Silhouetted against the sky
You thought I couldn't see
The weariness in your eye
Or how you watched over me
Lulu lay lapped upon the the steaming water, surrounded by a graceful fan of braids floating just below the surface. Her body spun slowly. She was not a gifted swimmer like Wakka, but the islanders were at home in water as well as land. Soaking up their native element, she tried to let her spirit float free. Breathe. Smell the slight tang of the hot springs, and the crisp scent of the snow behind it. Fire and ice.
Gagazet thrust up at her back almost a league into the sky. She could feel its unimaginable mass like the great solid deeps of the ocean beyond Besaid's necklaces of sand. Air and earth too, then: she felt herself lapped by all the elements except lightning's flash. That, she would normally be able to supply.
The mage's eyelids drifted closed in surrender. There would be time enough for that tomorrow. Half asleep with water lapping over her ears, Lulu failed to hear the faint scuff of snow or a slow tread upon the rocky steps.
~ * ~
Auron halted on the stair to drink in the view. It was worth the longer climb from the valley floor (he had left by the front door on an errand to the smithy, as far as the others were concerned), and he had always preferred high places. The hot springs formed a narrow shelf like the irrigated fields marching up the hillsides outside Bevelle. Beyond the retaining wall, the world stretched out in grey lumps and pools of shadow, barely illumined by the smudge of moon shrouded in its silver cocoon by low banks of cloud. Far away, beyond the somber foothills, beyond the gorge and flat lake of black that was the Calm Lands, there came a grey-steel glimmer of distant ocean. The panorama beckoned him to lose himself in its lonely expanse, but a vision floating just beyond his feet drew his attention downwards and rooted him in his tracks.
From his vantage point, Lulu resembled one of the statues of the fayth caught beneath a glassy dome, light pulsing softly beneath her pale limbs. The soft islands of her belly and her breasts and the square firm silhouette of her face shone the same blue-gray as the snow, in contrast to the faint greenish-gold light emanating from her body hanging suspended beneath the surface. Silently, hypnotically, she turned in a slow spiral. Steam drifted across her, blurring without obscuring her curves. All around her haunting figure, glassy ripples spread out and divided, weaving complex patterns as they bounded off the lip of the retaining wall. Watching her softened braids whirling around her in a stately, drifting web, Auron was once again reminded of Shiva. Right now, even the Aeon seemed drab.
A gleam of pyreflies drifting up from his sleeve snapped him back to the present, and he smiled grimly. Pay attention. This would be a fine time to forget all the disagreeable reasons and burning oaths that kept him here.
Reluctant to disturb the precious tableau before him, the swordsman crouched down at the water's edge and forced himself to call her name.
With a gasp, Lulu rolled over and swung her legs downward, twisting around in the water to face him. "I was beginning to wonder if I had misunderstood," she murmured, taking a few strokes to bring herself closer until her toes touched bottom.
"You looked comfortable." Comfortable did not really begin to describe it, but Auron was not in the habit of being lyrical. "May I join you, or would you rather be alone?"
"Idiot," the mage replied fondly. She slapped the water next to her invitingly. "I was waiting for you."
"Hmph." He moved to the bench to disrobe before her heavy-lidded gaze. She folded her forearms on the rim of the pool, resting her chin upon her wrists. His breastplate was absent --being repaired, probably -- and the puckered fresh skin of a half-dozen gunshot wounds marred the smooth muscles along his left side when he moved. Despite or because of the new and faded scars, his muscular frame had the polished, pitted beauty of old driftwood. Lulu felt considerably more awake when he shucked his trousers and stalked towards the water, pausing again to gaze down at her.
"What?" She raised her head from her arms with a splash.
"I suppose you realize how beautiful you are," Auron observed matter-of-factly, settling on the edge and easing his legs into the lapping water. His aching sinews relaxed into the heat.
"Mm." She splayed her steaming fingers lightly against his stomach, so that her hand traveled up his chest as he lowered himself into the pool beside her. "And I suppose you don't." The warm caress of his jaw clarified whom she meant.
The swordsman shook his head. They drifted together, greeting each other with soft, silent touches that needed no words. Lulu still flinched sometimes when his calloused hands skirted her breasts or the dip of her waist. However, Auron was profoundly gentle, avoiding confining her in any way until she gathered his hands over her breasts and held them there, stroking the backs of his wrists with her fingertips. They circled into the deeper water. The sorceress trembled when his fleeting kisses turned more insistent and his tongue thrust into her mouth, but she would not let him pull away. Skin slid against skin, and the tendrils of her hair glided around his shoulders. At last they came to rest with Lulu's back nestled against his chest and Auron's arms circling her loosely, while he braced the toes of one foot against the bottom to keep them from sinking.
