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Second Chance

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He sat there anxiously, watching the older man as he lay sleeping in bed. Auron had been out of it for four hours now, and he was getting more worried with each minute that passed. He didn't know what he'd do if something were to happen to Auron.

Heck, he hadn't even thought something could happen to his self-appointed guardian. Auron was always so... well, he wasn't quite sure what it was he thought Auron was, but it was something. Not immortal, certainly, and not invincible, but pretty damn close. Auron was simply meant to be around until Tidus died of old age, that's all. That something could happen to him was unthinkable.

But, here he was, sitting here watching over Auron and hoping desperately the man wouldn't die on him. That fiend had attacked him and bitten him pretty bad. Tidus supposed he was lucky the fiend hadn't bitten all of them, or he was pretty sure they wouldn't have been around right now. They would have been in whatever kind of afterlife there was.

He was also lucky they'd been able to get Auron back to the houseboat. The man was tall, and damned heavy besides. Nor was he much help, drifting in and out of consciousness as he had been. It had taken all four of them to get him here and into the bed. His friends had left once they did, looking shaken and thankful to be alive. Tidus had then brought a chair from the table downstairs and set it next to Auron's bed, where he promptly sat in it and watched Auron, bringing him to the point he was at now.

Four hours and ten minutes. How long would Auron stay unconscious? How long was it safe for him to be unconscious, anyways? Tidus didn't really know much about medical things. Auron hadn't suffered any head injuries, so he was assuming it was okay... he just wasn't really sure. But he had lost a fair amount of blood. Seeing all the blood on Auron and on the ground, instead of in his body where it belonged, had almost made Tidus faint. And he wasn't the type to do that.

It had scared him, for sure. He'd thought Auron was dead right then, but Auron had somehow managed to lift his head up and give Tidus this grim sort of smile, as if he'd been able to tell what Tidus was thinking. So he'd been relieved, but only slightly. Auron could still die. He had no way of knowing how serious the injury was.

"Don't you dare die on me," Tidus whispered to him. Auron shifted slightly on the bed, giving Tidus an anxious pause for a moment. But Auron didn't wake, and he was still once more. Tidus couldn't even tell if he was breathing, since his chest didn't seem to be rising up and down. Tidus blinked, eyes widening as possible implications of what that could mean hit him... then Auron moved again.

Tidus sighed, relieved beyond words.

* * *

Auron groaned, and opened his eye, wincing as a stinging pain suddenly made itself known in his left shoulder.

"Auron!" Tidus cried, barely resisting the urge to stand and fling his arms around his guardian in desperate relief. It had been eight hours, he was seriously starting to think Auron wasn't ever going to wake... but no, Auron's amber gaze was upon him, and he was awake and alive, if not well.

Auron only continued to gaze at the fourteen year old next to him. He actually looked a little confused, an expression that was usually found on his face when faced with some new machina to decipher. The look on his face was fairly similar to that, though it was more of a "where the hell am I?" confusion than a "what the hell is this?" one.

"Eh..." Tidus grinned sheepishly, not quite sure what to say. The look Auron was giving him now threw him off. Auron looked almost... mad? "Glad you're okay," Tidus told him, at a loss for words. He didn't know why Auron would be mad at him, if indeed he was.

"Stupid boy," Auron growled at him suddenly, and the hesitant smile dropped instantly off Tidus' face. Ok, so Auron was mad at him. But he didn't have a clue why. Auron hadn't even been conscious for the last eight hours, how could he be mad?

"Um..."

"Don't you ever do something that foolish again. I thought you were going to die."

"Oh." Tidus was relieved. The grin returned. "Yeah, well, it's mutual." He left it up to Auron to decide just what he meant—mutual that they thought Tidus was going to die, or that Tidus thought Auron was going to die. It had been both, really. The way those fiends had come upon him and his friends, seemingly out of nowhere—he'd just known that he was going to die.

He hadn't expected Auron to show up.

But it was a good thing he had, because if he hadn't, then they all really would have died. He was just thankful Auron hadn't died as well.

"...Auron?' he spoke up, his thoughts suddenly reminding him of a question he'd wondered about earlier.

"Hm?" Auron responded easily enough, though it was a bit absently. His thoughts had been elsewhere, and Tidus wished he knew what the man had been thinking. Auron so often kept to himself, he felt he barely knew his guardian at times. Certainly he didn't know him well enough as he wished he did.

"How'd you know that fiends has gotten into Zanarkand anyway?"

"I didn't," came the short reply.

Tidus blinked, and paused to digest this. "...Oh. So, then—"

"I was following you." That one eye gazed levelly at him, his carefully neutral face giving nothing away.

"Why?" Tidus asked curiously, only half-surprised. Auron had always followed him when he was younger, he knew, but he'd thought the man had quit that a few years back. But there'd been a couple of times when he'd thought Auron was around, so it wasn't too surprising to find Auron still followed him.

"I'm your guardian. And... because I promised Jecht."

Tidus didn't know what to say to that one. He turned his face away, suddenly not wanting to look Auron in the eye anymore. Anytime Auron brought Jecht up, it always made him feel uncomfortable. He was never sure quite what he thought about it. It was obvious Jecht had been important to Auron in some way, and that bothered him for more reasons than he cared to think about, usually.

"Oh!" Tidus cried, suddenly pretending to remember. "I just remembered I left the heat on downstairs. Guess I better go turn it off before I burn the place down, huh?" And without waiting for a reply, he ran off.

Auron watched him go, smiling slightly to himself. He knew the boy was just making an excuse to leave for a few moments—he almost always did when talk turned to Jecht.

His smile quickly faded though, as his thoughts turned to other matters. For one thing, how long had Tidus been sitting by his bed? The whole time he'd been out, however long that was? He sensed that it'd been several hours, and it was somewhat surprising to think Tidus would stay by his side that long. If he had. It suddenly seemed important to know. And yet, he didn't want to know. Because he was afraid of the answer. Afraid of what it meant.

