Dealing with the aftermath of Yuna's Sphere.
_____________"What have you done to them?" Isaaru hurried towards his unconscious guardians, stumbling over the hem of his robes. "In Yevon's name—"
"Calm down; they're fine!" Rikku said, tapping the back of Auron's head with a fingertip. "Funguar pollen: works better than a hammer on skulls like his. They'll wake in a few. You'd better sit down till your head clears."
The intercom crackled to life with a squeal of static. "Rikku, what are you doing to my ship?"
Rikku pressed her hands over her ears and wrinkled her nose. "Nothing, Gip. Maroda and Auron got into a fistfight. I hit 'em with a nightcap."
"Oh." There was a long pause. "Hull breach? Dents in the deck?"
"Ummm..." She lifted the legend's feet, first one and then the other, letting them drop with a clunk. "Nope!"
"Keep it that way."
"Sorry, Captain," Isaaru said, propping his knuckles on the wall to steady himself. A gesture of faith, that: he found himself leaning against Al Bhed glass and open sky beyond. For a moment faith's ironies left the summoner breathless, struggling to stifle a laugh that might offend. Apparently the pollen was making him light-headed.
"Apology accepted. Try to keep the Yevon love-fest under control, okay? Gippal out." There was another ear-stabbing pop, then silence.
Elma moved to Isaaru's side and slipped a hand under his elbow, falling back on familiar duties. "Funguar pollen, eh?" she muttered. "Could've used it at a few staff meetings."
"Thank you, Elma," he said. "If you would..." He nodded towards the fallen guardians. Leaning on her arm, he approached the pair and dropped to one knee to examine them. Rikku scooted out of the way, hopping to her feet and watching with hands on hips. He moved first to his brother, feeling for the pulse at his wrist, smiling at the Al Bhed woman's irritated pout. His smile drained away as he turned his attention to the older guardian. Isaaru reached out, hesitated, and slipped his hands into the man's collar, gently turning his head to a more comfortable position. Splaying his fingers over tufts of white hair, the summoner whispered a few verses of prayer.
"What's with him, anyway?" Rikku said, folding her arms. "He looked sick."
"I cannot be sure, but I fear that..." Isaaru pressed his lips together, the delicate pause masked by his deliberate manner of speaking. "Elma's guess may be correct. Sir Auron is not a young man, and he has faced Sin more times than any man alive. The toxin must linger in his very bones. It is a wonder he is still sane. Despair, perhaps, or the pain of memory triggered its effects. As for Maroda, I don't think we need blame Sin's toxin: he is worried about our missing brother, and has had his doubts about Sir Auron since first he joined us."
"Smart guy," Rikku said. "Hey, Elma, you okay? You look like you ate a bug."
Elma, crouching next to Isaaru, was staring past his shoulder towards the drifting clouds. "Hm?" She came back to herself with a start and winked at Rikku. "Oops. Thinking: never a good idea. So, anyway...you all right now, sir?"
"Yes, better." Isaaru stood, boosting himself on her arm. "I should apologize, Commander."
"Sir?" she said quizzically.
"Lady Yuna's sphere." Isaaru touched her wrist in mute thanks and stepped away, smoothing out his robes. "I was somewhat braced for what we might hear; you had no warning. I know what ache you feel, Elma. Some years ago, I uncovered a part of what you just heard. I realized then that the teachings of Yevon had arisen in the same way as the cult of Sin: rites and rules meant to appease a fearful enemy. But I tell you, Elma, even if Yevon is not what we believed, a prayer from the heart is as true. The teachings are not Yevon-sent, but they are hallowed customs cherished, sanctified and passed down by our ancestors, a gift of wisdom to guide us in a world full of trials. Can you find some comfort in that?"
"Not really. But it doesn't much matter what I think, eh?" The dark-haired woman gave a crooked smile and dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm just a soldier. Point me at a foe and I'll fight it. For now, you've got a spare guardian, until I find my troops and my general safe and sound. If you'll have me, I mean."
"It would be an honor. With my brother, Sir Auron, and Lucil's right hand to defend me, I need fear no fiend in Spira."
There was a groan from the floor. "Ugh." Maroda pushed up to his hands and knees, blinking. "What the hell?"
"Wakey wakey!" Rikku said, stooping over him and wiggling her fingers.
"Buzz off." Maroda glowered at Auron's red coat. "Jeez, did he knock me out?"
"No, I did!" Rikku said, skipping backwards hastily. "No more fighting, kids. Mr. Grouch could crack the hull if he loses it, and then we'd all be flying without a ship...straight down!"
