by Th' Lady Shadow

     Everyone's very quiet.
     It's not so much that we're hiding -- it's one knows what to say. If Yevon wanted to find us, they would have no trouble. Spira is not such a big world, and there are many believers to help their search.
     Just the word reminds me of my mistakes. And the shameful thing is, I don't even know what I've done wrong. Yet I'm a traitor. The people who know me won't believe it - the people who don't will do what they have always done. Follow Yevon. Even if it means hunting down summoners.
     Once night fell, I slipped out to visit this nearby spring. I thought that maybe the silence of being alone would be more soothing than the silence of my guardians. I take comfort in the cool water, in the glowing crystals that shine brightly against the moonlight, but all in all...I don't particularly feel any better.
     While I stand in the waist-deep water, my mind can finally ease into its daydreaming wishes of maybes.
     If I just turned around and left. Just started walking, and didn't stop; just left everything behind...
     I could walk off the edge of the world. Escape. I'd bring Tidus too - I would whistle sharply and call him and he would come and together we could escape into the sun, escape this wretched spiderweb of lies and death and deception and...
     *Who are you kidding? Daydreams aren't going to accomplish anything.*
     I'm still...going to die.
     It isn't such a big deal, I suppose. All my life, I knew that this was what I would do. Summoners have come and gone before me, and many have died much sooner than I. The unique thing about me is, it's become an inevitable fact, not just a hopeful possibility - I will face Sin. I will fight Sin.
     After that, it's all speculation.
     I was ready for it when I became a summoner. I'm not ready for it now. I'm scared - scared to death.
     In that sense, bringing Tidus along was a mistake. Just seeing him was a mistake. To this day, I'm not sure what drew me to him so strongly. Another fault of mine: selfishness. I am afraid to die because dying will mean losing Tidus, even though I bring the Calm to Spira. It startles even me how scared I am of losing him. Startles me how much he means to me. He shouldn't mean so much to me.
     He's been acting...differently lately. More protective, more enthusiastic. Just like me, the enthusiasm he shows is a mask for his uncertainty. By pushing forward, we can find the path we are supposed to follow. Maybe he knows now about my fate...?
     His naivety is heartbreaking sometimes. I've concluded that no one told him the specifics of my duty as summoner. If only it were as easy as I'm sure he thinks it is: surge forward, defeat Sin, and be done with the job. Be alive when you finish. Live to see the fantastic parades in your honor. Live to see those impossibly rapt smiles on people's faces...everyone so happy...

     The stars are so pretty tonight. I've missed stargazing - I used to like doing it back home in Besaid, but lately all of us are far too tired to think about anything but sleep. Instantly I spot my favorite stars, two brightly shining orbs that, from here, look about three inches apart. I don't know why those are my favorites - perhaps because they are the two I always recognized, among all the other billions of stars in the night sky. But no matter what, I always looked for them when I craned my head up to the heavens. At least they are the one constant thing left in Spira.
     Of Spira's four maesters - Kelk, Kinoc, Mika, Seymour - only one is truly alive. The Ronso maester is untinted by the rest of the clergy's corruption. Kinoc and Mika are truly dead, and Seymour...
     Seymour needs no explanation.
     He's another mistake of mine. The marriage would have - *did* - make people happy, though. So...maybe not such a mistake. But by Yevon, it disgusted me to even kiss the man. I glimpsed Tidus' expression as he watched -- and got a strange sort of sick satisfaction. I remember thinking...
     *Yes. You understand...I hate it too. Save me...please.*
     At that point, coherent thoughts wouldn't come. And Tidus couldn't save me - I had to save myself. Thank the heavens for Valefor.
     Behind me I heard the familiar, soft crunch of boots on soil. Tidus. The rest of the group was likely asleep. He was here to see me; not just for a drink of the cool water, or else he would have casually made himself known to me. It was a bittersweet feeling. Wonderful to know he cared. Sad to know he had to worry over me.
     "...I always thought this would be easier somehow." I whispered, though I was sure he could hear. The gentle shift of the water told me he'd stepped in, his silence letting me know he was listening. And even if he wasn't, I just needed to talk, needed to be heard. "I thought everyone would help me, with all my friends together beside me...I've been trying so hard,"
     "Maybe..." Tidus began slowly; almost cautiously? "Maybe you're trying *too* hard. They told me...everything."
     So he did know. No wonder he'd started acting differently. Ever since I figured out he didn't know that I was going to die, I had cringed at the mere thought of the time when he *would* find out.