He hadn't wanted to get emotionally attached to Tidus. He was unsent, and knowing that Tidus was merely a dream of the fayth residing back in Spira... Nor did he care anything about getting hurt again. He'd allowed himself to care for Braska and Jecht, and the price he paid for it had just cost too damn much. He didn't want anything like that again. It was why he was always careful to be so quiet and somewhat distant around Tidus, doing only what was necessary to keep his promise to Jecht.

It was easy to tell himself all that, at least. As for just when he'd stopped listening to himself... he wasn't quite sure. Maybe when Tidus had started caring about him. Jecht had often accused him of not caring or feeling, but Auron knew it was more a matter of how well he was able to hide his emotions. Besides, it was hard not to care for an eight-year-old boy who looked up to you for guidance and reassurance. He knew that he was all Tidus had, there was no one else. He supposed it shouldn't have surprised that Tidus would start to care. Hell, he was more of a father than Jecht had been to his son, and that was saying a lot.

Of course, none of this did anything to answer the question he wanted to know. Had Tidus stayed by him the whole time; and if so, why?

* * *

Tidus didn't have to admit to himself that he was running away. It was obvious, and he knew Auron had easily recognized it for what it was. Kind of hard not to, since he'd always found some excuse to leave the room when Auron brought up his old man. He was always so afraid that Auron would actually talk about Jecht, and tell him things he didn't want to know. Things that might make it harder to hate him.

But he also knew that it was only part of this time. That he was running from other reasons. Reasons he didn't exactly want to examine too closely.

"Agh," he muttered under his breath. It was all so confusing. He didn't know what Auron meant to him anymore. Wasn't sure he wanted to know. Ok, so... he cared for Auron, sure. Auron had raised him for the past seven years. Auron had been there for him. Auron had protected him. Auron had... had been fulfilling his promise to Jecht. But it went beyond that. It must have. Or maybe he just didn't want to think about what it meant if a promise was all that it meant to Auron.

He sighed then, and let out a low, frustrated growl. "I am not thinking about this now." It could wait for some other time. Later. Like never, perhaps. In the meantime, he had to get back upstairs to Auron. He gave the wall a glare for good measure, then turned and rushed back up the stairs to see if Auron needed anything, smiling cheerfully as he did.

"Hey Auron, I'm back—oh...!"

It happened so fast he wasn't even sure what had happened. One minute he was hurrying towards the bed, the next he was falling through the air and landing on Auron. Or, to be more precise, his lips were landing on Auron's lips. It was nothing more than a gentle brush of flesh against flesh, but it was too much. Far too much.

Tidus jerked back as if he'd been shocked, his eyes wide. He found himself unable to tear his gaze away from Auron's face, which looked decidedly shocked itself. Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit was all his mind could seem to produce. "Uh..." he squeaked out shakily. He stopped and took a deep breath, tried again. "So-sorry... I didn't mean—I fell." He shut up then, not knowing what else to say, not believing what had just happened.

After a long, long moment Auron nodded. "It's fine. Don't worry about it."

"Sure." Tidus tried to grin, only half managing. He suddenly wanted out, away from the room and away from Auron, who just continued to watch him calmly. "Hungry? I could go fix something to eat..."

Another pause, and then Auron nodded again. Tidus grinned completely this time, relieved to have an excuse to leave. "I'll be back in a bit."

His first instinct was to turn and bolt out the door, but he restrained himself, walking casually instead. He wasn't about to do anything stupid with Auron watching. Once downstairs though, he allowed himself to sink to his knees, back against the wall of the galley. "Oh geeze," he said out loud, appalled to notice his voice shaking.

How the hell had that happened? There wasn't anything in the room for him to trip on. Unless of course he tripped over his own feet. Which he did sometimes. Not that he was a klutz or anything, but sometimes he got too damn impatient for his own good. It had apparently been one of those times.

And now he couldn't get the incident out of his head. It had just been the briefest of touches, a mere accident... but in that split second when their lips had met, he'd felt something like a shock of electricity hit him. And he hadn't wanted to pull away, the jerking back of his body had been purely reflex.

It hadn't been a kiss... but he wanted it to be. That realization hit him with a sudden pang, and he didn't know what to make of it. Just from one stupid moment, nothing made sense anymore. He wondered if Auron was as confused as he was, but he thought probably not. Auron was older, stupid stuff like that had probably happened to him before. And it didn't seem to mean much to Auron anyways, seeing as he'd told Tidus to forget about it.

Still... he was scared. All of a sudden he was feeling these things he'd previously shoved to the back of his mind. Combine that with having to worry about Auron's reaction to it, and how this might affect their future relationship, and he was one overwhelmed teenager.

He wished he could just hide downstairs for the rest of his life and not ever have to look at Auron again. But of course that wasn't possible. Auron would get out of bed and come down sooner or later, and it wasn't as if Tidus could go live somewhere else. Even so, he considered it for one fleeting second...

Tidus sighed. He wished there was someone to tell him what he was supposed to do now, because he didn't have a clue. The only thing he could think of was to act normal around Auron. Whatever normal was.

* * *

Auron remained very still after Tidus left, his mind very deliberately trying not to think about what just happened. Absently, he lifted his hand to his mouth, fingers brushing across his lips. He could still feel Tidus against them, brief as it had been.

He knew it didn't mean anything. It had been a mere accident, nothing more. Tidus had pulled away instantly, and he'd looked at Auron with such a terrified expression on his face, like he thought Auron might try to kill him for what had happened. Still, for an instant there, he thought he'd seen something else in the boy's eyes. Something a bit like... want.

