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"Ah, the son of Jecht."

Upon hearing the voice that had plagued his nightmares this past week and haunted his every thought, Tidus froze. He looked at Rikku, who was staring at someone behind him in horror. There was no need for him to turn around and see who it was, and indeed, he seemed unable to make himself turn around.

"Rikku, run ahead and tell Auron!" Tidus commanded the fifteen year old Al Bhed with as much force as he could muster, force he didn't feel in the slightest. His legs felt like jelly; he thought perhaps if he tried to move he'd faint. Somehow he'd childishly hoped that they'd seen the last of Seymour, since Seymour had gotten what he wanted. He should have known better.

"You are not fighting him alone!" Rikku cried, getting ready to assume a battle stance.

"Just go! Go!" he snapped at her. She looked at him, as if to protest again, but then changed her mind; she nodded and turned to run after the others.

Only once Rikku was out of sight did Tidus dare to turn around and face Seymour, and he did so very slowly, as if Seymour would magically be gone by the time he was turned. It didn't happen, of course—Seymour was standing there and staring at the blond with such an admiring look on his face that made Tidus almost want to be violently sick.

"Why are you here, Seymour?" Tidus asked, trying desperately to keep his voice from shaking. He hoped Auron would get here soon. He didn't know how much longer he could stand up in the face of Seymour.

"Why, to take what is rightfully mine, son of Jecht." Seymour sounded surprised that Tidus would not know such a thing. Tidus had to fight the urge to take out his sword and run it through the smirking half-Guado, knowing in the end it would only make things worse on him.

"I was never yours, Seymour." The words sounded weak even to his own ears. He had been Seymour's, and he knew it. But it was supposed to be over! Seymour was supposed to let me go, and leave us all alone once he got what he wanted... And then another part of his mind spoke up, almost taunting him, it seemed. And just when did Seymour ever say that? You are very unwise to assume such a thing...

"Oh, were you not?" Seymour asked mildly. "Well then. I shall have to remedy that, won't I?"

* * *

Rikku had run ahead as fast as she dared, worrying about Tidus the whole way. He'd been acting so strange the whole past week, ever since they'd all escaped from Bevelle. She was pretty sure it had something to do with Seymour, because Tidus wouldn't even turn around and look at him. And every time someone mentioned Seymour, he would get such a look on his face and then just seem to drift off away from reality again, and no matter what anyone said, he wouldn't come back unless he was good and ready. That was why she hadn't wanted to leave him alone with Seymour--she was afraid of what might happen to him if he decided to go away into his mind again. But there had just been something in his face when he told her to go, she felt she didn't really have any other choice.

So she ran, at long last coming upon the others. They'd managed to get quite a ways ahead, not even bothering to notice that she and Tidus had fallen far behind. If the situation hadn't been quite so dire, she would have taken the time to get mad at them. But as it stood, doing so would only make things worse.

"Auron!" she called out, stopping and trying to catch her breath. Everyone collectively turned to look at her inquiringly, though she noticed Wakka gave her a slight glare. He never had fully forgiven her for being Al Bhed. Ah well, he'd get over it.

She gasped in breath after breath, unable to speak, knowing she was only placing Tidus in more danger as time passed. At last she managed to get out, "Seymour showed up. Tidus is alone."

It was enough. Auron took off back in Tidus' direction at once, the others not far behind. Rikku too, though she thought she might fall over if she had to run much further.

They reached the small clearing where Seymour had shown up in record time. Rikku stopped short when she got there. The clearing was empty. Seymour and Tidus were gone.

Chapter Text

He had failed.

That was really the only thought running through his head when he reached the clearing and realized Tidus was gone.

He'd failed. Failed Tidus, failed Jecht, failed himself. Failed everybody, really. He'd promised to protect Tidus. As long as they remained in Zanarkand, protecting Tidus was pretty easy. But upon returning to Spira, Auron was finding it harder and harder to continue keeping that promise to Jecht.

Maybe he'd been too long in Zanarkand—living there had changed him, for sure. And being unsent had changed him as well. He was getting too careless, something he could ill afford at this point.

Why had he let Tidus go off with Kinoc to see Seymour? It had been the worse mistake of his life. But no matter how much he cursed himself for it, he knew it wouldn't change things.

He had sensed it in Tidus the moment Tidus had looked up at him in the cage. He could see it in the blond's eyes, what the maester had done to him. He'd broken him, in one of the worst ways possible. And Auron had been unable to protect him from it, to keep it from happening.

He hated to think about it, about what Seymour had done. Why Seymour had even wanted to was beyond him. Tidus hadn't said much about what had happened. He called me beautiful, and he kissed me... I went away after that. It wasn't terribly hard to imagine what had taken place while Tidus had "went away". His fists clenched in anger every time Tidus' words came back to him. How anyone could take pleasure in breaking someone in such a way he didn't even want to understand.

And Seymour had succeeded in breaking Tidus very well, as much as Auron hated to admit it. Tidus had not been the same since he'd come back from Seymour. He would so often stop living in the moment and go away. Where Auron didn't quite know, but he suspected Tidus spent a lot of time in Zanarkand, playing blitzball. That whole first day across the Calm Lands had been terrifying for Auron, having to watch Tidus be so completely listless. He hadn't been with them at all, as Auron had discovered at the travel agency. Instead he'd been running on autopilot, totally unaware of everything going on around him.

The night they had spent together had done Tidus some good though. He had been more alert after that, living a bit more in the present rather than getting lost in memories. He still had a tendency to go away if anyone mentioned Seymour, however. He knew that the others had noticed this as well, so gradually any talk of Seymour had ceased between them, for which both Auron and Tidus were grateful. It gaveTidus a better chance to heal, to get past what had happened and continue on with his life.

But now...

"It doesn't matter now," Auron muttered to himself, not caring if the others heard him. Now Seymour had Tidus, and he had no doubt Seymour was using the oppurtunity to break Tidus even more.

He'd wanted to go after Tidus the minute he realized the teen was gone. In fact, he'd opened his mouth, ready to order the others to go after him. But then he'd stopped. It was Yuna's pilgrimage after all, and that made it her decision. She would be the one to decide... whether to keep moving forward, or to go after Tidus.

She hadn't decided as of yet, and Auron had to conceal the urge to just go over and shake her and command she make a decision. Every second they sent sitting here on Mt. Gagazet took Seymour and Tidus further away from them. It was surely a given Seymour would head to Guadosalam first, but not likely that he'd stay long. And after that, Auron had no clue where the unsent maester might head. Macalania Temple, maybe, considering he was the high priest there, but Auron didn't really think he'd find him there. It was too obvious. No, wherever he might take Tidus, it'd be a place they'd never dream to think of.

Sitting here doing nothing was making him restless. If Yuna did not decide soon, Auron thought he might just go after Tidus himself, alone. He should have already been doing that. After all, he'd promised Jecht he'd look after Tidus. He'd already failed in that promise once, but there was still a chance to redeem it. And it went beyond protecting Tidus for Jecht, he knew.

Tidus had been just fourteen when he'd first realized he was starting to have feelings for the boy. He'd done his best to surpress them, not wanting Tidus to know. He didn't want Tidus to be scared of him or feel uncomfortable around him. He knew he'd been more of a father to the blond than Jecht had ever been, and he didn't want that to change for the worse. So he went on as he always had, and Tidus hadn't suspected a thing.

But there must have been something there. Or maybe not. Maybe Tidus' own feelings weren't influenced by his in the least, something that amazed him a bit. And what amazed him even more was their continuing existence, even in the face of what Seymour had done to him. And it wasn't as if Tidus hadn't been willing for that night together—after all, he'd been the one to plead Auron to stay with him. The night had been understandably rough, flashbacks slowing progress, but Tidus had persisted in staying with him, insisting Auron keep going no matter what. Auron had done just that, taking care not to frighten or hurt Tidus. It seemed to work, considering Tidus' mood the next morning.

"Sir Auron?" Yuna spoke just then.

He looked up at the half Al-Bhed summoner expectantly, waiting for her to speak again. The others all gathered around as well, wanting to hear what she had to say.

"Well Yunie?" Rikku asked anxiously.

"I... I would like to go after Tidus."

Auron allowed himself to sigh with relief.

Chapter Text

He couldn't believe Seymour had taken him. In more ways than one, now that he thought about it. But he was mostly only thinking in the literal sense.

Seymour had knocked him on the head damned hard back on Mt. Gagazet, and Tidus had slid ungracefully into unconsciousness, thankfully not serious enough to require a phoenix down, though he had no doubt Seymour would have used one if necessary.

He'd came to in what he recognized as Guadosalam. He had one hell of a headache, but the absolute terror he felt from being in Seymour's presence overrode that pain.

He didn't want to be near Seymour at all. The memory of what Seymour had done to him last time was still all too fresh. He could still feel Seymour's mouth pressing down on his, Seymour's tongue shoving its way into his resisting mouth. Could feel Seymour's cold hands caressing his skin, undressing him, carrying him to the desk. Could still remember the weight of Seymour's body as it settled against his. Could still feel Seymour inside him... Those feelings had never left him, though Seymour had left him physically long ago. Even that night with Auron, it had been mostly Seymour he'd felt.

He hated it. Hated that he'd let Seymour do that to him. Seymour had broken him, and he knew it. He should have tried harder to stop it, or something. Or perhaps he should have let himself die, down there in Via Purifico. Sure, it was a lame way to kill someone, but Evrae had come back, hadn't it? Why had Rikku and Wakka killed it so easily? He should have moved to let Evrae attack him, instead of just floating there in the water, barely aware of what was around him.

But no. Despite it all, he'd wanted to live. Because the look Auron had given him in the cage, after one of Seymour's guards had brought him back... that look had made it worth living for. It was just a brief glance, but it had been enough. Tidus had known then; what Seymour had done to him didn't lower him in the older man's eyes. He'd simply accepted it, and accepted Tidus. Tidus had never loved him more than in that moment.

