The ruins of a long-dead city buzzed with the dreams of the long-dead citizens that once inhabited it, pretending they were new generations of a city that survived unchanged by the ravages of an entity appropriately granted the name of Sin.
It was a dream that would end soon. Oblivion wasn't the worst prospect, though. It was the thought he'd not go there alone. The same sordid story was told every decade on this blighted world - the noble crusades of Summoners and their trusted Guardians through trials and hells to confront Sin armed with the souls of the blessed. One Guardian would be sacrificed to become the Summoner's final and ultimate weapon. Upon calling on it, the Summoner would die and Sin would be chased away so those keeping the faith of Yevon could enjoy another decade of Calm.
It was a bittersweet fate that Summoners hadn't questioned. It was also a bloody lie, and too bad they couldn't do a damn thing about it.
The sun was starting to come up, the first hints of dawn breaking over what once had been Zanarkand. Tidus was already up and pacing about, hopping about on the rubble to a high vantage point from which to view the city. He had a lot on his mind, enough to make the newfound revelation that he was a dream of restless spirits something he could push to the back of his mind for the time being. His concern was the same as it was when he first found out what the end of a Summoner's Quest meant, and it only increased as they got closer to the final battle. No matter how much thought he and Rikku could give to the matter, there still seemed no way to save Yuna from a pointless death.
The fact that he allowed himself to become Yuna's lover added equal parts pleasure and pain - more intense than he really had capacity to express. With the promise of death hanging in the air, the passion of a lifetime had to be seized in brief moments. Tidus accepted it the way he had most other things on this journey - as a fact, not because he was comfortable with it. All this time, he had been thinking of how he'd live without Yuna.
Now it seemed the real question was how to prepare Yuna for his death.
He hated himself in that moment - worse that Seymour and his old man combined. Yuna would be spared this if he only hadn't chosen to act on those feelings. He was the one who kissed her in the spring. He was the one who asked the wrong questions, expressed skepticism, and basically screwed this whole thing up. Maybe those old Yevonites were right - the truth didn't matter, and a couple of lies could have spared her, sending her to her inevitable fate without a blink. If he stayed a dream, things would have been a lot simpler for everyone.
Tidus heard footsteps behind him, almost silent, but he knew well enough who was following him. Months ago, he wouldn't have even realized he'd been followed.
"Got a question for you, Auron."
"I may answer," cane the gruff and characteristically enigmatic reply.
Tidus got up to face the veteran Guardian. "You knew what I was the whole time, didn't you?"
A long silence as Auron looked past him and into the ruins of the city. "Yes."
"That's a lot of questions in two words."
"I know it is. Can you answer any of them, or are you going to say they're part of the favor to my old man and leave it at that?"
No reply. Tidus really didn't expect one. Auron was infamous for answering direct questions with silence, especially on the topic of his previous quest, fighting at the side of Tidus's father while they both guarded Yuna's father. Top it off with the fact that Auron was among the walking dead the same way their nemesis Seymour was, a fact they didn't figure out until they found out just how the whole lie worked and had to face Yuna's namesake, a battle they came within a hair's width of losing.
"Funny. For a moment there, you sounded like Jecht."
"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree goes the old saying." Tidus got to his feet, swinging the sword that never left his reach anymore.
"Actually, what surprises me is how little like Jecht you are. For one thing, you have table manners."
Auron's idea of humor, Tidus realized. He didn't know how to answer, so Tidus set to work practicing with his sword. Thrust, cut, thrust...the simple geometry and organization of it weren't much different than practicing kicks and passes in blitzball. Auron suddenly drew his sword.
"I came here to talk to you regarding your affair with Yuna."
The comment rattled Tidus enough to misjudge a step, causing Auron to casually parry and knock the sword from his hand. Tidus cursed under his breath and picked up his dropped sword.
"If you were going to tell me to keep my hands off her, I'm afraid it's too late for that."
"The two of you never fooled anyone, you know."
"Yeah, well...I suppose I broke some kind of taboo she didn't tell me about."
Another pause as Auron watched Tidus go through the motions. "You're gripping it too tightly. Here, try to imitate my movements."
Starting at the edge of the plateau, Auron started to practice a ritualized set of movements with his sword, Tidus watching out the corner of his eye and trying to imitate the older man's dance-like form.
"You aren't correct in believing that I disapprove of the choice you and Yuna made. There isn't a taboo about Summoners taking a Guardian as lover." Gracefully making a swinging arc over his head with his blade, Auron switched arms to continue the dance. "It is, in fact, very common. Many stories have been told of it." There was something Tidus wasn't able to place in Auron's next words. "In too many of those, the Summoner's love becomes their final Aeon, and death is as much from a broken heart as Sin."
Imitating a fast spin and a sweeping cut of Auron's, Tidus glanced over his shoulder. "You know what I think of all this."
"I know you would have made that sacrifice if Yuna had asked it of you." A long silence, punctuated only by the sound of swords cutting air and the shuffle of feet followed. "It is the same reason why your father made his sacrifice."
Tidus stopped cold. "Wait one minute. You saying that my old man and Yuna's -?!"
"Then what are you saying?" A second later, the answer came. "Oh."
"Having lost all he had loved, your father was...reluctant...to see it happen to his companions." Auron looked skyward. "There are many types of love."
"Never would have credited him with that."
"Another thing you have in common with Jecht. Both of you were more than you seemed." Finishing the ritual swordplay, Auron put away his blade. "It was why I honored the promise, and why I brought you here. It is also why I journey with you and with Yuna and cannot rest on the Farplane until this is over." He hung his head. "Duty can be another form of love."
"Auron," Tidus ventured his next question carefully. "Even knowing how it all ended, would you do it again...you and Braska? Do you think it was fair...for both of you?"
"I'd not trade a moment. Braska also said as much before he went to fight Sin, even knowing what was to come."
A curt nod. "Advice between ghosts."
As quietly as he had come, he left.