He could have been imagining it. But none of it mattered. He'd told Tidus not to worry about it, his words implying it meant nothing. He doubted the words had reassured the blond much, Tidus had scurried out of the room so fast it was almost laughable.

He quite distinctly heard Tidus' "Oh geeze," then, the sound carrying upstairs. He sounded shaken. Nope, definitely not reassured.

Well, he supposed he'd only been fooling himself. The incident meant everything. Too much, really. How was he supposed to act distant towards Tidus now? It had been damned hard before, pretending he didn't care so much. And it was just a charade Tidus had seen easily through. But he'd kept it up, for both their sakes. And it had helped, some. He wasn't quite as... attracted to Tidus as he could have been.

Attracted. Funny, how that word just came out. It was the first time he'd admitted it to himself, even if it was only in his thoughts. He was attracted to Tidus. And the incident of a few moments ago had just made things worse.

He could hardly call it a kiss. Hell, Tidus hadn't even done it on purpose. But still, it had been there... he'd felt it. That tingling shock of something like electricity racing throughout his body at that oh-so-brief contact. He couldn't recall the last time he'd felt something like that. And it had awakened in him a desire he'd long ago thought was buried. He wanted to feel those lips against his again. Hell, he wanted more than just that.

But of course he couldn't. He didn't want the relationship between him and Tidus to change for the worse. He didn't want to frighten the boy either. He'd just have to act as he always did around Tidus, hard as that may suddenly be.

He didn't know how he was going to pull it off.

* * *

Acting normal was harder than he thought. Every time he turned around, Tidus was there. And he always seemed to be staring at Auron with a thoughtful look on his face. It unnerved him, because he couldn't tell what the blond was thinking. But he wanted to know. He wanted to know really, really badly.

Of course, he'd done his fair share of thoughtful staring at Tidus too. He could hardly help it. Being around Tidus was nothing more than a painful reminder of the kiss that wasn't a kiss. He found it suddenly hard to speak to the boy, because every time he opened his mouth he was reminded of the feel of lips softly brushing against his. A jolt, and then the absence of everything settling heavily around him.

It wasn't just when he was awake either. He'd waken every night the past week to find his fingers pressing against his lips, his mind full of the image of how Tidus had looked just before falling against him, and then his eyes widening as he jerked away, that shocked and terrified look on his face. It made it really hard to get a decent night's sleep.

The passage of time had done nothing to lessen the memory of the incident either. It was just as fresh in his mind as it had been the night it happened. It made everything between them change. The air was full of sexually charged tension, the weight of it pressing heavily down on them, causing them to snap at each other more often than they normally would have. When he wasn't thinking about that incident, he was busy trying not to think about how badly he wanted the blond. About how much he couldn't have Tidus. And it put him on edge, this desperate unbalance of emotions and feelings he'd thought were gone forever.

He couldn't tell if Tidus sensed it or not. Sure, Tidus obviously knew things were different now. But did Tidus recognize it for what it was, or did he think it simply the embarrassment of an accident already forgotten by his guardian? Hell, he didn't even know if Tidus was still thinking about it, or if he'd put it out of his mind, determined it meant nothing.

He'd wanted—had even tried, once—to talk about it with Tidus, prompted by something like 'fatherly' instinct. Or maybe it was just his subconscious trying to determine whether or not he had even the remotest of a chance with his young charge. But it hadn't worked. His throat had closed up, choking down words not even fully formed in his mind. Tidus had given him a strange look, then an odd sort of brief smile. Almost like he knew what Auron was trying to say and understood why he couldn't. That was almost as unnerving as not knowing what Tidus was thinking.

But he knew he'd have to say something soon, this incident was destroying their carefully built relationship of the past seven years and he'd be damned if he didn't do something to salvage it. The biggest problem with that, though, was that there never seemed to be a good time to talk to Tidus. Either he was busy with school or blitzball, or hanging out with his friends, or sleeping, or sometimes just plain avoiding Auron. It wasn't unusual for Auron to wake around midnight and hear the click of the front door latching as Tidus quietly came back in from wherever he'd been out all day and evening. The only time they really saw each other was in the morning before Tidus left, and Auron had to admit he was not exactly a morning person. Hardly an opportune time to talk about something so important.

However, tomorrow was Sunday. Tidus never failed to spend that day lazing around the houseboat and relaxing, worn out from the week and recharging his energy for the week to come. Even with things the way they were between them, Auron didn't doubt Tidus would spend the day at home, with him. He would talk about this tomorrow with Tidus if it killed him.

* * *

"Tidus?"

Tidus looked up absently from where he'd been lounging around the couch, doing little more than daydreaming about Auron. He scowled when he saw the guardian of his fantasies standing over him, annoyed to have been interrupted. Auron's tone sounded serious, though he couldn't read anything from that impassive face, expression hidden as usual by the dark glasses and absurd collar he wore so high over his face. "What is it, old man," he said, not bothering to make it a question. He just wanted Auron to go away so he could back to daydreaming and trying to convince himself he didn't really want Auron.

"We need to talk."

Oh great, Tidus thought, inwardly groaning to himself. Auron's idea of 'talk' was never pleasant. Often it was uncomfortable to the point of acute embarrassment, as Auron fumbled over words in his attempt to 'talk'. Their past 'talks'—about Jecht, about his mother, about his less than stellar grades at school, about girls—had all been very awkward conversations that might have been better left alone. The tone of Auron's voice promised this wasn't going to be fun, either. But still. He'd act normal. "About what?"

"About—well..." Auron came over and sat down next to Tidus as the teen scooted over to make room, knowing Auron would find it easier to say whatever it was if he didn't have to look at Tidus as he said it. "About last week," he finally said, indeed finding it easier to speak now that he wasn't looking at Tidus.