And Auron had understood too, that it hadn't been his fault. That, as much as Tidus denied it to himself, there really hadn't been anything else he could have done to save him... unless he wanted Auron and the others to get killed. And he had a suspicion that even had Seymour killed them all right then, Seymour still would have taken what he wanted from Tidus. He loved that about Auron completely, that the man could understand Tidus without his hardly having to say a word.

The night they'd shared had been... not incredible, or wonderful, or anything like that, but it had been something. Though he was reminded of Seymour every time Auron kissed him or touched him, he resolutely ignored that, instead forcing himself to focus on Auron. And for awhile it had worked. It had just been him and Auron in that bed, touching, exploring, caressing.

Then Auron had been inside him, and the memory of Seymour had come slamming back. He'd almost screamed out loud, but managed to choke it down just in time, knowing it was Auron with him and not wanting to scare him. It hadn't hardly mattered, his body had tensed and Auron had known what was wrong anyways. He'd done his best to soothe Tidus, lousy at comfort as usual, but he appreciated the gesture more than he would have if Auron had known exactly how to comfort Tidus. And really, once he'd calmed down and gotten used to Auron, it hadn't been so bad. Auron hadn't been rough, for one thing. And Tidus wanted it. That made a big difference.

Except now...

It doesn't matter now, Tidus thought, unaware he was echoing Auron's words. Seymour had him, had decided to take what he saw as his, and Tidus would have been stupid if he hadn't realized what sort of thing Seymour had in mind for him.

The question was, how soon? And for how long? Where was he even at, and were the others coming after him? He wanted to believe, had to believe, that Auron would come after him, even if Yuna decided to continue on her journey. There was no way Auron would leave him with Seymour. The others didn't know what had happened to him, what Seymour had done, but Auron did. Auron knew, and he'd understood. But how long would it take Auron to find him? If he had the airship, he could go anywhere. But Cid had flown off after letting them out in Bevelle, and wasn't supposed to meet up with them until they were in Zanarkand...

They were supposed to be in Zanarkand by now, actually. But he'd ended up panicking and throwing such a fit to Auron later on about leaving the Calm Lands that Auron had quietly gone and asked Yuna to stay just a few more days. So they were behind, and traveling through Mt. Gagazet had taken more time than they'd expected. Tidus knew that was his fault, but what did they expect, he didn't belong in Spira, it only made sense that he would get lost. It had been bound to happen sooner or later anyway.

So they'd been behind. And then Seymour had shown up, and now he was alone in Guadosalam. He assumed Seymour wasn't staying, it'd be way too obvious. But where would he take Tidus next? He hoped Macalania Temple, but he thought that might be rather obvious too, and too close for Auron to reach within the next week. Or maybe the plan was to just stay moving, stay ahead of Auron so the warrior monk could never catch up to them. Which meant he would have to find a way to escape if that happened.

It wasn't fair. This was not what he wanted. Any of it. Things had just downright sucked ever since Auron let him be swallowed up by Sin; why had Auron wanted him to come here? He said it was what Jecht wanted, but why did Auron always have to do what Jecht wanted? Couldn't the man ever think for himself?

He sighed. He wasn't getting anywhere just thinking on things. He looked around, trying to figure out exactly where he was. Guadosalam, he knew, but where in Guadosalam? On a bed in a room, apparently. Probably Seymour's room. Seymour's bed. The thought made him shudder. He decided not to think about that.

Of course, he didn't have to; the doorknob rattled and then Seymour was walking in. He smiled as he saw Tidus awake, blinking and looking around with a slightly confused look on his face.

"Ah, son of Jecht, you're awake I see."

"Where... where am I?" Tidus asked, embarrassed to find his voice croaking slightly.

"In Guadosalam, of course."

"No... I mean, this—" Tidus tried to gesture around the room, and was shocked to find his wrists tied to the posts of the headboard.

Seymour smiled indulgently. "My chambers," he said, a bit shortly.

"And do you always tie up your guests in bed?" Tidus asked dryly, then immediately regretted it. He didn't want Seymour getting ideas, though Seymour probably already had too many, and none that would be good for Tidus.

"Only you, Son of Jecht. I could not take a chance you would ...let's say, leave before I was ready to see you off. After all, I have so many wonderful plans for the two of us."

Tidus tried to give a little indignant snort at that, but found Seymour's words had scared him too much to sound insulted. It didn't matter anyways; in the time it took to blink, Seymour was on the bed beside him, his hand reaching out to cup the blond's cheek.

Tidus swallowed, instinctively jerking his head away. He expected Seymour to get angry at him, but instead the half-Guado only leaned down over his face and kissed him, almost tenderly it seemed.

He squeezed his eyes shut, all too aware of Seymour's body against his and wishing desperately it wasn't. How? How could this be happening again? It was supposed to be over now, right? That had been the one thing keeping him sane throughout the entire week—the knowledge that he wouldn't have to deal with Seymour again. But now Seymour was here and about to use him again. It wasn't fair.

He tried to make himself go away, as he had last time. Tried to think of pleasant things, tried to pretend he was back in Zanarkand. It had worked so wonderfully last time, or at least he could fool himself that it had. But for whatever reason, it wasn't working now. The only thing he was aware of was Seymour. Seymour was once again removing his clothes, and with his hands tied up this time, there was absolutely nothing he could do.

He knew it was going to hurt—last time was testimony to that—but he had gotten the idea in his head that it might hurt less a third time around. It didn't. The pain was just as sharp and excruciating as last time, that pain that had jerked him so reluctantly back to the present then. But this time he didn't scream, didn't cry, just stubbornly lay there and waited for it to be over.

He didn't want to give Seymour the satisfaction of breaking him again.

But oh geeze, it hurt. It hurts... Auron, I'm sorry. I didn't want this to happen, really I didn't. How could I stop it? I wish you were here, Auron. I want you. I need you. Please...

He wanted to plead with Seymour, beg him to stop this and just let him go, back to Auron, back to the others. He didn't; he knew it would do no good. Seymour was too caught up in his sadistic pleasure to be aware of Tidus, and he wouldn't have stopped anyways.

So he just shut his eyes tighter, clinging to that image of Zanarkand in his mind, trying to make it real. And at last he was able to float, to leave the nightmare of reality he was living and go away to something nicer. He no longer noticed Seymour, didn't know when Seymour finally decided he was finished with him and left him on the bed in such a state, nor would he have cared.

Eventually he slept.

Chapter Text

"Why would Seymour want to take Tidus?" Rikku asked the others.

"I think... something happened to him. Something Seymour did," Yuna said. She looked over at Auron. "You know what it is, don't you? What happened?"

"Can't say," Auron replied, not willing to tell them. Even if Tidus wouldn't kill him, he still didn't want to tell the others.

"Can't or won't?" Wakka demanded. "There's a difference, ya?" But Auron didn't answer him.

"It's not my place to say it."

"Well then, where should we look for them?" Yuna asked after a moment's silence. She continued to look at Auron, knowing he'd be the leader. He knew the most about Tidus, having known him longer than the others did, though no one was quite sure just how Auron knew Tidus, since Tidus supposedly was not of Spira.

Auron thought a moment, trying to decide where it would be best to head. "You three, head to Macalania Temple," he said at last, sweeping his hand in the general direction of Wakka, Lulu, and Rikku. "We'll go to Guadosalam." He didn't except to find Seymour and Tidus in either of these places, but it never hurt to be safe.

"And if he's not there?" Lulu asked. There was no need to ask what to do if he was there, they all knew the answer to that.

"Let's just see what happens. Meet at Macalania campsite in a week. Understood?"

They all nodded; they understood perfectly.

* * *

Tidus woke slowly, eyes fluttering open reluctantly. Gradually he became aware of his surroundings, and that those said surroundings included Seymour. Seymour was not so gently undoing the bonds on his wrists while attempting to dress him. He felt something wet and sticky down there between his legs and tears pricked at his eyes as he realized Seymour had been using him in his sleep. Somehow that was more humiliating than anything else he'd endured from the maester so far.

He wanted Auron. He hoped the man was on his way after him, because he did not know how much longer he'd manage to hold out in Seymour's clutches. But he couldn't rely entirely on Auron, he also knew. He had to stand up for himself, let Seymour see he wasn't afraid. It was just that it was hard, because he was afraid, so afraid, and he hated himself for it.

Seymour finished dressing him just then, and let him fall back on the bed. Tidus stared up at him, uncertain. The maester did not look happy at the moment, and Tidus debated the wisdom of demanding his release, deciding it'd be wiser to hold off for now. However, he decided it wouldn't hurt to find out what happened next.

"Are we going somewhere?" he asked, hating the fact that he sounded so timid and uncertain. He hoped Seymour didn't catch it, but he saw the maester's eyes narrow and knew he'd picked up on it.

"Stop being so damn afraid of me," Seymour growled, not sounding like himself at all. Whatever had put him in a bad mood must have been serious.

"I... I'm sorry," he said, wanting it to be good enough.

It must have been, at least for the moment, because Seymour relented slightly, answering the blond's question. "We're not going anywhere."

Tidus nodded, accepting this. He didn't dare ask anything else, though he desperately wanted to. He wanted to understand what was going on, what Seymour meant to do with him. But he didn't want to upset the man, because he was afraid of getting hurt again.

* * *

"Will Tidus be okay?"

"Don't know," Auron said shortly, hoping to discourage Yuna from further talking. She seemed to get the point, she said nothing else as they retraced their steps back across the Calm Lands.

"Well, I think he'll be okay!" Rikku exclaimed confidently. "He has to be..." she added, a bit more quietly.

The six of them had been traveling back through Mt. Gagazet and the Calm Lands for the past two days, sticking together for the time being since they didn't need to split until they reached Macalania. So far they hadn't stopped, which was more at Auron's insistence than anyone's urgency to reach Tidus. Auron knew they'd have to stop tonight though, no way Rikku and Yuna would be able to go on any more without rest.