     "Well, so know..."
     "Yeah...I'm sorry,"
     I turned to look at him, puzzled. Did he *pity* me now? He saw my look, then continued.
     "It's just, you know...all those things I said. Like 'Let's go get Sin!' a-- or about Zanarkand..." he stumbled, remorse visible on his face. "I didn't know what would happen to you, Yuna. I guess...I hope it didn't make you sad. Forgive me."
     *Oh, if you would only realize that there's nothing to forgive. That your ambition was sometimes all that kept me going. You've no reason to apologize at all...*
     I looked up at the sky again. "I wasn't sad. I was...happy."
     With a light splash, he dove underwater. A few seconds later he surfaced and began floating on his back, not too far from me.
     "Yuna," he called out. "Just...don't do it."
     "The pilgrimage?" I asked blankly.
     "Yeah. That's right." Tidus opted, righting himself. He began to swim around slowly. "Forget all about Sin, about being a summoner; forget all know, live a normal life. Come on now, Yuna, what do you say?"
     I couldn't believe what he was suggesting. The impossibility of it - the blessed luxury I could only dream of. Normality. No more battles, no more open wounds to heal, no more sendings, no more working ourselves to exhaustion...
     Time. That's what he was offering me. Time to live, time to enjoy my guardians' company, not require it - certainly, time to...just to get to know Tidus better. That time would be precious.
     *No. Don't daydream, Yuna, it only makes things more painful.*
     But to think of it...why couldn't I just stop? I might disappoint a few people, but life was getting more precious by the minute - and shorter, too. In other words, my days are numbered.
     And here I'm offered an escape from all that. From everything I've ever known.
     And why not...?
     Just the wondrous possibility gives me butterflies in my stomach. Freedom.
     "...Maybe I will..."
     Tidus looks surprised - he dives again, surfacing in front of me. Time.
     "Wouldn't everyone be surprised?" I whispered. I could have so much time...
     "Yeah. Except Rikku - she'd be with you!" The most beautiful smile was growing on Tidus' lips - one of possibility and ambition and the whiff of freedom that I too was feeling. "Lulu and Wakka wouldn't hold out long."
     He was right.
     "Kimahri would say yes, too, I know...but..." I stopped, instantly feeling guilty. "Sir Auron..."
     Tidus was not dissuaded in the least. "I'll make him understand, Yuna; it's the least I can do for you!"
     "No...I should tell him...he deserves it." Telling Auron I was stopping the pilgrimage - that in itself would be a nightmarishly hard job. I stretched out, floating among the cool, moonlit springwater. "What'll I do if I...give up my pilgrimage?"
     "Hey! Zanarkand! Let's go to Zanarkand!" He blurts. I look over at him - isn't that what I'm avoiding? "Not the one in Spira, the one I'm from."
     "Yeah...we can all fly there...everyone can go!" His eyes shine an excited blue at me, his smile now a radiant beam. "Then we'll all have a big party at my place!"
     I stood up, still only a few feet from him.
     "And then we could see blitzball!" A wide grin took its place on my lips as well; seeing Tidus play blitzball was something I'd wanted to do since we met.
     "That's right!"
     "Your Zanarkand Abes would play?"
     "We could all watch you play, in the stadium all lit up at night...I'd cheer and cheer until I couldn't cheer anymore!" The vision caught me, and didn't let me go - Zanarkand's fabled highrises, the great skyways, and the sphere pool, so bright against the darkness...and I would cheer him on until I didn't have the voice to make another sound. What a fairy tale...
     "Yeah! Right on!"
     "Well, what about after the game?"
     "We'd go out and have fun!"
     "In the middle of the night?" I asked incredulously.
     "Hah, no problem! Zanarkand *never* sleeps!" He looked up at the sky, the radiance of his smile replaced with a more quiet, daydreaming expression.
     A city that never wonderful that you could go out at any time of day or night and do anything you wanted to do. What a beautiful, perfect city...
     "Let's go to the sea, before the sunrise." he whispered. "The city lights go out, one by one...the stars fade...then the horizon glows, almost like it's on fire."
     The vision caught something in my throat. Standing with him on a foreign shore and not being lost, just watching...time. And the slow glow of the sunrise...the beauty of the daydream...
     The daydream that I would never see...that I would never live to see.