"And we're supposed to trust this guy?" Maroda said, clambering to his feet and rubbing his neck gingerly.
Isaaru placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sir Auron's not the only one keeping secrets, remember."
"So?" Maroda said, giving his brother a jaundiced look. "I repeat: we're supposed to trust him?"
"Maroda, please. Trust me, at least. Sir Auron's bond with Sin may be a weapon we can use."
"Ha." Rikku shook her head and ambled back towards the ops console to check the readouts.
"Rikku," Maroda said. "Were Auron and Lulu lovers?"
"Ew, no way! Those two never had any fun; it'd be against the code of Grumpy Guardians or something." She jabbed at a few buttons irritably. "Besides, if he loved her, he'd never have gone along with her stupid plan."
"Not...necessarily," Elma said. She reddened under Rikku's incredulous stare. "You can't keep someone you love from doing her job just because it's risky, eh?"
"Lady Rikku," Isaaru said. "I beg you pardon, but one thing I must know. Why did Lulu's plan fail?"
"Oh." She flipped her braids behind her shoulders and applied herself to the controls, scowling. "Well, your precious Maester Seymour killed Tidus on Mt. Gagazet, so we were already short one sword. We lost Kimahri when...when Yuna called up the Final Aeon. She told us to get back, but he tried to shield her. So then it was down to Wakka and me and Sir Auron, right? But Wakka, he...he just couldn't hurt Lulu. And I wasn't much into fighting friends either, especially when they're about fifty feet tall and dressed to kill with flames and lightning bolts shooting every which way. I know we should've tried, but...we didn't. Except for Auron. Like that worked really well. I thought she'd killed him too. Then boom, bang, major kablooie, and that's all I remember till I woke up on Pops' airship."
"She was too strong," Auron said hoarsely. "We needed aeons." Ignoring the heads swiveling in his direction, he stood and drew his arm back into his coat, slouching against the wall wearily.
"Or maybe you didn't want to kill her either," Maroda said, the accusation muted.
"Better than becoming Sin."
"And so now you would be Sin in her stead?" Isaaru said, watching him with focused compassion. "Is that your plan, Sir Auron?"
Maroda's shoulders hunched. "Oh."
"If no better way can be found."
"But that won't help!" Rikku said, flapping her hands. "You kill another summoner, turn into Sin, and then we've got Sin Grouchypants instead of the Lady! What difference would that make, huh? Maybe that's why Lulu's been blowing up the temples, to keep you out of trouble!"
"She's destroying the temples to avenge Yuna," Auron said flatly, "and all those killed by Yevon hypocrisy."
"Wow," Rikku said, scratching her cheek. "In that case, she should've left Baaj alone!"
"Hey!" Elma bristled. "What about my men? What've they ever done to Lady Yuna?"
"Lulu is still Sin, bound more to its will than it to hers."
"Sir Auron," Isaaru said. "I take it that Lady Yunalesca rejected you and chose Lulu instead. That being so, what hope is there that she'll accept your offer this time?"
"Leave her no choice," Auron said, scowling. "Send your other guardians away before we enter the Hall of the Final Summoning. Yunalesca's running out of options too: Lulu's seen to that."
"So what?" Maroda said. "Rikku's right. All you're doing is buying us time, at the cost of Isaaru's life! Ten, twenty years from now, we'll have to start all over again."
"That is nothing new," Isaaru said. "All summoners accept that the Calm is only a fleeting blessing. But I may be a summoner in name only, by the time Sin is finished her work."
"You aren't one now," Auron said, earning another glare from Maroda.
Isaaru smiled. "No, not much of one. I am not Lord Braska, though I have tried to emulate him. I have not Lady Yuna's talent with aeons. But such as I am, I will help you see this through. We'll find a way, Sir Auron, I promise you."
The white-haired guardian clenched his fist, bracing himself against the wall. "I've heard this before, Isaaru."
"Yes," Isaaru said soothingly, "but perhaps my way will be different. If we can convince Elder Cid, we shall have machina to compensate for my missing aeons."
"Sir," Elma said. "Teachings aside, the Al Bhed's strongest machina couldn't puncture Sin's defenses at Operation Mi'ihen. They got creamed. I doubt they're eager for a rematch."
"Machina alone will not ensure victory, Commander. But machina, aeons and guardians, all Spira's powers united? Such an alliance may achieve what the pilgrimage cannot."
"Not likely." Rikku sighed. "Elma's right. On top of which, Pops hates how Yevon kills off summoners and guardians. He won't help you commit suicide!"
"He may make an exception for me," Auron said drily.
______________/**Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction.../
-- William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"