Auron had considered just going on ahead and leaving them all behind, letting them catch up in their own time. He was anxious to get to Tidus. He wouldn't admit it to himself, but he was terrified for the teen. Terrified of how Tidus was holding out for whatever Seymour might be doing to him. Not that he didn't have a good idea of what Seymour was doing, but how Tidus might react—he hadn't a clue. He could only hope Tidus could last and not let Seymour break him anymore until Auron got there. Which was why he itched to keep moving forward, as fast as he could to get to Tidus. But he knew it'd be foolish to go in alone. He may be unsent, and probably incapable of dying the way others would, but so was Seymour. That made them evenly matched. And if it had been left at that, then Auron would have went ahead. But he couldn't be sure Tidus was in Guadosalam, and no matter where he was Seymour was sure to have his Guado guards. He'd be terribly outnumbered.

He was just glad they were making good time. They didn't have to worry about fiends in the Calm Lands; the chocobo trainer had been nearby and they'd managed to get some tamed chocobos to ride across the plains. They'd reach the travel agency in the central area by nightfall, which really wasn't that far away. Lake Macalania then wouldn't even be a half day away by chocobo.

"Are you sure you can't tell us anything about what happened, Auron?" Rikku asked him, bringing him out of his worried thoughts. He scowled at her, not liking the interruption. Besides which, it was at least the tenth time in the past three hours that she'd asked him that. He understood her concern, but her constantly asking wasn't going to make him change his mind about telling.

She sighed, making a face at him when he didn't answer her. "Keeping secrets isn't nice," she muttered loudly, and he resisted the urge to glare. Or smack her.

"Kihmari think secrets bad." Auron just groaned. He really should have gone off on his own. At least Wakka and Lulu hadn't been pestering him. He knew they didn't know what had happened, but they apparently had no problems accepting that Auron wouldn't tell. He was glad. If the others started to bother him too much, they'd be on his side. At least until they separated at Lake Macalania.

The rest of the half-hour ride was spent in tense silence, but Auron hardly noticed it, his thoughts focused entirely on Tidus instead. In fact, he got so lost in his worries that Yuna had to reach out and grab his arm when they reached the travel agency, otherwise he just would have kept riding along in the fast fading sunset.

"We're stopping here, right?" she asked. "We've been traveling for two days now..."

He nodded at her, knowing the stop had been inevitable. They tethered the chocobos to the posts, then went in to get their rooms. Just inside, they bumped into a man leaving.

"Rin!" Rikku exclaimed, and went on to exchange a few words with the merchant in Al Bhed. Hearing the strange language was another painful reminder of Tidus' absence. He'd been determined to learn some Al Bhed as they traveled throughout Spira, he'd actually gotten quite good at it in the past few days before his disappearance.

"Thanks Rin!" Rikku called, turning back to the others as the other Al Bhed left. "Rin knows where the airship is, he's going to tell Cid to come back for us at Macalania."

Auron nodded, thankful. The airship could at least ensure a quick getaway if they needed it.

* * *

"Do you really think Tidus will be at Guadosalam?"

"No. I expect Seymour would have only stopped there briefly before taking him somewhere else."

"Then why are we going to Guadosalam?"

It was a good question, Auron thought. One that didn't have any real answer. Why, indeed, were they going to Guadosalam? Just on the offchance that Tidus might be there after all? Because he expected to at least find a clue that could tell him where Seymour went?

Madness. They were branded as traitors. They'd killed Seymour. Showing up in Guadosalam would be suicide.

But what other choice was there?

He had to find Tidus, and Guadosalam and Macalania were the first obvious places to look. It was just afterwards that he was worried about. If there was nothing in Guadosalam to hint at where Seymour had gone, and if he wasn't at Macalania Temple, then Auron would be lost on where to head next.

Dammit. How could he have let this happen? He knew what Seymour had done to Tidus in Bevelle, knew that Tidus was far from okay about it still. And yet, he let Tidus fall behind. And because of it, Tidus had been taken. It was just a simple mistake, and yet it was unforgivable. He'd never forgive himself. If Jecht had been around to see how Auron was taking care of his son, he'd never forgive him either.

"We're near Guadosalam," Yuna whispered to him, breaking him out of his thoughts. He halted, and nodded at her. Then he looked around, assessing the situation. There were no sign of guards. He wasn't quite sure what that meant. It could mean that Seymour and Tidus weren't there, thus no need for guards. Or it could mean Seymour felt confident enough that extra protection wasn't necessary.

"How are we going in?" Yuna asked. "We're traitors here."

The same thing he'd been worrying about himself. Anyone who spotted him would know immediately who they were. And it wasn't as if they could go in and not get noticed. A summoner, an unsent guardian, and a small Ronso with a broken horn were kind of hard to miss.

Stealth be damned. "We fight our way in."

Yuna just looked at him and blinked. "We'd be outnumbered. Even with my aeons, there's still too many of them."

Aeons... funny that'd he forgotten about them. "Your Aeons... are any in their overdrive modes?"

"Bahamut is."

"I've got an idea, then."

* * *

Tidus heard a sound. It was very loud, and very close. And it sounded an awful lot like an enraged aeon.

Auron! he thought. Have the others come after me?

He wanted to jump up and down with joy, except that he was too tired and sore. So he just lay there, hoping it was Yuna with that Aeon and that she and whoever else with her was okay.

The door flew open. Startled, he jumped a bit. Seymour rushed in, looking harried and upset. He went over to the blond and grabbed his wrists, yanking him out of the bed. "We're leaving."

"What's going on?" he asked, confused. He'd assumed Seymour had meant to stay and fight, but apparently that wasn't the case. Seymour didn't answer his question, which Tidus hadn't really expected him to. But still, it would have been nice. He really would like to know what was happening out there.

He winced as Seymour pulled him along anxiously, and jerked his wrist back. "I know how to walk," he said, glaring. He hoped that in his agitated state Seymour wouldn't bother with hitting him.

"Fine," Seymour said shortly, walking fast out of the room and down the hall. Tidus hurried to keep up, idly wondering at how well his chances of escape were. Probably not good; this hallway seemed to go in one direction only. Nor did he really want to risk it until he was sure that was Yuna out there with an aeon.

They passed through the hallway quickly, eventually reaching the door that let them into the banquet room. Tidus was a bit surprised that Seymour was leaving so directly instead of trying to slip out through all the chaos. Then he saw Auron, Yuna, and Kimahri across the room, and knew Seymour wasn't running away. Not yet.

He was damned glad to see Auron, too. He hadn't doubted the man would come after him, but he'd worried Auron would get himself killed in the process. Or sent. Whatever it was.

"Sir Auron, Lady Yuna. What a pleasant surprise," Seymour said, not sounding surprised in the least. "Have-" A loud roar that Tidus recognized as Bahamut sounded outside, echoing around the large room, but Seymour spoke right over it. It was almost as if he hadn't heard it. "Have you come after this?" he asked the three, grasping Tidus' wrist and pulling him in front. Tidus didn't dare jerk away this time.

Auron glanced at him briefly, relief evident in his eye even from all the way across the room. Tidus gazed steadily back, trying to summon up a smile to let Auron know he was okay. "Let him go, Seymour," Auron growled.

"Why, whatever for? I have only taken back what is rightfully mine."

"He's not your goddamned piece of property," Auron retorted, sounding dangerously pissed off.

Seymour's grip on Tidus' wrist tightened, and he winced. His wrists were still sore and chafed from where they'd been tied up, and Seymour's fingers wrapped around one hurt. "Of course he's not," Seymour said agreeably. "But that doesn't stop him from belonging to me."

"He never belonged to you."

"Oh, but didn't he? After all—"

"No," Tidus whispered, horrified to know what Seymour intended to say next.

"—we shared such a lovely time in Bevelle. And he's just been so enjoyable these past few days." Seymour sounded amused.

Tidus closed his eyes, wanting to die. To go far far away from here and not ever have to face anyone again. Yuna knew now. And Kimahri. He had never wanted them to know. He hadn't wanted anyone to know, though it had been impossible to keep it from Auron. Auron only had to look at him to see the truth in his eyes. But he'd been comforted by the knowledge that the others would never find out.

Except now Yuna knew.

"You bastard," Auron grit out through clenched teeth. He unsheathed his sword and started towards Seymour in a rage, intending to run him through until there was nothing left. He heard Kimahri and Yuna shift positions behind him, and knew they were ready to back him up at a moment's notice.

Midway though, he stopped, jerking back as he felt a funny feeling start in the center of his chest and quickly spread throughout his body. "What-?" he cried out, looking down at himself. He recognized the greenish tint on himself immediately. Seymour had cast Zombie on him.

He looked back and forth between Seymour and Yuna, no longer sure what to do. It was not a feeling he dealt with often, and he didn't like it now. He saw Yuna preparing an Esuna spell, and shook his head at her, knowing it would do no good. Knowing they were screwed because they hadn't brought restock supplies with them. They'd figured the magic would be enough.

No one had counted on Seymour knowing Zombie.

Seymour smirked, and spread out his arms, having released his hold on Tidus a bit earlier. "Well now Sir Auron, Lady Yuna. What will you do?"

"You bastard," Auron repeatedly helplessly. The insult was pointless, but he had to say something.

Seymour only laughed. He quickly prepared a Cure spell in his head and said the word out loud, releasing the spell on Auron. The warrior monk winced in pain as the healing magic hit him, searing at his body, feeling as if it was melting away through layers of skin.

"Maester Seymour, please, stop this," Yuna said then, speaking up for the first time. She was rather pale, but there was a calmness about her that said she was still very much in control of her emotions. "Please, let Tidus go."

"Give up what is mine?" He shook his head. "I don't think so."

"He's not yours!" Auron snarled at him, then groaned as Seymour cast Cure again.

"Change him back, Seymour," Tidus spoke up then, startling everyone. He'd been silent the whole time, though it tore him up to watch Seymour slowly kill Auron.

Seymour glanced down at the blond in mild surprise, raising an enquiring eyebrow.

"Change him back, and let them go unharmed."

"For what reason?" Seymour asked, his hand absently reaching up to caress Tidus' cheek.