Tidus felt a knot forming in his stomach, suddenly, at Auron's words. Auron didn't have to clarify 'last week'; Tidus knew all too well what he was referring to. He knows! his mind screamed at him. A nervous ball of panic joined the knot in his stomach and started zipping around, looking for an escape. He knows I like him... or something... His mind still wasn't too clear on that point, on just what exactly he did feel for Auron.

Okay, calm. Just play it cool. Maybe he doesn't actually know, only suspects. "What about it?" He shrugged, the epitome of casualness. "I'd pretty much forgotten about it." His voice shook very slightly as he said that, and he could only hope Auron didn't notice.

"Yes, well, um." Auron fumbled about, flustered and at a loss for words. This wasn't going the way he'd wanted at all.

Seeing Auron look so lost and confused—a look usually on his face only when dealing with Zanarkand's advanced technology—Tidus took pity on him. "Hey, it was just an accident. It meant nothing. I haven't been fretting over it, if that's what you're worried about." He didn't dare look at Auron, though he could feel the man's gaze upon him now, boring a hole into the side of his head. He didn't want the man to see that he was dangerously close to tears all of a sudden, and could only hope his lie was believable enough.

"Tidus—" Auron said gently, and he knew he hadn't fooled his guardian for a second. Should have known, since when had he ever been able to fool him? The only person he was fooling was himself if he thought so.

"Don't!" he said quickly, cutting off whatever else the man might have said. "Just don't," he repeated, less forcibly. He took a deep breath, then faced Auron with a cocky grin. Lust. That's what it was. Lust, and nothing more. It didn't matter. It wasn't worth admitting to Auron, to screw up their relationship more than it was currently. "Look, I'm... I'm going to go play some blitzball, okay? I'll be back later," he said, deliberately changing the subject. As far as he was concerned, the previous discussion never happened.

He threw another grin Auron's way as he got up, taking care to saunter casually out of the houseboat, like nothing important had just happened. He headed out to the docks, grabbing a blitzball that was rolling around in the light breeze coming in off the water. He tossed it in the air, and quickly shot up after it, body all speed and grace as he flipped through the air, aiming a perfect kick that sent the ball flying across the ocean. He came back down with a splash and wasted no time in chasing after the ball, not wanting it to get away. He'd lost plenty of balls practicing his sphere shot, and it was fast getting old.

He tried not to think of Auron.

Chapter Text

Strained silence.

At one time, that would have been uncommon in the household of Tidus and Auron, but now it was just another part of their life, something they'd grown to accept, as much as neither of them liked it. But nor did they ever try to repair a relationship that somehow seemed broken beyond repair.

"Sorry," Tidus said, speaking just as Auron said the same thing. Tidus shook his head and sighed, not bothering to say anything else. It was all so damn awkward. He wasn't sure just whose fault that was. He only knew it had been like this since that stupid conversation Auron tried to have two years previously.

Two years. It had been two years since that one small incident had impacted so largely on their lives, but not once in all that time had his feelings lessened. He lusted after Auron just as much as he had when he was fourteen, maybe even more so now that he was older and ruled even more by his hormones.

Take now, for example. Even with something as simple as reaching for the same thing at the same time and brushing his hand against Auron's in the process caused a tightening in his stomach and groin that he was all too familiar with these days. Feelings that failed to be provoked by anyone else. He'd had a relationship a time or two since realizing his lust for Auron, and not once had he come anywhere close to feeling what he felt about Auron. The man consumed his thoughts constantly, both waking and sleeping. It had filled the air around them with a sexually charged tension that hadn't dissipated once in the past two years.

And he was almost a hundred percent certain Auron knew about it. He'd as good as admitted it. Don't, he'd said. The word had been full of more meaning than could easily be expressed in words. He hadn't bothered to try. Instead, he'd done what he always did when faced with something he wanted to avoid—he ran.

He'd stayed out all night, and when he'd returned the next morning—the first time he'd ever broken a promise to his guardian—Auron was gone.

He could still remember the feeling of choked terror that descended upon him as he'd searched throughout the houseboat and the surrounding outside area, trying in vain to find a man who didn't want to be found. At last he'd given up, collapsing in bed, burying his head in his pillow to muffle his sobs though no one was around to hear them. He'd been convinced Auron was gone for good.

He'd chosen to spend that whole first week crying in bed, blowing off school and blitzball and whatnot, not daring to leave the houseboat for fear that Auron might come back and he wouldn't be there. As it happened, he finally had to venture out for food, and when he came back in, Auron was there. Just standing there, looking around him as if the houseboat was a foreign place he'd never seen before.

Tidus hadn't said anything—instead; he'd started crying. Auron had only looked at him, and even behind those damned glasses he could see the pain reflected in Auron's one eye. It had been too much. He'd turned and fled to his room. Nothing had been the same since then—but at least Auron had stayed. He seemed to sense Tidus' needing him, even if they weren't quite on good speaking terms.

He scowled absently down at his food as he ate, Auron sitting silently across the table from him. "Not quite good, my ass," he muttered, not even caring that Auron heard him and raised a quizzical eyebrow at him. No speaking terms was more like it. And hell, why was he even bothering to dredge all this up in his mind anyways? It wasn't going to change anything.

Angrily, he shoved his half-eaten dinner away from him, and then slammed his chair back as he stood, stomping out of the houseboat down to the docks to work his frustration out on an innocent blitzball.

It wasn't fair. He wanted Auron so damn much. But if he had been unattainable two years ago, he was even more so now. The way things were between them, he'd never have Auron. "It's not FAIR!" he growled, kicking the ball with as much force as possible, watching it arc through the air before coming back down in the water with a splash. It started to float gently away on the waves. Tidus didn't bother to go after it. He could always get another blitzball, annoying as it was.

He sighed, running a hand through sun-kissed bleached blond hair. He was tired of living like this with Auron. He wanted things to be different. Not back to the way they were before. Something better. Something more. But he didn't know how to make that happen. It drove him crazy.

