it was my tears that I could taste. I don't even know if I was crying or not. I thought that I was, but I couldn't be sure. My eyes were only on Braska, on my summoner Braska, as he finally took his last steps.
He does not say (because he does not have the words): Braska's face was peaceful for the first time in weeks when he opened his eyes and began his last Sending. The last of the lines finally smoothed out of his face, and he flowed like water running downhill from one motion to the next. I'd seen him perform Sendings before, of course, but this one was different. This was the one he had been waiting to do for his entire life. He was Sending himself at the same time as he was summoning his final aeon. He knew when he took that first step where it would end; he had known all along. It was in his eyes, and I could see it when he looked at me. He knew that he was killing himself, and he didn't care, and in the end, he smiled even as he reached out with those lightning-kissed hands and reached for what had once been Jecht.
He does not say (because he has never, will never tell anyone): for half a heartbeat when Braska finally stilled, I thought perhaps he was strong enough after all, perhaps he could be the first to survive, until Braska wavered and then fell; I was there to catch him, but what I caught was not Braska at all. He turned to dust and slipped through my fingers, blowing away on the dawn winds even as I tried to hold on to him, consumed from within by the power it takes to call forth an aeon for the first time. And I was left with nothing more than his robes.
He does not say (because no one else has ever known): I loved your father more than I could ever possibly say, and a part of me died with him, and the only reason that I am still here is that I made promises to the people I love, to take care of the people that they love.
He does not say any of this. Instead, he turns to look at Braska's daughter, and says, choosing each word carefully, "It is trite to say that someone died well, because there is no good way to die; but your father's death brought peace to Spira, and he knew that, in the end. His last words were of you." He pauses, and perhaps it is just the sensitivity of years that lets him hear, and answer, what she does not say. "And he would be so very proud of you today, for having made the choice that he never could."
She looks back at him with eyes that are shimmering with tears, but gives him a watery smile; his heart breaks anew, because he knows that smile better than almost anything in the world.
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