Tidus tried not to shudder under Seymour's touch, though he felt sick inside knowing the other three were seeing this. "Do what I ask, and..." he paused, took a deep breath. He didn't dare look over at Auron. He didn't want to lose his nerve. "I'll be yours."

"What?" Yuna stammered, as Auron growled, "Tidus!"

Tidus ignored them, continuing to speak over them. "If you let them go unharmed, I'll stay with you and do whatever you want. I won't fight it anymore." He kept his gaze steady on Seymour's face, pretending not to hear the anger of Auron and Yuna behind him.

Seymour studied Tidus, hand still carelessly stroking his cheek. After a long look, he apparently was satisfied that Tidus was serious. He nodded, smiling faintly. He looked to one of the guards who'd been standing unobtrusively near the entrance. "You, get this man some holy water," he ordered. "Then see to it they are escorted safely out of here."

Tidus sighed and literally sagged with relief at Seymour's words. However, Seymour's next sentence made him stiffen all over again. "Let's see just how serious you were," he murmured gently before bringing his lips down against Tidus'.

Tidus closed his eyes again in humiliation, knowing that Auron and Yuna were still there, and watching this. Seymour had wanted them to see. And Tidus had to respond, otherwise he'd get Auron killed.

So he kissed Seymour back, barely noticing the tears that started rolling down his cheeks, hating himself for being so weak, hating Seymour for putting him in this position. But he didn't have a choice; what else could he do?

* * *

They were silent most of the way out of Guadosalam and through the Thunder Plains into Macalania, neither quite fully able to cope with what they'd just witnessed, what had just happened. A little ways before they reached the campsite though, Yuna stopped, and carefully sat down in the dirt path, arranging her skirt around her.

"Auron?" she said thoughtfully. He stopped, and looked at her. Waiting for her to go on. "Will you please explain just what is going on?"

He remained silent at first, debating on just what to tell her. He knew she had an idea, given what Seymour had said and done back there, but it probably didn't make complete sense to her yet. Still, he was reluctant to tell her, feeling that it was Tidus' place to tell what he chose. He continued to look back at her, trying to decide how much she'd figured out on her own and how much she might need to know. She only gazed at him expectantly, knowing he would tell her what he felt was necessary.

Finally he spoke, choosing his words with caution. "When we were all arrested and thrown in the Bevelle prison, Tidus and I were put in a cage together. After we'd been there a few hours, the maester Kinoc came by with the news that Seymour wanted to see Tidus. Alone." He hesitated then, knowing he would never admit to anyone else that he hadn't protested it, hadn't insisted on going along. "So Tidus went." He stopped again, not sure how to put this next part, and hoping Tidus would forgive him for speaking the secret he'd so desperately wanted kept quiet. "He was only gone maybe ten, twenty minutes, but when he got back I could see he was changed. When he looked up at me, I could see it... what Seymour had done to him. Seymour had... raped him." The word stuck in his throat, that foul hateful word, and he found he couldn't go on anymore. There wasn't really any need to, anyway.

Yuna was quiet as she digested this, putting it together with what she'd seen and what Seymour had said. "So that's why Tidus was so distant," she said at last. "And it explains why you two didn't want to talk about Seymour."

He nodded, wondering if she was going to say he and Tidus should have told everyone. But she didn't, and he was glad.

"So what are we going to tell the others when we meet up?" She sounded a bit lost on this point, and Auron didn't exactly blame her. He felt a bit lost himself.

"Well, we're not telling them about what Seymour did to Tidus, in Bevelle or Guadosalam." He looked at her, and at Kimahri as well, making sure they understood that clearly. They both nodded. "As for why Seymour has Tidus still... perhaps it would be easiest to say we arrived just as Seymour was leaving with Tidus."

"To say we were too late?" Yuna looked a bit surprised, absently tucking a strand of brown hair behind her ear as she thought about it. "I suppose it could work.. I don't like lying to them, though."

"We don't have much choice," Auron pointed out grimly.

There was nothing she could say to that, so she didn't. Instead she silently stood up, and the three of them continued down the path toward the campsite.

Auron spent most of the rest of that walk thinking back on what had happened in those last few moments in the banquet room, before the three of them had been escorted out..

He knew Seymour had deliberately kissed Tidus in front of him, trying to goad him into doing something stupid, something that would give Seymour an excuse to kill him. But he'd restrained himself for Tidus' sake, though it about killed him to do so.

What hurt him most were the tears. Seeing Tidus cry as he'd been forced to kiss Seymour back had hurt more than he ever thought possible. That Seymour could do something so cruel hurt even more, because he was powerless to stop it.

He wanted there to be another way. He wanted an easy way out of this mess, but everything he did only dug them into it further. He was afraid to take another step for fear of making it worse, but at the same time, he was afraid of standing by helplessly and not doing anything—for sure it would make things worse. He was afraid because he knew Tidus was relying on him to get him out of this, and he didn't know how. He was afraid because he knew Yuna was relying on him to tell her what to do next.

He was just plain afraid.

He was afraid, and he hated it. There were few things in life he'd found to be afraid of, but what he did find to be afraid of always seemed to overwhelm him. He hated that too. Most of all, he hated Seymour. And he was worried for Tidus. Afraid for Tidus. He could only hope that the blond would be okay until he found some way to come back for him.

He knew one thing though. The next time they went after Seymour, he wouldn't make the mistake of being unprepared again.

Auron was still struggling with these thoughts and trying to overcome them when they reached the campsite some hour and a half later, the appearance of several tough fiends slowing their progress considerably.

Rikku, Wakka, and Lulu were already there and had set up camp. Lulu and Wakka had been talking in low voices to each other while Rikku stared dejectedly into the fire. All three looked up hopefully when the other three came near.

Yuna shook her head. "We were too late," she told them. "They got away."

Auron wanted to scream.

Chapter Text

He lay there long after Seymour left, very still because he thought if he did so long enough, he could will himself away from this place. Not just Guadosalam, but Spira... the world. Any world. All worlds. He wanted to not have to exist. Because he didn't want to remember. Because it hurt too much. Because he'd betrayed Auron. Because he hated himself.

It didn't matter that he had no choice; it was humiliating. Seymour had ruthlessly taken advantage of that fact, and seemed to take great pleasure in breaking him. And he couldn't protest, as much as he'd wanted to. He didn't want to take the chance that Seymour would have Auron hunted down. Oh, Auron was unsent, he knew that, but it didn't guarantee him immortality. Nor did it keep the rest of their group safe. For their sake, he'd had to do what Seymour wanted. No matter how much it hurt him.

Tears welled in his eyes as he remembered all over again just what that had been. Seymour carrying him back to his room, to the bed he'd come to despise so much... Laying him down gently on top of the blankets, undressing him almost... tenderly it seemed. It made Tidus want to gag, the odd way Seymour almost seemed to care about him at times.

His own clothes had been next to go, and Tidus had shut his eyes at the sight of Seymour before him, knowing what it inevitably meant and what he would be expected to do. What he'd promised to do.

He was pathetic...

* * *

"Open your eyes, Tidus," Seymour commanded softly. "Look at me. I want to see your face."

Tidus did so tentatively, reluctantly, eyes slowly unsqueezing shut to look at Seymour's face hovering above his. He was startled to see Seymour smiling. Not that Seymour smiling was anything new, but for once it wasn't a menacing or amused smile. It wasn't a smile brought about by the pain of others. It was almost... tender. Gentle. Caring. It wasn't suited to Seymour at all. Tidus only felt more sick.

"Good," Seymour murmured, still speaking in that same soft voice. "After all, you gave your word..."

Tidus nodded; he had. "I know," he said hoarsely. He felt Seymour's growing desire pressing against his stomach, and he had to fight hard the urge to twist away from it. His body twitched slightly, everything in him screaming in protest. No, he couldn't though. Couldn't move away. He had to prove to Seymour he'd been serious. He didn't want Auron and the others hurt because of him.. He'd do whatever it took to keep them safe.

Seymour's mouth was upon his then, pressing down insistently, demanding, wanting. He couldn't go away this time. Couldn't slip away to Zanarkand until it was over like he'd done in the past; no, this time he had to respond. He swallowed; then, arms shaking, he wrapped them around Seymour's neck hesitantly, pulling his head down closer as he kissed Seymour back. He felt tears welling up in his eyes, but stubbornly refused to let them fall.

Auron, he told himself. Think of Auron. Pretend it's Auron... It didn't really work. He was all too aware of Seymour on top of him, and no amount of pretending could fool him into thinking it was Auron.

He tried to think of that one night he'd shared with Auron, at the travel agency in the central area of the Calm Lands. Tried to remember how it had been between him, what they'd done. The only thing that came to mind was Auron trying to comfort him as his mind had flashed back to Seymour.

He didn't know what he was supposed to do, didn't know what would keep Seymour satisfied enough so that he'd stay away from Auron. By his consent, he'd had sex one time. He was inexperienced, and that fact was making itself painfully clear now. If it had been Auron, he would have been content to let instinct take over, to just explore and learn... but he didn't want to do that with Seymour.

Seymour moaned against him then, hips grinding down, his hardness pressing upon Tidus' flaccid length, which he thankfully didn't notice. He shifted his attention lower, hardly aware that he was murmuring "I want you" over and over. It made Tidus want to scream. Or be sick. Both, maybe. Both sounded good.

He had to respond. He didn't know what to do. Was he supposed to just lay here and let Seymour do whatever, or was he supposed to do something too? It was embarrassing. Why couldn't he remember the night with Auron better?

The decision was taken away from him when Seymour grabbed his hand and wrapped it around his hardness, using it to stroke himself roughly a few times. Tidus just barely managed to keep the tears from falling; he understood all too well what Seymour wanted.

He did it, somehow, doing his best not to think about just what he was touching, trying to ignore the way Seymour groaned his name, trying to ignore everything.

He wasn't able to stop the tears when Seymour eventually entered him. But he ignored them too, wrapping his arms around the half-Guado and clutching him as Seymour rode him, his thrusts deep and fast and impatient. He didn't pretend to enjoy it, he'd promised Seymour nothing of that. Only that he wouldn't fight anymore...