"Lulu." His lips had come to rest against the side of her cheek. "I should apologize."
"I thought we had agreed not to apologize for... Yojimbo's surprises."
Her wording drew a pained chuckle and a light squeeze. "Agreed. But you were right this morning. I was too hasty. I wanted to leave you here." He paused, imagining her indignant expression. "Safe."
"Oh, Auron." She stroked the top of a foot against his calf. "Well, I was struggling today. But yours is the wrong reason to leave me behind, and you know it."
"Is it?" A wet kiss tickled her ear. "Yuna is well-endowed with Guardians. One more or less--"
"May make the difference!" the sorceress interrupted, rocking in his arms as she forgot where she was and made a slashing gesture with her hand. "Weren't you paying attention?"
"I saw." Auron sighed, breath cooling her cheek. "I know. Yuna will need your wisdom in Zanarkand."
"So, what you're really saying is," Lulu continued more gently, twining her feet with his legs, "I have become a distraction to the legendary hero. I suppose I should be flattered."
"Yes." His self-deprecating chuckle did not fool her; the older Guardian sounded as weary as she had ever known him to be. Yojimbo had touched him too, after all. "You must understand, Lulu. Ten years ago, there was nothing I could do to keep Lord Braska alive. Last night, being unable to help you, being turned against you..." his arms tightened around her.
"But that won't happen again," she said vehemently, feeling an uneasy twist of nausea deep inside.
Auron was silent, inhaling her scent and the hot steam. The weight of secrets was getting heavier each day, and he had been slipping lately, preparing them for the shock they were soon to face. But this, also, was the wrong reason to be telling her the rest. There was still a faint hope it would not come to that. The problem was, he had long ago ceased to rely on hope, along with Yevon.
"Auron?" she prodded quietly, stirring against him.
Jecht had not killed him after all: the chains of Sin took time to bite into a proud heart and render it docile to Yevon's will. Auron tasted that bitter thought and saved it for later. "Just be careful," he said finally. "After losing Jecht and Braska, I had no idea... I should ever wish to go on living." The light kiss against the corner of her eye, coupled with the subtle admission, drew a faint whimper from her, and almost he regretted saying it. "I was enraged. No matter what happens, Lulu, don't make the same mistake. Yuna needs you to help her defeat Sin. She doesn't need you to die."
The strained silences between his words held secrets that prickled Lulu's suspicions, and her nails bit into his arms in a silent reproach: something was hidden there, just as they had put off telling Tidus the truth about the pilgrimage. Auron, what are you planning? But she did not ask. The gaps were like holes punched in his armor, and she sensed there was little use in fishing in the wounds: he would bleed before he told her what had caused them. "I mean to see Yuna's Calm," she said firmly. "But I also intend to give my Summoner whatever she needs to bring it about. I have no doubt that the legendary Sir Auron will be able to keep his mind on his duties, when the time comes."
He gave another soft snort, concealing his dismay. "A challenge?"
"If you like." Her grip on his arms eased, and she tipped her head back against his shoulder, wet hair sticking to his chin. "Enough. We're chewing on worry, and we both know that's pointless. Is there anything else you can tell me to help us prepare for Gagazet or Zanarkand?"
Auron shook his head.
"Then..." Lulu murmured, voice growing husky as her hand glided back to his elbow, down the ladder of his ribs, over a scarred hip and in, brushing across his groin.
He growled at her ear. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"You'll make it 'all right,'" she insisted, gazing upwards with want and sadness and trust and anger all tangled together; he could feel his body stirring in answer. "I absolutely refuse to let Yojimbo rob us of this, too."
The warrior turned her in his arms with a splash, cradling her loosely and finding all thoughts knocked to pieces by the sight of her wanton I can take you expression, with full lips parted and tongue tucked coyly in the corner of her mouth.
Her breath caught, and Lulu made a sudden lunge for his mouth. He didn't understand, but understanding was hardly needed just now. Taking her urgency for permission, Auron bore down on her with hot, forceful kisses, dragging her towards the slightly shallower water so that he wouldn't drown her. Yielding, she felt a heady sort of triumph.
Lulu. I. Those two words side by side on his lips, a sound worth keeping in a sphere.
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