* * *

Fingers touched lips absently.

He watched.

A beautiful blond blur of grace and speed, Tidus moved through the water easily as he went after the ball, his movements fluid and sure. He caught up to the opposing player quickly, tackling him, going for control of the ball. With one minute left, the game was tied 4-4.

He gained the ball back easily, dribbling it down to the other end of the sphere towards the goal. Forty seconds left. He stared, entranced as the ball flew up in the air, Tidus shooting up after it, flipping deftly, aiming a perfect kick that sent the ball flying through the goal with ten seconds to spare.

Tidus was just as beautiful and amazing to watch as he had been when he was younger, his skilled talent in the water unsurpassable by anyone else his age.

Auron loved to watch him.

He almost seemed to be enchanted by Tidus at times, breath taken away by sheer beauty and fingers absently pressing at lips in remembrance of soft lips brushing lightly against his before jerking away so violently. In two years, attraction had only grown steadily as the fourteen year old boy slowly begin growing into a sixteen year old young man. He hadn't quite reached adulthood yet, but the transformation was sometimes heart-achingly painful to watch. Painful, and phenomenally wonderful, made all the more bittersweet by their somewhat soured relationship.

With what was almost visible effort, he wrenched his eyes away from the teenager down there laughing and high-fiving his teammates in victory, and got up to head back home. Tidus usually stayed out partying after a game, but he never wanted to take the chance that Tidus might one day stop by the houseboat. Tidus had no idea that Auron went to his games, and he wanted to keep it that way. Just why it should be a secret, he didn't really know. It just felt like the right thing to do.

He started the walk back to the houseboat, but some sudden instinct prompted him to stick around and follow Tidus instead. It was just a gut feeling, and he wasn't sure what it meant. So he hid back in the shadows where Tidus wasn't likely to notice him, waiting.

Tidus passed by a few hours later, alone. Auron let him go a ways down the street, feeling foolish. Perhaps he was just getting paranoid in his old age, Tidus was perfectly fine. And now he had to figure out how to get back before—

A shrill scream pierced through the air just then, and Auron sprung into action immediately. Fiends had gotten in Zanarkand, and now they were attacking Tidus. His Tidus. He growled in anger as he reached them, pulling his sword from its sheath and swinging heavily, slicing through one of the lizard creatures with enough strength to kill in just the one blow. It let out a weak dying cry as it hit the ground, already fading away on small flittering clouds of pyreflies. The other fiends shrieked in anger and started to circle around him, preparing to attack.

"Auron!" Tidus choked out before letting out another pained yell. Auron whirled around, ignoring one of the fiends as it leaped, its teeth sinking deep into Auron's arm. Tidus was on the ground, one of the lizards on top of him, its claws digging into the blond's chest, its teeth almost seeming to gnaw at the left arm Tidus had held up to shield his face.

Auron shook off the fiend on his own arm, briefly wishing this was Spira so he could use the small bit of magic he'd once known. But in the dream of Zanarkand a thousand years old, magic didn't exist. So he did the next best thing. Using his sword like a spear, he jabbed it at the fiend on Tidus, piercing through its tough scaly skin, aiming for the heart. It let out a snarl of rage and abandoned Tidus in favour of attacking Auron, who sliced it in half mid-air as it jumped. It fell to the ground heavily, and he turned his attention to the three fiends left. Blood dripped out from under his red coat and splattered onto the ground, a few drops landing on Tidus.

He took out the last three fiends easily, though another managed to get in a good swipe, claws slicing deeply through his flesh and drawing more blood from his body. Dimly he heard Tidus crying behind him, but ignored it as he slashed at the last fiend. It moved nimbly aside, and the blade only grazed its side. Another well-aimed slash that anticipated its dodge turned it into a burst of pyreflies, and they were safe once more.

He re-sheathed his sword and turned around, kneeling down beside Tidus, who looked up at him, tears still glittering in his eyes.

"You're hurt," Tidus whispered between shaky breaths.

"It's nothing," Auron said gruffly, getting his arms underneath Tidus and lifting him easily, preparing to carry him back to the houseboat. For once there was none of the awkward silence between them, the tension gone for the first time in two years. Neither of them noticed it. Auron walked the rest of the way back as carefully as he could, not wanting to hurt Tidus worse than he was.

At last they were there, and he shifted Tidus' weight in his arms slightly so he could reach out with one hand to open the door. Carrying Tidus upstairs, he laid him down on the bed and removed his shirt to get a better look at the wound the fiend had given him. It wasn't deep, but Tidus groaned when he touched it gently, and Auron suddenly wished Braska were here with his Curaga magic.

"Don't move," Auron commanded, and went downstairs to get Tidus some potion, lacking anything better to help him with at the moment. He ignored his own wounds completely as he brought the potion back upstairs, sitting Tidus up and helping him drink it. It seemed to help a bit, for Tidus murmured something that could have been a thanks as he closed his eyes, exhausted now and wanting sleep.

Auron stayed there beside him until he heard the steady even breathing that meant Tidus was asleep, and then he slipped quietly out of the room, still not bothering to do anything about his own injuries just yet. He stood in the doorway a moment, watching the rise and fall of Tidus' bare chest as he slept, the tanned skin marred by three angry red lines that would eventually fade to nothing, thanks to the potion.

He could have lost Tidus. That thought was uppermost in his mind, looming, taunting him. If he hadn't listened to his instincts and stayed, Tidus would be dead right now. The thought was terrifying. He couldn't bear to lose Tidus, the boy was all he had left. He hadn't realized that, hadn't realized just how important Tidus was to him, until tonight. He'd known it in a flash, when he'd heard Tidus' panicked cry. What he felt for Tidus went beyond simple attraction. It had for some time; only being his Auron self he'd stubbornly refused to acknowledge it, telling himself it was just lust that made him want the boy so damn fiercely.