He held the man close to him throughout Seymour's trembling aftershocks, still crying but not finding it in himself to care anymore. Seymour lifted his head up and kissed his tears away before capturing his mouth once more. The kiss tasted salty, from his tears no doubt.

"That was not so bad, was it?" Seymour whispered. Tidus didn't answer him. There really wasn't anything to say. It had gone way beyond being 'not so bad' days ago.

After awhile longer, Seymour left.

* * *

"Yunie..." Rikku said.

Yuna gave them all a weak smile. "It's okay," she said. "We'll still get Tidus back." She didn't mention that Tidus might never be the same by the time they would.

"You said they were leaving?" Lulu asked, focusing on the more practical aspects.

She flicked her eyes over at Auron very briefly before nodding at the mage she considered her older sister. She hated to lie, but... "Yes. Well," she reflected after a moment, a thought hitting her suddenly, "that's what it looked like. Seymour could have been going to a room to hide. They might still be at Guadosalam." She added in that last bit so Auron would understand why she'd changed their story slightly. Because Seymour and Tidus had indeed still been at Guadosalam when they left, and that's where they'd all need to look first.

"Why didn't you go after them, ya?" Wakka demanded. "If you saw them, why didn't you save Tidus?"

She hesitated then, not sure how to answer that. Thankfully, Auron spoke up. "We were surrounded by Guado. Seymour and Tidus had disappeared by the time we could get away."

"Aw man," Wakka said dejectedly. Everyone went silent for a bit before Rikku spoke back up. "Will you tell us now what's wrong with Tidus?" she asked. Auron merely shook his head. She sighed, exasperated.

Eventually, with nothing else to do and Cid not there with the airship yet, they settled down for sleep. It was growing dark besides, and none of them felt much like talking. Auron least of all.

He lay there on his back on the ground, staring blankly up at the sky, not really seeing it. He couldn't stop thinking about Tidus. Wondering where the blond was, what he was doing. If he was okay, or if he was scared or in pain. If he wanted Auron. It hurt to know that he hadn't been able to save him. Instead, Tidus had saved him.

"Do what I ask, and... I'll be yours. If you let them go unharmed, I'll stay with you and do whatever you want. I won't fight it anymore."

Hearing Tidus say those words had been worse than awful. Nothing could compare to the way he'd felt just then, not even the helplessness of ten years ago facing Yunalesca. He felt so goddamn useless. He wanted to rip apart Seymour from limb to limb. He wanted to hurt Seymour the way Seymour had hurt Tidus, to let him see just how it felt to be on the receiving end of that pain for once. A thousand deaths he wanted for the hateful half-Guado maester, and not a one of them would be good enough.

He actually physically ached to get up right then and rush back to Guadosalam and get Tidus away from there, away from Seymour and all the pain he inflicted. Knowing he couldn't only made it hurt worse.

He tried to reassure himself with the knowledge that it wouldn't be forever. That they'd get Tidus back soon enough, and then Tidus would be safe where Seymour couldn't ever hurt him again. But it was little comfort, knowing that. Because Seymour had already inflicted so much damage... it had changed Tidus. That carefree blond blitzball star he'd admired back on Zanarkand would never be back. It would take Tidus a long, long time to heal and he'd never go back to the way he once was. Spira had forever changed him, shown him the harsh realities of life he'd been sheltered from the first seventeen years of his life. And losing Auron once this was all over would not help him. He hated that, that he wouldn't be around to help Tidus through it all, but what else could he do? He'd been on borrowed time for far too long. It wasn't his world anymore.

* * *

The next morning, they all headed to the travel agency Rin had built at the edge of Macalania Lake, intending to stock up on much needed supplies. As usual, Yuna was so indecisive about what to get that it took her forever. Eventually, Auron took over. He got most of what they needed, though the place didn't sell Holy Water. He supposed they'd have to head back to Mt. Gagazet for that. Or perhaps Rin had some, if they came across him. Idly he wondered where that other merchant was, the one that was always harassing them to lend him money. O'aka something or other. He was annoying, but he always had the latest in everything.

He realized he was nattering over little worries that didn't much matter instead of focusing on his worries about Tidus. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Of course it wasn't good to spend all his time worrying about Tidus, but if he didn't he felt oddly like he was betraying Tidus. It was a ridiculous feeling, but it was there all the same.

"Auron?" Rikku spoke up tentatively. Auron just refrained from glaring at her. He was sure she'd ask about Tidus again, but to his surprise she said, "Do we have everything we need? My dad is here with the airship."

He took a last quick inventory of their stock, hoping it'd be good enough, then he just nodded at her. He didn't really feel up to speaking, and she seemed to understand this. Nor did he feel like being around the others, and when he lingered behind slightly as they all filed out of the travel agency, not one of them gave him a backwards glance. But he knew he couldn't avoid them forever, and so reluctantly he walked out after them, approaching the party as Rikku was saying "...and so we want to look in Guadosalam first, Pops. Can you take us there?"

He was forgetting something. Something... what was it? Of course... the deal. The damned deal. It was important as hell, but he could no longer remember if that deal had included anything about their returning once more for Tidus. It didn't really matter though. Even if they had promised to stay away, he'd go after Tidus no matter what. He kept seeing Tidus' face in his mind, that half-terrified half-pained look as Tidus had stared across the room at him, a small hesitant smile twisting across his face for a moment, meant to reassure Auron though it hadn't in the least. It had taken all the self-control he'd possessed not to run Seymour through with his sword right then, and then it hadn't mattered because he'd lost control only a few minutes later.

"Sir Auron?" Yuna was looking at him. Her face was calm enough, but he could see the worry in her eyes. "We're leaving now."

* * *

The morning only brought a haze of painful half-remembrance. He blinked his eyes rapidly as he woke, trying desperately to fixate on some other subject. But with Seymour awake and watching next to him, he was failing miserably. Especially when Seymour reached out a hand to touch his cheek, his fingers trailing lightly down the side. Tidus swallowed, and tried not to flinch. It was the moments like these that scared him the most, for it was these moments when Seymour acted the most human Tidus had ever seen him. At other times he seemed to be a sadistic bastard who got his kicks out of exerting his power and control over Tidus, but when he did stuff such as he was now, it was like...

No. He refused to complete the thought. Seymour was sick and perverted, and there was nothing else. He wished Auron were here.

"Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are, Son of Jecht?" Seymour murmured then, startling him. He shook his head, knowing Seymour had meant the statement rhetorical. "You are, you know," Seymour continued in that some soft tone, so different from the firm and commanding voice Tidus was used to hearing. "I knew from the moment I saw you that you were mine.. There exists nothing more beautiful than you, and me, and I knew you were going to belong to me.. That you already belonged to me."

He was crazy. He had to be. "I belong to no one but myself, Seymour," he said, voice shaking a bit. As much as he hated to admit it, he was less sure of that statement than he had been last week.

"Oh, but you do." He sat up suddenly, staring down at the blond below him with such an intense look on his face that Tidus felt more afraid than before, if that were possible. He said nothing as Seymour continued his steady gaze, but Seymour said nothing either. For a moment he thought Seymour wanted him again, but after another minute Seymour stood up abruptly, giving his prisoner only the barest of attention. "Don't get too comfortable. We're to be leaving in a few hours."

"Leaving?" The word caused Tidus to sit up as well, and he stared at the maester in surprise, trying to ignore the frightened pounding of his heart. Leaving? They couldn't leave... Auron hadn't come back after him yet. How would Auron know where to look? How could Auron find him if they left Guadosalam?

"Yes." Seymour glanced back at him briefly as he walked towards the door.

"Wh-where are we headed?" Please let it be somewhere near. Somewhere obvious. Somewhere Auron can find me.

"Well. You'll just have to see once we get there, won't you?"

* * *

He stared around him in disbelief, taking comfort in the familiar surroundings and delighting in the fact that Seymour had chosen the most obvious place of all. "Here?" He followed Seymour inside the temple, noting that there seemed to be less people here praying than previously.

"I have some things I must take care of," Seymour said absently. "You're to wait in that room there," as he nodded to a room off to the left of the entrance to the Trials. "We'll most likely be here at least a day, maybe two."

Tidus nodded, accepting it because he had no other choice. He started towards the room, thinking he was glad that for once Seymour hadn't felt it necessary to lecture him, but just then Seymour turned back towards him partially, speaking somewhat over his shoulder. "Please, don't even think of running," he said mildly. "Hunting your friends down and killing them now would be a big inconvenience." He gave no indication that he heard, just continued on into the room, pleased that no one was in it and he could be alone. He flung himself down on one of the beds in there, face down.

Would Auron think to look for him at Macalania Temple? It was such an obvious place, what with Seymour being a high priest here. Surely Auron would come here once he didn't find Tidus in Guadosalam. The question was, would he get here in time? ...Would it matter, if he did? It was clear Seymour thought he owned him. That whole business about belonging to Seymour... that had been really weird. It unnerved him greatly. And he'd seen Seymour's face as he spoke. Seymour had been completely serious. He'd believed what he was saying, that Tidus belonged to him. He wasn't going to just hand Tidus back over without a fight, another unnerving thought. What if Auron didn't win that fight?

No. He'd do anything to keep Auron alive. Even if it meant giving himself up to Seymour completely. He'd do it. Even though it was humiliating, and painful, and wrong, and... "Don't think about," he whispered to himself, but it was too late. Even just indirectly thinking of what Seymour had done to him... all the memories came flooding back and he whimpered, pressing his face tighter into the pillow beneath him. Trying to shove the memories back out of his mind. As he'd done in the past, he tried thinking of pleasant things, things that had nothing to do with Seymour or Spira.

After awhile, the memories did lessen, and the pain along with them. He hadn't forgotten them, but thinking of other things helped, and he didn't hurt so much. He was able to sit up, taking a deep breath to reassure himself. He got back up out of the bed, bored. Seymour had said they'd be here at least a day and maybe even two days... On one hand, he was glad because it gave Auron more time to get to him. However, it meant he was stuck here for awhile with absolutely nothing to do. He certainly didn't want to think about things, and he'd slept so much at Guadosalam that he felt he'd never need sleep again. He wanted to leave the temple to go outside and look around, but he knew Seymour wouldn't let him, that Seymour would just think he was trying to get away.

