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When Auron discovered his flask missing, he had a fairly good idea of where it might have gone. Rikku’s thefts didn’t stop off the battlefield, though it seemed more a matter of habit than malice. And she’d been looking frayed around the edges, lately. They all had, but she was young, and hadn’t yet discovered that alcohol didn’t help with the fraying.

He had to shake off a shiver of discomfort before he went looking for her. It always made him nervous to watch her steal, the way her hand dipped through pyreflies as if they were nothing. He feared to find himself as permeable to her touch as the fiends she stole from.

The airship was groaning around him, a low, worrying note of strain. He pressed a hand to the old metal of the hallway. “Now’s not the time,” he told it. They were almost ready to face Sin. If he could hold out a little longer, so could the airship.

Now, where would a teenager go to get drunk on a crowded airship? He checked her room and found Lulu meditating, checked the bridge and found her father, checked the hold and found the Al Bhed Psyches running sprints. With a sense of dread -- surely she wouldn’t be so stupid? -- he checked the deck.

Rikku and Tidus sat inside the airlock doors, which were open to the wind, crosslegged and shoulder to shoulder. They were looking out over the deck, the wind tearing at their matching blonde heads, and some combination of those things and the really very strong sake in his flask kept them from noticing him until he cleared his throat.

They were both flushers, he noticed, as they looked up at him. Both of them bright red and grinning. “Auron!” Tidus said, “I knew you’d come. Join us!”

Rikku clutched the flask. “I’ll only give it back if you sit with us,” she said, swaying back to lean against his legs. She was throwing off heat the way only a drunk could, a bright point of heat in the chill of the wind.

“It’s not yours to give,” he said, reaching down and pulling it from her hands. She didn’t fight him too hard, just stuck out her tongue. They’d made a dent, but less than he feared. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be throwing up all of his good sake in an hour.

He took a long pull, staring out over the deck. Somewhere down below them, Spira sprawled, a mess of death and hypocrisy and hate, but he could see only the bright blue of the sky, the wisps of white clouds. He could have been in Zanarkand, or on the Farplane, or somewhere he’d never heard of, far from death and destruction.

He sat down. Tidus cheered. Rikku toppled over onto his shoulder and pressed a wet kiss to his cheek. “I forgive you,” she said magnanimously, and stole back the flask.

He let her, and watched as she sipped, made a face, and passed it to Tidus. “Thank you,” he said.

“You don’t want to know what for?” Tidus asked, in a tone that told him they’d discussed it in great detail.

Auron could guess, but he didn’t want to ruin their fun. “Tell me,” he said, holding out his hand for his flask. Tidus passed it back, and he drank.

“For pushing,” Rikku said, clever hands scrabbling at his. As always, he held his breath, waited for her touch to slip through his pyreflies and push to the core. What had he coalesced around? Would anger have hardened into a frag grenade? “To Zanarkand,” she finished, and tipped the flask back. This time, she tilted it too far, and sake ran down her chin and she coughed.

“Thank you,” he said again, not quite sincere, not quite insincere. He had not held her anger against her, but neither had he cared. They would see and understand, or they wouldn’t. Either way, all he had to do was push.

“Hey,” she said, flinging her arm out and pushing the jug into Tidus’ chest. He took it and drank as Rikku lurched farther into Auron’s space, almost pushing into his lap. He caught her cold hand on its way to his face, startled at the blatant invasion. She wriggled her fingers in his grip, as if confirming that he was holding her hand. “That’s how you got your scar, right?”

“Yes,” he said slowly.

“It looked like a pretty bad hit,” she said. “Hey. Hey. How’d you survive that? There were all of us and we almost didn’t make it out.”

Tidus went very quiet and still on her other side. Luckily, she was too focused on him to notice. “Luck, I suppose,” he said, when it became clear that she wouldn’t be redirected.

“You have terrible luck,” she told him baldly. His grip loosened and her hand darted forward, jarring his glasses and smoothing over his scar. He held his breath - would she slip beneath his skin? “Why are you still here, sir?” she asked, pulling back. Her impression of Seymour left much to be desired, but then, so did Seymour himself.

“Say what you must,” he told her.

She drew back farther, falling against Tidus, shaking her head. “Maybe later,” she said. “Hey, you’ve got to drink too.” She pulled the jug from Tidus’ nervous hands and shoved it into Auron’s.

Obligingly, he drank. Well, she knew, or suspected so strongly as to be the same. That was...something. As the topic moved away, Tidus relaxed once more. Apparently, before he’d found them, they’d been discussing what to drop on Bevelle. Rikku was advocating for shoopuff dung, while Tidus claimed that Seymour would be the more fitting punishment.

“You know we’re gonna see him again,” he said, waving his hands passionately, “and it’s Bevelle’s fault he’s the way he is, so like...we should give him back.”

“Yeah, but then he’d be on the ship and that would just be the worst,” Rikku countered, and Auron had to side with her.

“Zaon’s stone,” he said. “Make them face their lies.”

It went on like that for a while and he found himself...if not happy, then closer than he had come in a long time. Like all things, it couldn’t last. When his flask was empty, he considered it a sign and stood to go, his head much lighter than it had been when he sat down.

Rikku leaned back against Tidus, craning her neck to look him in the face. “Hey,” she said. “Hey, do you want to know what you are?”

“I know what I am,” he said, ignoring the chill that had run through him at her words.

“Yeah, a troublemaker,” Tidus said, wrapping a friendly arm around Rikku’s neck and giving her a noogie.

“Hm,” Auron said, and went back inside.

As the doors closed, he heard Rikku say, “Light curtain. Bet my life on it. Big softie.”