     "It's kinda...rose-colored, right?" He continued. "First in the sea, then it spreads to the sky, then to the whole gets brighter and brighter till everything *glows.*"
     My eyes burned with the beauty of that vision. Like a world being set aflame, the light would slowly come up upon us both, till we drowned in the fire-orange light, till the whole city drowned, and a new day began.
     "It's really...pretty. I know you'd like it." He whispered.
     I would love it. But...I cannot see it. I'm doing this, fighting Sin, to save so many other lives, and how could I possibly see this world of yours if Sin still threatens to destroy it all - how could I bear to abandon everyone...? Auron is doing this for my father, and if I stop...I'll fail both of them. And all of Spira.
     "I' to see it...someday..." I whispered as well, nearly choking on the words and trying my best not to cry. He turned to look at me, still rapt with his enthusiasm.
     "Well you can, Yuna. We can both go!"
     *In my dreams, yes. I'm destined to die. The only Zanarkand I will see is those ancient ruins, not the metropolis bubbling with life that you dream for me. And you'll stand on that fiery shore alone, watching day after day pass and...
     I'll never have the time to tell you how much everything you did meant to me.*
     So I have my fleeting dream - it comes quickly, stays for a moment, and then is stolen away as quickly as it was given.
     A single teardrop falls from my cheek and hits the still water, causing eerily perfect ripples. And as if that act was permission for all the other tears to follow, I couldn't hold back from crying any longer.
     "I can't..." My voice shook as I choked out the words; I couldn't help it. "I just can't! *I can't go...!*"
     I hung my head, trying my best to stop the tears, though I knew it impossible.
     His hands came up to my shoulders tentatively; I looked up at him through blurry eyes, unable to read his expression. Trying to keep a straight face, I blinked away tears and met two glittering periwinkle eyes that locked with my own, not letting me look away.
     Tidus gazed at me with an undecipherable expression, and the feel of his hands on my shoulders lessened - he held me more gently. Moved in closer, seeing I didn't protest and........

     Soothing. That's how it was, that's how it felt, the touch of his mouth on mine, featherlight like his warm breath on my skin. So soothing it made me want to cry all over again. He was so gentle, as if I might shatter...
     And maybe I would.
     His arms came up slowly around me, holding me against his chest, containing - not confining. It was the strangest feeling, the most wonderful if all of me were charged with some strange electricity, my entire body tingling at his touch, completely aware of every one of his movements. He was insistent in his kiss, and I welcomed it almost greedily.
     He leaned back, and there was nothing to do but trust him.
     The water was slightly chilly, but nothing at all in means of a distraction. I slid my arms around his waist, as much to hold him as to prevent simply floating away from him - though I knew well that if I slipped out of his grasp somehow, he would instantly tug me back into the safe-warm haven of his embrace.
     We were falling, sinking - I was falling, but Tidus had already caught me. Had never let me go to begin with.
     For the first time in my life, I felt totally, completely *safe.* Nothing could ever hurt me as long as he was near. Nothing could stand in our way.
     Walk off the edge of the earth...and into the sun. Into heaven. Not a bad idea...but there was no journey needed. I'd already found a piece of heaven - just a little piece, but plenty. Just my own sunbeam, radiant and perfect in its own warmth and brightness.
     His hand met mine and our fingers entwined; our lips parted but he cradled me in his arms, his forehead touching mine. I had never seen that look on his face before - I supposed the best way to describe it was just a calm, protective adoration. The 'are you alright?' expression on his face from just moments ago was gone - it had become 'let me make it alright.'
     A shift in the current of the spring swept me gently down, but Tidus' hands caught mine and he flashed me that beautiful smile, quiet but brilliant in itself. With just a slight pull on my hands and a tiny kick of his feet, he righted both of us - he was master of the water, truly, for he moved like he'd never known any other world.
     His eyes met mine; his hand came up, lightly moving the hair out of my face, brushing tenderly across my cheek. I brought my own palm up to stroke his cheek, smiling at the expression that came onto his face - the sweetest, most serene smile...
     His hand pressed gently into my back, keeping me close - inviting?
     I wrapped my arms around his neck and met his lips with my own again; the feeling was simply too wonderful to abandon for too long. The first-kiss awkwardness was gone - Tidus' mouth was warm and eager on my own, and it was with a comforting sureness that he held me close to him.
     I couldn't give up my pilgrimage - couldn't bear to. And I couldn't promise I could come out of it all alive.
     But I could lose myself in him for a little while, and maybe...
     Maybe if we're together, we'll be okay.
     Futari nara daijoubu.