With nothing else to do, he left the room and sat down just outside the door, his back to the wall. One of Seymour's Guado guards glanced at him as he came out, but said nothing, and looked away again when all Tidus did was sit down. The blond looked around the temple, studying the large statues that almost seemed to be looming over the place, glaring down at him. It made him a little uncomfortable, and he looked away. He spotted Seymour over near the entrance, standing calmly and talking with someone, clearly being the charming and delightful high priest everyone thought he was. It surprised him somewhat, to see Seymour this way. The man had so many different sides to him, so many different personalities he'd adapted to fit whatever the situation called for. Watching him chatting pleasantly with the man, one would be hard put to see Seymour as a person who could also take such pleasure in so brutally breaking a teenage boy, and a person who could be completely ruthless in doing whatever it took to make things go his way. If Tidus hadn't lived through it himself, he might not have believed it either.

Wait. Right. Don't think about that.

He wondered where they were going next. Were they returning to Guadosalam, or was Seymour planning on heading somewhere else? He had no clue, because the maester rarely ever spoke to him unless he was threatening him or telling him how beautiful he was. Any attempts at finding out just what Seymour had planned had been met with silence or something similar. And he was afraid to ask again, afraid to really speak to Seymour because he could never keep the fear out of his voice and he knew it aggravated Seymour to hear that fear. So he mostly just spoke little and remained in the dark about any future plans.

* * *

"Shit!" This word was followed by a long string of similar words, and the others all stared in complete shock at the man swearing before them.

"Uh... Sir Auron?" Wakka said hesitantly, unsure if he should say something or just let the guardian continue his unlikely fit of anger. He just wanted Auron to stop, seeing the usually stoic man be so expressive was a little... scary.

It seemed to work well enough, though. Auron stopped cursing and took a deep breath, feeling a sudden rush of embarrassment as he realized everyone was staring at him. But he only stared back at them, making his face unreadable, hiding behind his glasses and collar as usual.

Yuna was the one to break the uncomfortable silence settling over the group. "Where should we go now, Sir Auron?"

He grunted, trying to think. Despite what he and Yuna had told the others, about 'seeing' Seymour leaving with Tidus, he hadn't really expected the maester to go anywhere. They had their deal, Seymour had gotten what he wanted in Tidus, what reason was there for him to run now? Had he expected, or known, that Auron wouldn't give up so easily, that he'd come back for Tidus again? It was frustrating. Where would Seymour go? The only other place he could think of was Macalania Temple, and he didn't really think Seymour would hang around there long, if indeed he went at all. Still. They had to look. If it turned out Seymour went there and they never checked, and then something happened... he'd never forgive himself. He could hardly forgive himself for the way he was letting things turn out now. "We head back to Macalania," he said at least."To the temple."

"You believe Tidus will be there?" Lulu asked.

"No," he said bluntly. "But we must look."

"Yeah! And maybe Tidus will actually be there!" Rikku said cheerfully, throwing a fist up in the air for emphasis. She hopped around a little bit, excitedly. "We will get him back, I know we will! Don't give up hope, everybody!"

Chapter Text

"'Baaj' Temple? Are you sure?" Yuna asked, sounding uncertain.

"Yes, milady Summoner. He was standing right next to me when he said it. I heard it clearly."

She frowned slightly and turned to the others behind her, directing her question more towards Auron than anyone else, thinking that if anyone knew, he would. "Have any of you heard of this place?"

Most of them simply shook their heads, but Rikku spoke up tentatively. "I might know the place... I'd have to check with Pops to be sure, though."

"Okay." She turned back to the man they'd been speaking to, making the sign of prayer as she bowed to him. "Thank you very much."

He returned the prayer. "My pleasure to help, Lady." He started to walk off, but Auron's words stopped him once more.

"Did you happen to notice a teenage boy with Maester Seymour?" His words were sharp and short, and did not come out sounding pleasant in the least.

Still, the man answered, not sounding at all taken back. "Actually, now that you mention it, I did notice a blond-haired boy hanging around the temple for a few days. It's quite possible he was with Maester Seymour."

Auron didn't bother to thank him, just turned and left the temple, so it was left to Yuna to give the man a hasty thanks and another bow before heading after Auron. After a moment's hesitation, the others followed.

"Baaj Temple?" Yuna repeated, once they were outside. She looked at her cousin, hoping Rikku could tell them where and what it was.

Rikku shook her head slowly. "I don't actually know for sure... but I think it might be the place where we originally found Tidus."

* * *

Tidus blinked. "I've been here before..."

Seymour glanced at him, attention barely on the teen. "Have you?" he asked mildly before turning his attention back to other things.

Tidus continued to look around him in surprise. Yes, he'd definitely been here before. How could he forget the place? It was the first thing he'd seen upon waking in Spira: the endless ocean, nothing but water for miles around, and the random ruins of a temple long since destroyed. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost feel the fear and panic that had choked him the first time he'd been here, when he'd came to and realized he was completely and utterly alone. He could still recall the certainty that he was going to die in this place, as well.

Perhaps that hadn't been so wrong. Maybe Seymour had brought him out here to kill him. Surely no one would ever find him here if that was what the maester had planned. He swallowed, the thought bringing a rush of fear that was becoming all too familiar these days. He wasn't ready to die, least of all in this place. He'd wanted to live, and fight Sin with Yuna, and find a way to save her. It was stupid perhaps, but... he'd just wanted the whole stupid pilgrimage to be over with, and to be able to live somewhere with Auron, and the others all nearby... He'd given up on Zanarkand; he knew he'd never be able to go back. But Spira wasn't so bad... as long as he had Auron and blitzball, he didn't mind being stuck here. But if Seymour killed him here, he'd never get to have that dream come true.

Seymour continued to walk along the ruins, not seeming to be bothered by the little pools of water everywhere in the least. Tidus followed him at a short distance, hesitant. He wanted to ask what they were doing here, what Seymour was planning, but he was afraid. Not just of the answer, but of what Seymour might do if the question came out wrong.

Seymour gave a backwards glance at him, and seemed to read the expression on his face aptly. "There is a fayth," he said calmly as he reached the ruin's edge. He stood looking down into the water.

"A fayth?" Tidus asked, coming up hesitantly next to him, wondering why Seymour even wanted him to come along, why Seymour hadn't just left him back on that Al Bhed ship he'd more or less taken over.

Seymour nodded absently, still staring down into the water, almost contemplating, reminiscing. He had such a solemn, serious look on his face that it sent a small shiver down Tidus' spine. Seymour looking like this creeped him out. And what was he talking about, a fayth? Was he saying there was a fayth here, under this water somewhere, amongst the ruins?

"Baaj Temple..." came the somewhat non sequitur reply.

"Um...." He didn't know what to say, what he was expected to say. Seymour had been acting so strangely since conveying his belief that Tidus belonged to him; it was seriously starting to unhinge the blond. He almost thought he preferred Seymour's sleeping with him to this... this... this whatever it was. This madness. Yes, that was a good word to describe it.

Madness.

* * *

The door slid open. Everyone jerked their heads up, looking hopefully at Rikku as she entered the airship's cabin and walked up the stairs. She'd gone to the bridge to ask Cid for any news of the temple Seymour had apparently fled to. Rikku shook her head at them.

"He doesn't know," she said dejectedly. "He's never heard of Baaj temple."

"But you think you know, ya?"

Another shake of her head. "I'm not so sure anymore... But even if it is the place, neither Pops nor I remember how to get there. It was a long time ago, and we were just out salvaging whatever we came across. But Pops said wherever we needed to go, he'd fly us, as long as we provide him the proper coordinates. All we have to do is say the word!" She tried to give them all a smile, wanting to remain cheerful and keep their spirits up, but it was harder with every minute that passed, and them still without Tidus.

There was silence for a few moments as the group tried to figure out just where they could go. Seymour had thrown them for a loop. Spira was a big place, and he was hiding somewhere hardly none of them, not even Auron, had ever heard of, and certainly had no clue how to get to.

"Perhaps we should head to Zanarkand," Yuna said softly. She blushed a bit as everyone looked at her. "It's not that I don't want to go after Tidus. But we may learn more about Baaj Temple if we head there and continue onwards."

"Fine," Auron said after a moment's pause. "We head to Zanarkand. But we must not waste any time."

* * *

A few hours later, using Cid's airship, they restocked supplies in the Calm Lands and then flew to Mt. Gagazet to make the long trip through the paths and caverns to reach their destination. Another few hours, and at last they came upon the ruins of Zanarkand. They stood staring at the ruins of the once great city, acknowledging it for the truly desolate place it was.

"Looks like the Farplane," Wakka remarked.

"Close enough," Auron agreed. He glanced over the others, noting that the girls and Wakka looked exhausted, and that even the normally stoic Kimahri was slipping a little. They were all battle-weary from their trek back through the mountains, and he knew they wanted nothing more than to stop and rest for the night.

But time was of the essence, however. They couldn't afford to make a stop now. Not when they were so close. Not when Tidus' life was on the line. They had to press on, to keep moving forward, no matter how hard they found it.

"Let's go," he said as he started across the broken roads, his tone of voice leaving no room for arguments. They followed without a word, and it took them another hour to travel across the ruins and reach the temple area of Zanarkand where the cloister of trials was located.

With all of them working together, it didn't take very long to figure out the puzzle of the first room by matching the floor patterns with the tile patterns on the screen. That opened the door to the next room while simultaneously sliding out six pedestals, each with the mark of past temples protecting them. The puzzles got a little complicated after that. They were exhausted and worried and impatient, and they messed up more than once, accidentally stepping on tiles or getting the patterns mixed up, and they only succeeded in becoming more frustrated with each other.