Tidus shifted in his sleep, a frown spreading across his face, eyes squeezing shut tighter. Nightmare. With Tidus not awake to see him, he crossed the distance back to the bed and hesitantly reached his hand out. He stopped, hand hovering over Tidus' head, unsure. What if Tidus woke up?

Who cared?

Plucking up his courage, he lowered his hand and ran it gently through dyed-blond strands, trying in some small way to soothe Tidus from the nightmare. Tidus mumbled something in his sleep then, the one word making Auron freeze and flash back to a conversation of two years ago, a conversation that had went horribly wrong. "Don't."

He could still recall the conversation with painful clarity. He'd intended to reassure Tidus, to let him know that nothing would change between them, but instead he'd botched it horribly and it changed everything.

He still didn't know what Tidus had meant that day, that one word "don't" having infinite possible meanings behind it. Nor had Tidus bothered to explain, instead choosing to pretend everything was fine before running off again. But he couldn't fault Tidus for it.

After all, he'd ran too.

* * *

"We need to talk."

"About what?"

He opened his mouth but words did not come. Instead a fiend leaped out, a giant lizard creature with tough green scales covering its entire body. It landed on all fours in front of him, eyes red and glowing as it glared at him.

He froze, stuck in his place by terror. "Don't," he whispered.

The fiend crouched low, preparing to leap. It opened its mouth. "I hate you."

"Don't," he said again, helplessly.

"I hate you," it repeated. "I've always hated you. You're a worthless crybaby."

"I'm not," he protested, even as his eyes started to fill with tears. "Please... don't hate me..."

The fiend leaped then, landing on him and knocking him backwards to the ground, claws digging into his chest. He felt blood begin to trickle out and slide down, forming a small pool on the ground partially beneath him. A few tears slid out of his eyes and down his cheeks. "Please..." he begged.

He stared into Auron's face above him, the older man's knees pressing down on his chest. His eyes lacked the dark glasses he usually wore, and he glared down at him. "I hate you," he hissed. "I have always hated you."

"Don't," he sobbed. "Don't hate me. I... I love you... please..."

"Ha! You're not even worthy of loving me. You are nothing. You never were. And you never will amount to anything. You're nothing but the stupid crybaby Jecht said you were. Don't make me laugh Tidus."

"No..."

"Tidus."

"Don't..."

"Tidus."

"Tidus."

He woke with a start, gasping for breath, heart racing. A dream. It had just been a dream. A very strange dream, at that.

"Tidus," Auron said again, and he looked to his left. Auron was kneeling beside the bed, his eye peering at the teen in worry. "Are you okay?"

Tidus nodded, mind already tuning Auron out as he drifted back to his dream. It made him slightly uncomfortable to think about it. He'd said he loved Auron. Why had he said that? He didn't love Auron, only lusted after him... right? Didn't he? But Auron... Auron said he hated him. It was just a dream. It didn't mean anything real. Besides, he and Auron didn't talk anymore. Auron wouldn't have said that to him even if he did feel that way. Would he?

His thoughts tumbled around his mind, confused and miserably unsure of anything anymore. He looked back to his left, where Auron was staring at him, concern evident in his eye. And suddenly Tidus felt so unutterably weary, exhausted of it all, sick of the way they'd been living the past two years. He could have died tonight, if Auron hadn't been there. The similarity to the events of two years ago that started this all didn't escape him. It was as if life was trying to tell them something, to offer them a second chance. A chance to finally make things right.

And he wanted that desperately. So desperately it hurt.

"Do you hate me?" he spoke up unsteadily, blurting out the question without giving himself time to think about it, hoping to catch Auron off-guard.

"What?" Auron blinked at him, and stood quickly. Tidus moved aside, an open invitation for Auron to sit beside him. Auron took it, sitting down gingerly, almost afraid to, it seemed.

"Do you hate me?" Tidus asked him again, his voice level this time.

Auron looked at him, face unreadable, only the small frown revealing his confusion. "No," he said, not elaborating. Tidus gazed back at him, seeing his determined and slightly scared expression reflecting back at him in Auron's glasses.

"I... I don't hate you either," he whispered.

Auron chuckled softly. "Glad we're clear on that."

A spark of anger. He clenched the sheets tightly in fists, the knuckles turning white from the pressure. "It isn't a joke, Auron. It isn't funny."

But Auron only smiled at him, the first smile Tidus had seen from him in two years. "I know," he said, voice serious. "Tidus—"

"Don't," he said, the word out before he could stop it. He swallowed, mouth going dry. "I mean," he tried again, then stopped. He really didn't have any idea what he wanted to say, only that he wanted things right between them again. "Look. Auron, I want—"

And there he stopped again, helpless. What did he want, really? A lot of things. He wanted things to be okay again. He wanted for Auron to talk to him again. He just plain wanted Auron. He wanted to kiss Auron. He wanted—

"Fuck it," he muttered, giving up on words. He threw back the covers and got out of bed. He paid Auron no attention as he walked over to his window and looked out into the night. Wanting Auron meant nothing. Fixing things between them would not automatically make Auron want him back that way. It was just some stupid teenage crush, something to occupy his daydreams with. Something that would never amount to anything. Something that would never be. Couldn't.

He heard Auron leave the bed, felt his measured footsteps as he walked across the room after Tidus, and knew his guardian was standing just behind him.

"Tidus."

That one word, oddly gentle and spoken so tenderly, shattered what little self-restraint Tidus had managed to hold on to. Damn the consequences, he'd never know if he didn't take a risk every now and then.

He turned around to face the older man, staring at him for one brief second before grabbing Auron's collar and yanking him down the last few inches so that their lips met.