     "I'll continue. I must," I admitted, not meeting his eyes as we both sat on the shore of the spring, many minutes later. His dream for us was wonderful, but I couldn't bear to just throw everything else away. Tidus looked up at the sky, nodding slightly. He needed more of an explanation than that, and I knew it. "If I give up now...I could do anything I wanted to, and yet...even if I was with you, I could never forget."
     "I'll go with you."
     The statement surprised me - I looked at him, and he continued. "I'm your guardian. Unless I'm...fired?"
     Tidus feigned a throat-cutting gesture with one hand, making me chuckle. I shook my head.
     "Stay with me until the end. Please." I made as much of a bow as I could while sitting. He turned his gaze to the sky, alight with stars that matched the shimmers in his eyes.
     "Not until the end...always."
     I felt myself blushing, but nodded, smiling.
     "Always, then."
     Tidus stood up, and my eyes followed him. "...Maybe you should head back to camp first."
     The implications of that were so silly, we both chuckled. "Roger!"
     And he smiled at me again, in that blessed beautiful way of his that made me want to stare at him forever.
     He turned and left, leaving me to stand up and brush the sand off my skirt. I brought one hand up to my lips, feeling across the bottom one, recalling his kisses. Even now they were drugging.
     Hurrying forward, I took a breath and whistled.
     He stopped abruptly and turned, almost crashing into me - I gave him a slightly sheepish grin.
     "Wait, I'll go with you."
     He nodded and turned, starting to walk back towards the little cave again. I caught up to him and slipped my hand into his, glancing at him - no, he didn't mind.
     Once we reached the cave again, I found that everyone was still awake. Obviously trying to look as innocent as possible, Tidus busied himself walking to Rikku and silently shaking his head. He stood behind her, momentarily resting his hand on her shoulder.
     I took a deep breath.
     "Um...Sir Auron? Wakka? Lulu? Kimahri? Rikku? Everyone...we leave at dawn." I bowed deeply. "And...I'm sorry for putting you through all this."
     Auron interjected, saving me from further stuttering. "Enough, you need your rest."
     "Yes." I bowed again, grateful. "Good night."
     They all scattered to their various sleeping areas, leaving Tidus and I. I pointed to a comfortable-looking nook in the far edge of the cave. "Why don't you sleep there? Looks like a good spot."
     He shook his head, grinning. "You go. You need the sleep, and you know it."
     Tidus was right, of course - I was exhausted - but I wasn't feeling like accepting 'no' for an answer.
     "Just go, I'm *not* sleeping there."
     He thought for a minute, then looked around. His grin was mischevious and foretold a mild prank. He pointed to a small clump of sharp-looking rocks in another end of the cave. "How about there?"
     "Go to sleep," Auron muttered gruffly, from some unknown place.
     "Yeah, Tidus, go to sleep," Rikku chimed in unpleasantly, tossing a nearby pebble at him.
     He picked me up with surprising ease and carried me over to the aforementioned nook.
     "What're you doing?"
     "Hold on." He set me down next to it, then grabbed the two blankets and returned, promptly stretching out and spreading the thick cloths.
     "Are you cold? Why didn't you say so? I can cast NulFrost--"
     "I'm fine. C'mon, lay down."
     He yawned. "There really isn't any other good place to sleep. There's room here."
     Rather confused, I did the only thing I could think of - complied. It was very awkward to me, but Tidus didn't seem to be fazed one bit. He draped the other blanket over me and I brought it close around myself.
     It was strange, because for some odd reason I didn't want to touch him - didn't want him to get the wrong idea, maybe? But it was close quarters anyway, so I tried to make do.
     I looked over at him, halfway asleep - he was still awake, staring at the ceiling, but when he saw my gaze turn to him, he looked back at me with a small smile.
     Tidus leaned over and kissed me very lightly, hardly a touch. "Sleep well, Yuna."
     "You too," I smiled, then relaxed and closed my eyes.
     As if out of instinct, right before I drifted off to sleep completely I felt myself move closer to him, lay my head on his shoulder, and slip my arm over his stomach. Just for that, I mused silently, Lulu would kill me.
     He'd promised 'always.' And he'd meant it.
     Who cared what Lulu thought about that?
     His strong arms held me close; would always hold me close to him.
     Always. No matter what happened.


For those of you who don't know, 'Futari nara daijoubu' can translate to 'if we're together, we'll be okay' - credit to Noelle for her nifty knowledge of Japanese, and a big happy birthday to Ethereal Fury.