But at last they got through it. They made sure to get the destruction sphere and hidden item as well, and after a headache-inducing battle with the Spectral Keeper, the pathway to the lower chamber was open for their access. Since they were not here for the Final Aeon just yet, they all rode down together. They went through the doorway and passed through one chamber into the next, where a pyreflie apparition was just making its way downstairs.

"Lady Yunalesca," Yuna said.

* * *

Sometime later found Seymour and Tidus standing in the antechamber of the once great temple; Tidus was shifting on his feet uncomfortably as he looked around. He knew now what Seymour had meant by "there's a fayth." There was a fayth here in the next room, he could feel it. It was a strange feeling, he'd never really been able to sense an aeon's presence before, or the fayth that commanded it. But he could feel this one.

He continued to look around the antechamber uneasily, trying to take it in. At the far end of the chamber was a huge glowing seal blocking a doorway. It was vaguely eye-shaped, and it gave Tidus the creeps. The left and right walls held six strange-looking statues, three to a side, facing opposite each other. They were unlike anything he'd seen in the other temples around Spira. They seemed to be representing some kind of creature, and they had stern faces and bodies. There were spheres set in front of each statue, spheres the same colour as the spheres in the other temples. One was a colour he hadn't seen before. Perhaps from Zanarkand?

Seymour moved from statue to statue slowly. Each time he stepped directly in front of one of the spheres it lit up, and a hologram of the temple's symbol appeared behind the guardian statue. The holograms also glowed, and the spheres along with them. Tidus assumed it to be some kind of seal, most likely required to break the seal guarding the Chamber of the Fayth. It left him feeling very uneasy. What kind of aeon could be way down here in a ruined temple hidden under the water, out in the nowhere land of Spira? How powerful must it be for him to sense the fayth's presence, when he'd never previously been able to?

How did Seymour even know it was here? Yuna had never mentioned it. He doubted she'd ever even heard of it before.

He watched nervously as Seymour approached the last statue. He almost wanted to say something, to stop Seymour from activating the last statue and breaking the seal to the other chamber. But he held his tongue, sensing that Seymour would be very angry if he interrupted him. Angry Seymour was scary. Angry Seymour was painful. He didn't want an angry Seymour if he could help it.

Then Seymour stepped in front of the last guardian statue, and the sphere lit up, and the hologram behind it. The large seal at the end of the room briefly glowed brighter before shattering into a million tiny pieces that faded away into nothing. The door to the Chamber of the Fayth was now revealed and accessible. Tidus swallowed, and waited to see what Seymour was going to do next.

"Come," Seymour spoke. His tone of voice was absent, as if he wasn't really thinking about what he was saying. He went into the other chamber, not even bothering to glance behind him to see if Tidus was following.

For a brief moment, Tidus thought about running. Just turning around and getting out of this temple and as far away from Seymour as he could. But where would he go? They'd had to come here by commandeering an Al Bhed ship that'd been docked in Luca, and the trip had taken quite a few days. And never mind all the time it took to travel from Macalania Temple to Luca. There was simply nowhere for him to escape to. For the time being, as much as it grated, Seymour was right. Tidus belonged to him.

With that depressing thought, and knowing he had no real choice, Tidus followed Seymour into the Chamber of the Fayth. Seymour was kneeling on his knees in front of the aeon, praying. The fayth hovered just above. Tidus slowly approached, coming up next to Seymour and looking down at the aeon. When he saw who it was, he gasped.

No wonder he'd been able to sense this aeon. It was extremely powerful. Tidus was sort of surprised he hadn't recognized it. It was the aeon Seymour had used at the blitz tournament in Luca! It felt like it had been so long ago, though it had really only been a few months ago.

"Anima..." Seymour murmured.

"Huh?" Tidus didn't understand.

"My mother."

* * *

"This place is creepy," Rikku whispered, clinging to Yuna's arm. "You really think Tidus is here?"

"We'll find out," Auron said shortly. They stood in front of the closed door to the antechamber, silent and listening for any sign that Tidus and Seymour were beyond. They heard nothing.

"We going in or what, ya?" Wakka finally demanded, impatient.

Yuna took a breath, and nodded. "Yes."

They were all prepared for battle, or as well prepared as they could be. Auron had learned from their last battle with Seymour, and he made sure they came prepared with as much holy water as they could carry. They also had plenty of other supplies, but not so much that it would hinder them in battle. His only regret was they weren't well-rested. They were still worn-out and battle-weary from their time spent in Zanarkand, but that just couldn't be helped.

Wakka reached out his hand, and slowly pushed the door open.

The antechamber was empty. They stepped inside, looking around at the statues, at the glowing temple spheres and the holograms of the temple symbols, and at the open door at the far end of the room. The open door through which Seymour and Tidus were coming.

Auron was once again relieved at seeing Tidus. He didn't any look any worse than he had in Guadosalam, and he still appeared to be calm and in control of his emotions. Auron had worried he was going to be in even worse of an emotional and perhaps physical shape.

"Oh my," Seymour remarked mildly. "We seem to have some unexpected visitors."

Kimahri growled, assuming a battle stance, spear out and at the ready. The rest quickly followed suit, crouching into defensive postures and readying their weapons. Yuna quietly murmured the words of a spell, and a protective barrier formed in front of each of them. Tough, intricately-woven gossamer threads of magic, they would take the brunt of Seymour's physical attacks for a short while. She also prepared another spell for everyone, murmuring "Auto-Life" to the group. It had the same restorative properties as the downy feathers of a Phoenix, and would quickly revive them should they happen to get knocked out by Seymour, or found themselves unable to go on. A good precaution, but one they all hoped was unnecessary.

Seymour, however, merely laughed at their preparations, and roughly pushed Tidus behind him. "My, this all seems so familiar... though I do believe your number has multiplied." He shook his head. "Pity. You have followed me all the way here, but it is such a waste. I just cannot allow you to take what is rightfully mine."

"He's not yours," Auron growled.

"Yeah!" Rikku chimed in. "Tidus belongs to himself! So let him go!"

"Oh, but you see... I cannot. We had a deal."

"A deal?" She looked confused. "What do you mean?"

Behind Seymour, Tidus' eyes widened. He had to do something. He didn't want Seymour answering that. Bad enough Yuna and Kimahri had found out his awful secret. He couldn't bear it if the rest of them did as well, assuming they didn't already know.

Shoving with all his might, he pushed Seymour away from him. The sudden motion was enough to knock Seymour off-balance and send him falling towards the others. At the same time, Auron ran towards the unsent Maester with his sword Blurry Moon, and swung heavily. Seymour managed to twist away from the blade at the last moment, but then Kimahri was right there, his lance outstretched and stabbing hard into Seymour's side. Seymour let out a furious yell and quickly began to prepare a Zombie spell which he unleashed on the Ronso. Then he immediately began to prepare a curative spell, but before he could finish it Rikku was right there with holy water to remove the spell.

He snarled at her, wondering just how much holy water they had, and if it'd be worthwhile to send a barrage of undead spells flying their way, inflicting them one right after another until they no longer had any holy water to cure them. The murmuring of another spell caught his ear just then, and he looked up right in time to see their black mage mouth the final words of Bio, a spell he had always been rather susceptible to. He swallowed, feeling the spell hit him, feeling the sudden poison course through his bloodstream, spreading fast, sapping away at his defenses. He had no kind of antidote in which to cure it. He hadn't expected their little group to find him at Baaj Temple. It was a forgotten place in Spira these days, not that many had ever heard of it in the first place. Certainly no summoners other than himself had ever ventured here.

He fumbled about in his mind, trying to remember the words to a not yet used spell, one he'd studied while back at Macalania Temple a week or two ago. If he remembered right, it'd cure the venom that cursed woman had infected him with. He could feel weapons striking at him, hitting him, drawing blood, and it made it that much harder to concentrate on the spell he was slowly and carefully weaving in his mind. The poison was working on him, making his thoughts and movements sluggish. He was finding it harder to dodge the swing of Auron's sword, the jabs of the Ronso's lance. Surely this couldn't be the end. Not this easily.

* * *

After pushing Seymour away from him, Tidus had carefully crept around the other side of the room, towards Yuna, all the while trying not to catch Seymour's attention. He didn't think he would. With five people steadily attacking him, Seymour had his hands full just trying to stay alive. Wakka was especially relentless with that spiked blitzball of his, and Auron was swinging like there was no tomorrow.

He couldn't believe all these people were fighting for him. His throat tightened, and he had to furiously blink away sudden tears that threatened to spill. They barely knew him, and yet they were fighting as if he were truly one of them, as if he belonged. They cared about him and what happened to him. The thought was comforting. It made it easier for him to approach Yuna, despite the fact that she knew his horrible, shameful secret.

Yuna and Rikku were standing a little ways off to the side of the others, apparently the designated healers of the battle. Rikku was offering her special Al Bhed potions and other remedies to the group when needed, and Yuna was renewing the protective barriers as necessary. Seymour had apparently finally managed to spit out the spell that would get rid of the poison in his body, and he was now attacking them back for all he was worth, tossing fireballs and lightning strikes at them as fast as he could prepare them in his head. Yuna was beginning to prepare a spell for a reflective barrier, but Tidus could see she was reluctant to use it. It would reflect Seymour's spells, but it would also reflect her own curative spells should she need to use them.

Tidus slipped up beside her. "Cast it on Seymour first," he whispered to her.

She started, not expecting to see him there. Her hand flew to her mouth in surprise. He offered her a cocky grin, and repeated what he'd said. "Why on Seymour?" she whispered back.

"If you cast it on Seymour first, and then on the others, you can bounce your curative spells off of him onto Auron and Kimahri and them. Lulu can also reflect her magic off of our group and onto Seymour. It'll work until Seymour starts catching on."

She smiled at him, and then began to do as he'd suggested. "Thanks," she said. They stood there together and watched as Rikku went up to join in the battle, and discreetly spread the word around about the reflective barrier set up, and how to use it to their advantage, at least until Seymour realized what they were doing.

"There's a fayth," he said suddenly a little while later. "An aeon, in here... Anima, the one Seymour called upon in Luca, it's his mother, it's very powerful—" he was aware that he was suddenly babbling, but he couldn't seem to stop.