It was the same as last time, that jolt of electric energy racing throughout their bodies, sexually charged tension returning full force to fill the space around them. Surprise made Auron unresistant, and Tidus took full advantage of this shamelessly, nibbling on the man's rough lower lip, prodding it open. He took his time exploring the man's mouth, learning, enjoying. It was a few moments before he realized that Auron was responding, kissing him back, his arms wrapping around Tidus to pull their bodies closer. He felt something hard pressing at the base of his stomach then, and he moaned, involuntarily thrusting his hips, seeking out friction.

Auron let out an amused laugh, his voice a rich, warm baritone that Tidus decided he loved. "Perhaps we should move back to the bed," Auron suggested, voice going slightly husky. Tidus nodded his jerky agreement, allowing Auron to guide him over there, the promise of what was to come sending an anticipating shudder down his spine.

Auron shoved aside covers, laying him down on the bed gently, staring down at his boxer-clad body, admiring it. The boxers didn't last long, nor did his own clothes. Tidus frowned when he caught side of the white bandages on Auron's arm. "Won't that hurt?" he asked, gesturing.

"It doesn't matter," Auron said, before leaning in to kiss him. Tidus let him, parting his lips to let Auron in, enjoying the feel of that silken tongue exploring his mouth. Auron's hand roamed freely over his body, his touch turning Tidus into fiery liquid. He let out another moan, hips thrust upward in the need for contact. "A-Auron..." he gasped. "I want..."

"Want what?" Auron asked, his own voice not quite even.

"Touch me," he pleaded, raw want mixing with desire. He felt an embarrassed flush spread across his face when Auron gave a low chuckle, but he didn't care. Never had he wanted something so much before. Still, Auron did as asked, wrapping his hand around Tidus, stroking lightly, the touch still enough to make Tidus writhe helplessly beneath him.

"More," he whimpered, hardly aware he was doing it. But to his chagrin Auron stopped, sitting up and looking down at him seriously. He tried to reach for Auron, to feel the man's skin against his own hot, flushed body, but Auron stayed his hand. "Have you done this before?" he asked.

Tidus actually had to stop and think about that a moment, letting his mind catch back up to the present. "Not all the way," he answered at last.

Auron did something then, something Tidus had seen him do only once before and had thought he'd never see again. He removed his glasses. Tidus swallowed, knowing just how intimate of a gesture it was for Auron, to let Tidus see his face like that. "Are you sure," Auron asked, trailing the fingers of his left hand down Tidus' bare chest, "that you want to?"

His first instinct was to just shout "YES!" and have Auron get on with it, but he knew Auron was quite serious about it. Still, he'd never been more sure about anything in his life. "I want it to be with you," Tidus said softly.

Auron did not reply, just got off the bed, and for a scary few moments Tidus thought he'd made the other man mad. Then Auron came back, bottle of potion in hand. "Turn over," Auron commanded him, not forcefully. He did as asked, feeling both slightly foolish and nervous at the same time. The farthest he'd ever gone before was a groping session with one of his curious teammates, and that had been a fast and hurried affair, hardly satisfying in the least.

He felt the bed settle with Auron's weight again, and then Auron was nudging his thighs apart with one hand, fingers stroking over his sensitized opening. He gave a whimper that was half fear and half want, causing Auron's hand to still for a moment. "If you change your mind, just say so. I'll stop," Auron told him.

Tidus shook his head. "Don't stop." Then his breath hitched in his throat as he felt Auron's potion-coated fingers inside him, going deeper, pressing until they hit a spot within him that made him just want to melt into a puddle. Auron crooked a finger, eliciting a moan from Tidus. Every nerve in his body was tingling, vibrant and aware, begging for more.

He was vaguely surprised that there hadn't really been any pain when Auron's fingers slid easily inside him. He'd gotten the idea that this was going to hurt, somehow. Then again, fingers weren't very big. Perhaps it was what came after that hurt.

Auron slowly withdrew his fingers then, and Tidus couldn't help the embarrassing sort of moan that escaped unbidden from his throat. He could hear Auron's own ragged breathing though, and took comfort in the fact that he wasn't always as stoic as he tried to be, that being this way with Tidus was slowly letting out emotions he did his best to keep locked up. Actually, he felt a little smug knowing he was the reason for Auron's slight loss of control.

Hands against his hips then, bracing him, Auron's legs holding his own thighs apart, and then Auron was almost slamming inside him, stretching him, filling him.

Tidus groaned. There was pain, no denying that. But it wasn't as bad as he expected, and it was quickly lost in a wave of pleasure as Auron began to thrust, deep lazy strokes that made him come undone, gasping words that never existed, words that were more raw want than actual words. It felt wonderful; it drove him crazy. It was too much; it wasn't enough.

He arched his body back into Auron's embrace, wanting to feel Auron as deep as possible. One hand left his hip and slid around to grasp him, the bandages on his arm grazing against Tidus' stomach and tickling him slightly every time Auron stroked him. They were more urgent this time, Auron recognizing Tidus' needs and limits as if he'd been familiar with them for years.

His world exploded then, a rush of sheer ecstacy that overrode everything else and numbed all other feeling. He barely felt it as Auron continued to thrust, harder and faster as he neared the edge. Auron's fingers dug hard enough into his hips to leave marks that would be bruises the next day, but he hardly felt that either; nor did he care.

What he cared about was the here and now—this closeness with Auron he thought he'd never experience, the feel of Auron's skin hot and sweaty against his, Auron slick and deep inside him, Auron's breath not quite even as he fought to maintain control of the emotions Tidus provoked in him, the faint noises emitting from Auron's throat that Tidus could just catch if he listened hard enough.

Then Auron's self-control shattered, a deep guttural groan bubbling up out his throat as he reached his limit, whole body rigidly tensed and nerves coiled tight before he relaxed again, pulling out of Tidus and collapsing next to him, body shaking as he wrapped his arms around Tidus and pulled him close.