"I know," Yuna said softly, cutting him off.

He blinked at her. "You do?"

"I can sense it..." She paused, frowning slightly. "I knew it was here the moment we walked into the temple. I knew right away."

"You should—"

A cry from Rikku interrupted whatever Tidus was going to say. They looked over to see her get struck by a particularly strong lightning spell, one that rendered her arm immobile. Kimahri moved in front of her, pushing her back towards where Yuna was standing, thrusting his lance at Seymour. Seymour caught it in his hands before it could stab him, and shoved backwards. Kimahri stumbled and almost fell into Wakka, but recovered quickly, calling upon a powerful wind to heal the party, and give them just a bit more energy to keep fighting. It was enough for Rikku, who stepped back up despite her numbed arm. She quickly dug in her pouch for a couple of grenades to toss at Seymour, and hopefully stun him for a bit.

At the same time, Lulu unleashed a fury of energy-draining spells on Seymour, so that the man could only stand there and wince and try not to fall down flat on his face. When at last she relented and stepped back, she was exhausted and breathing hard from the exertion and sheer strength it took to keep such a powerful spell going over and over.

Auron had also seemed to slow down a bit in his attacking frenzy, chest heaving and sweat dripping. He was covered in tiny burns from the various fire and ice spells Seymour had hit him with. The reflective barriers Yuna had set up had long since worn off. Rikku was supplying her potions as fast as she possibly could, but they were little help at this stage of the battle.

"They're worn out," Tidus remarked as Yuna prepared another curative spell and directed it towards the group.

"Yes," she agreed, her attention focused on renewing the protective barriers around everyone. She strengthened them as much as she could, tightening the delicate threads of magic as much as possible. Then she began setting up a magical barrier, a separate set of threads that would form a shell around the guardians and filter out the worst of the magical elements Seymour threw at them. It would still hit them of course, but it would be a lot less painful and wearying.

"I want to fight, to help them."

"The Lionheart is on the airship."

Tidus clenched his fists helplessly, watching as Seymour slowly wore their party down. At the rate they were going, Seymour would win and kill them all. And Tidus would be trapped in hell forever. "We need to do something," he said, and then realized that Yuna was no longer standing next to him. Gaping, he whirled around, and saw that she was slipping into the Chamber of the Fayth, which he'd completely forgotten all about, though he wasn't sure how. The presence of Anima was still as strong as ever. He guessed he'd just gotten used to it.

* * *

She stepped into the chamber slowly, her eyes on the fayth hovering above the trapped aeon. It was the woman they had seen in Zanarkand Dome. Seymour's mother. As she had said to her young son, she'd made herself a fayth so that he could use her.

"You are Maester Seymour's mother," she said softly.

"So you know. Yet still you seek my aid?" The fayth asked. She paused a moment. "My son... Do you not hate him?"

Yuna did not answer. She did not want to lie, yet she could not stand there and admit that she did, that she hated Maester Seymour, for what he had done to Spira and to Tidus.

"It is all right," the fayth said, shaking her head. "He is the one who sowed the seeds of hatred. He is to blame." She looked away, towards a pyreflie-induced vision of young Seymour standing there, his back to his mother and his hands rubbing at his eyes as he sobbed soundlessly. "But I am at fault for letting him become what he was." She paused yet again, briefly, before speaking once more. Remembering. "He was always alone—half Guado, half man. I wanted to give him the strength to live by himself. And so I became a fayth. But... because I let him taste power, he began to thirst for more. He was not satisfied with my aeon. He wanted more. More power."

Another brief silence. This time Yuna broke it. "And he found Sin," she stated quietly.

"Yes." She waited. "Come, summoner. I will bestow you with my power: The Dark Aeon, Anima. Destroy Sin, and my son's obsession with it." She disappeared, scattering into pyreflies, her voice floating out over the empty air. "Though it is small recompense for what I did to him."

* * *

Auron knew they couldn't hold out much longer. It had been a valiant effort, but even with the six of them Seymour was still slowly getting the best of them. Lulu had tried to poison him a few more times, but it did no good, for he'd just remove it every time. Now she was getting worn out. She barely had the strength to cast her spells anymore. And Wakka had long since lost the strength to lift his arm and hurl his blitzball in the maester's direction. Rikku, too, had given up on fighting, and now was spending all her energy on keeping them going with her potions. He and Kimahri were the only ones left with the strength to continue fighting, and even they were getting exhausted. Yuna had long since disappeared, and Auron hoped she was doing something that would save them all.

A blast of ice shards hit him just then, and he grunted, going down on one knee. Rikku darted in to patch him up as best as she could, helping him get back on his feet. "Where's Yuna?" she whispered to him.

Auron only shrugged, and just barely managed to dodge another ice shard from Seymour. "Don't know," he managed to say.

"I hope she comes back soon," she said, before bouncing over to help Wakka, who was slowly struggling to get back up.

A bit later, she did come back, looking strangely serene despite their desperate situation. She walked towards them calmly, stopping when she was standing directly in front of Seymour. Slowly Auron, Kimahri, and Wakka put down their weapons and stood by, waiting to see what she'd do.

Seymour opened his mouth, prepared to fling a water spell at her, but before he could she spread her arms wide and then raised one hand up towards the ceiling, saying, "Come, Anima."

Anima came. A dark rip in the fabric of reality opened up through the ceiling of the temple, and a single metal chain shot out of it, slamming down through another fiery rip in the ground, and slowly pulled the Aeon up. Four other chains holding the powerful Aeon in also rose up simultaneously, and attached themselves to the guardian statues in the temple, and Anima shot up into place, letting out a sorrowful roar as she rose.

Before Seymour had a chance to banish her, she let out another roar, and channeled all her pain into a mass of energy which she then repeatedly slammed into Seymour. The force of the continuous attack was enough to send him reeling, and he fell heavily to the ground, completely knocked out cold before he ever had a chance to react.

But there was no time for celebration. "Yuna, quick," Auron said. She nodded, and began the sending. The others watched solemnly as she gracefully danced, and finally sent Seymour to his rightful place in the Farplane.

* * *

It was over. At last. They glanced around at one other warily, as if they didn't quite dare believe it. They were exhausted and near collapse and safe, and only moments ago they were desperately fighting for their lives and doing their best to get rid of Seymour once and for all.

"It's... really over?" Rikku asked, voicing everyone's thought out loud.

"Yeah... let's get out of here, ya?"

Wakka got no argument with that statement, and they made their way out of Baaj Temple as fast as they could, all hoping they would never have reason to come back.

* * *

Tidus sighed, and shifted over on his side, trying to get comfortable on the airship's lousy bed. He couldn't sleep. He'd already slept away one whole day, and he'd spent too much time in Seymour's captivity just sleeping in an attempt to escape reality. There was really nothing else to do right now, though, other than sleep. The other guardians and Yuna were all still asleep. While he'd been traveling in relative comfort with Seymour (when Seymour wasn't getting his rocks off on exerting his power and control over him, anyway), the others had been busy busting their asses backtracking across Spira, looking for him and for clues to his whereabouts. They'd gotten precious little sleep, and the battle with Seymour sapped what little bit of strength they'd had left.

He shifted back over on his other side. Then onto his back a few minutes later, pillowing his hands up under his head.

He felt guilty. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps because the others hadn't given up on him, when he'd given up on them. Somewhere on the way over to Baaj Temple, he'd given up hope of the others ever finding him. He hadn't expected them to bother saving him, not even Auron. He didn't know why he'd felt that, but thinking of it now was shameful.

Thinking of everything was shameful. Everything that happened, everything Seymour did, everyone who knew... It hurt. Why did it have to happen, and to him? What had Seymour really wanted with him? Why had Seymour insisted that he belonged to him? There was so much he didn't understand.

If only he hadn't agreed to meet with Seymour alone, at the very beginning of this whole horrible nightmare, back in the prison cage of Bevelle... He turned over once more.

Auron was standing there. He sat up in surprise, and looked at him. He hadn't expected to see Auron awake for at least another day. They stared at each in other in silence for awhile, until at last Tidus began to squirm uncomfortably, not sure why Auron was just standing there, or what he was thinking.

"Uh... come in?" he finally said, his voice a bit hoarse from not speaking in awhile. Auron did so, closing the door behind them so they'd have some privacy. He leaned against it, regarding Tidus somberly with his one eye. His dark glasses were absent, having been crushed at some point during the battle with Seymour.

"It's not your fault," he spoke at last.

"What?" Tidus managed to squeak out, still trying to figure out just what the hell was going on.

"Everything that happened."

"Oh..." He looked down at the blanket, and began absently tracing little patterns in it with his finger. "Does everyone know?" he asked after a bit.

"No."

At that, Tidus looked back up, surprised. He'd have expected Auron or Yuna to tell the others at some point.

"It's not my place to say," Auron explained patiently.

"I don't ever want to say..." he mumbled, fully expecting Auron to tell him that he'd have to say sometime.

But Auron merely said, "You don't have to." He paused. "It's not their business."

"I can't stop thinking about it all," Tidus whispered. He closed his eyes. "I just want it all to go away. I just want for it to not have happened."

"Don't wish to change things in the past. Just move ahead, towards the future. It's easier that way," Auron said, his voice strangely gentle. Tidus had the thought that perhaps he was speaking from painfully learned experience.

He swallowed. "Auron—" He reached out a hand, not even sure what he was reaching for, or what he wanted out of Auron, or if Auron even had anything to give, but he stretched his hand further anyways.

And perhaps Auron understood where Tidus didn't. He straightened up, stepping towards Tidus and grasping the boy's hand. He lowered it slowly, and firmly but gently pressed against Tidus, indicating for him to move over. Tidus did so, and Auron climbed in next to him.

"Auron—" Tidus tried again, but Auron shook his head, smothering his words beneath a kiss. Comforting. Offering. Absolving. Giving Tidus what he wanted, and then some.

And Tidus, still not knowing exactly what it was he was asking for, accepted it nonetheless.