Tidus let him, burying his head in Auron's chest as they both fought to steady their breathing, waiting for the beat of their heats to slow to normal. It was a long time before anyone spoke.

"Auron?" Tidus finally murmured.

"Yes?" Auron's voice was still not quite even.

"I'm tired..."

Another of those low chuckles, making Tidus wonder if the man was out to set a record, so rarely did he ever laugh before. "Go to sleep then."

"Um..." he voiced. He was reluctant to sleep, scared that this night meant little much to Auron, that Auron would leave him and things would go back to being awkward and tense between them again, something he definitely did not want.

"I'll still be here when you wake up," Auron said gently, sensing what bothered Tidus. "It's okay to sleep."

"Promise?" he breathed, knowing he'd never asked such a thing of Auron before. Hoping it wasn't too much to ask.

His eyes were already sliding closed, slipping off into sleep, but he still was awake enough to hear Auron's soft "Yes," and it reassured him. He let himself sleep then, worn out, but content.

* * *

Auron woke before Tidus the next morning, and, true to his word, stayed by the blond's side, careful to let him sleep for as long as he needed. In the meantime, he was content enough to watch the boy sleep, still as taken in by him as he always had been. If the boy was beautiful awake, he was absolutely breath-taking asleep, though Auron couldn't explain why that was so in words. It just was.

He was still marveling over the fact that Tidus wanted him. It had taken him completely by surprise—the pure want he'd sensed in the blond last night. He'd spent the past two years thinking Tidus hated him for running, for abandoning him when he needed his guardian most. To find out it wasn't true, that it was quite the opposite in fact, was maddening. His fingers strayed absently to his lips again, briefly. Then they left to tangle themselves in Tidus' hair, running the length of blond strands gently, taking care not to wake him.

Tidus didn't wake for another hour, and he was pleased to see Auron still there when he finally cracked open groggy eyes to too-bright sunlight filtering in through the window, wincing as various aches and pains rapidly made themselves known, a combination of both the fiend attack and the night spent with Auron.

He felt Auron's eye inquisitive upon his, and looked over at him, answering the man's silent "what now?" with a grin. "I'm hungry."

"Hn." Auron just grunted, but Tidus could tell he was amused—his lips twitched at the corners, ever so slightly, almost becoming a smile. "Go do something about it, then."

"Fix me breakfast Auron, please?' he asked, begging with his eyes the way he'd done when he was little and wanted to get away with having Auron do something for him.

Auron sighed, and started to get out of the bed, searching about for clothes, and Tidus knew he'd won. Apparently Auron was still unable to resist his pleading. That brought back a memory of last night, pleading with Auron to touch him, and his face flushed red. If Auron noticed, he didn't say anything.

* * *

It was after they'd finished eating that they chanced to bring up the last bit of unfinished business between them, both of them speaking at the same time.

"We need to talk." "Can we talk?"

They looked at each other, and then Tidus laughed, somewhat nervously. "Um," he said. Auron nodded at him, indicating for him to go ahead. "Why'd you leave?" Tidus demanded, not knowing what he was going to say until the words came out.

"You... didn't come back. I thought—you didn't want... to be around me." Auron answered haltingly, choosing his words carefully.

"Oh." Tidus bit down on his lip, looking away. So it had been his fault, then, the strained silence of two awkward years? He looked back at Auron. "It wasn't that... It was... I was scared." His mouth twisted in a wry smile. "I thought you'd figured it out."

"Figured what out?" Auron frowned, confusion written across his usually stoic face.

Now it was Tidus' turn to frown, his own sudden confusion evident when he spoke. "That I liked you. That I wanted you. It's why I always stared at you, why I was so nervous around you. I thought you knew and I didn't want to talk about it or have to face it..." he trailed off as he saw Auron's eye narrowing. "You... didn't know," he said faintly, realizing. Auron shook his head.

"I didn't know."

"Then... what—" He paused, thinking back on the conversation and the week preceding it. "It meant something to you. Even though it was just an accident. Even though I hadn't meant for it to happen." Another pause. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I tried," Auron said, a touch exasperated, emotion slipping through his iron control. "You cut me off and ran."

Don't.

Tidus groaned miserably. Shit, it was his fault. Maybe the dream Auron had been right. Maybe he was nothing. Except a stupid crybaby. He spent the last two years in misery, wanting Auron and believing he'd never have him, all because he had to be a coward and run away from things.

He instinctively started to stand, wanting nothing more than to run again, but Auron was up in a flash, wrapping his arms around Tidus and holding him tight so the blond had nowhere to go. Tidus struggled, but couldn't get free of Auron's strong embrace. After a moment he stopped fighting it and just let Auron hold him, focusing his anger on the tears starting to trail down his cheeks rather than Auron.

"It was my fault!" he cried. "I shouldn't—"

"No. It wasn't either of our fault, Tidus." Auron's tone was gentle, but there was a firm resoluteness behind it that Jecht and Braska would have recognized immediately. It was his "I'm right, I damn well know I'm right about this, and you are not going to argue with me about it" tone. Tidus may not have traveled on that pilgrimage, but he too recognized the tone for what it was. He didn't argue.

"The past is past," Auron added. "There is no time to waste on regrets." His voice sounded oddly melancholy as he said this, and Tidus wondered what it was in his past that Auron was thinking of. He knew by now that when Auron offered advice, it was more of a reminder to himself to live by it than anything else.

Tidus only sighed though, and turned around to face Auron, burying his head against Auron's chest, feeling the ridge of the scar against one cheek through the thin fabric of the shirt he wore. Auron continued to hold him, and Tidus allowed it, content to stand there in Auron's warm embrace. "Don't let go," he whispered, the phrase having more meaning than Auron's arms around his.

Auron tightened his hold. "I won't."