For Zelda6, whom I owe so very much to. I hope it fits :)

Malaise


Tifa turned to grin broadly at him, and Zack laughed at her, taken by surprise.

His legs were still making him feel like the plastic tunnel was made of a great marshmallow which bounce giddily each time he took a step, but luckily the feeling was draining away quickly as he took a deep breath around him. The air was very dry and a bit stale.

Airports are never something to make a big stink about, but this one.. he could see it from behind the small oval windows. Maybe it was because of the gorgeous weather. The whole world seemed particularly splendid right now.

'Wow,' he said, mildly impressed.

'And look at the sky!' she said excitedly, now peering through the blurred Plexiglas of one of the windows in the hallway suspended between the plane and the airport. 'It's so blue!'

He gave her a taunting glance, feigning superiority to her childish remark, but she didn't care, had already danced away towards the terminal to pick up their bags.

He shook his head, grinning once more, and followed suit.

After retrieving their bags (which meant Zack was carrying them), they strolled out into the arrivals' area of the airport.

'I feel like such a tourist,' Zack muttered, as he dodged hassled-looking people, rushing to make their flights.

'You are a tourist here, sweetie,' Tifa reminded him, flashing him a smile. He felt his stomach twist slightly.

'So are you,' he said, a little gruffly. He found a trolley and shifted the bags onto it.

She was quiet for a little while, seemingly taking in her surroundings. As they walked, she didn't seem to have to dodge any travelers. The teeming masses just sort of parted for her.

'Well, yes,' she shrugged after a minute, long after he had stopped expecting a retort; 'I'm also still a tourist, but it's different. I'll be moving here in a few months.'

There was more silence after that.

Though Zack didn't want to admit to it, he had realized he was getting mad at her for moving. Oh no, he would never tell her, ever. He knew it would make her sad. He just couldn't help feeling that it was a personal insult, her switching continents like this. At first he had been so happy for her; it was wonderful she was getting to do what she wanted, finally!
But as the plans became more and more realistic, and D-Day moved closer and closer, he lost some of his enthusiasm. He wanted her to stay, with him.

'Oh look, there's the bloke who was going to pick us up,' Tifa said, her earlier cheer obviously dimmed. She pointed to a bored-looking taxi-driver type of person holding a sign that said 'Lo Khart'.

'Lo Khart? Are you sure that's meant for us?' Zack asked dubiously, letting go of his frustrations for now. He caught an amused smile flitting across her heart-shaped face as she nodded.

'I gave up trying to spell it for them, this is the closest they got to pronouncing it and getting it phonetically, at least.'

'I never really considered that the language was so different here,' he remarked as they strolled (well, Tifa strolled, Zack wheeled the overloaded trolley) over to the welcoming committee.

'It's still quite understandable, the dialect. It's just so typical that the written language differs so much.' She shrugged. 'It's really easy though, I've been practicing a bit.'

He laughed. 'Why? They can understand you perfectly well like this.'

'I know,' she smiled, blushing a little. 'Just to fit in a bit.'

*

Zack was relieved to be able to dump the bags into the willing arms of a bellhop at the hotel. Tifa was at the front desk, getting the keys. She returned with a naughty look on her face, which he found enthralling. He ignored the urge to grab her and make her laugh. She told the bellhop what room to bring the bags to, and she and Zack started walking to the lift.

'What are you smirking like that for?' he asked, once in the lift. The doors closed as she pressed the button for 7th floor.

'Check this out,' she said, holding a jumble of keys up, letting them dangle, jingling, from her fingers. Still holding them up, she picked one key in particular, and held it up.

'Room,' she said. Took the next key: 'Pool.' Next one: 'Sauna'. She kept going for a bit, 'Door to balcony, fitness-exercize room, computer room, rental car.'

He let out a snicker and tried to grab the keys from her. 'Where is it? What kind of car?'

'You.. bloody.. pubescent,' she said with difficulty, wrestling the keys back from him. 'No, don't you dare!' she exclaimed when she saw the look on his face.

He tickled her until she dropped the keys again. 'After we settle, I'm taking the car out and you're coming.'

She looked scandalized for a moment, still eyeing the keys. Then she shrugged at him, and sighed, 'Alright, have it your way.. we'll go for a drive.. as long as food comes into play somewhere along the lines.'

He nodded. 'How could it possibly be a vacation with you if food wasn't involved in it?'
She stuck out her tongue and he pretended to try and grab it.

'Come to think of it,' he continued, 'how could anything be anything to do with you, if there wasn't any food involved in it?'

'Oh! You mock me!' she cried, laughing, and hit him on the arm as the elevator went bing and they got off at the seventh floor.

'Owww.. you can hit pretty hard for a girl, you know!' he whined, following her down the hall.

'For a girl?'

'Don't tell me that was sexist, I know it was.'

'You know better than to say stuff like that, Zack! Especially since I could beat you up with my bare hands if I wanted to.'

'Hmph.' He pretended to be miffed.

'Well, fine, be like that, you silly chauvinist pig!' She hmphed back at him and he saw her eyes twinkle.

He lunged at her this time, and made her laugh again. 'Stop..' she gasped as he tickled her. 'No.. you know I can't stand being tickled..'

Tears leaked merrily down her cheeks, and eventually she stopped resisting -he was instantly worried she couldn't take breath anymore and was going to faint, and was in fact very close to the truth.

She waved her hand lightly at him as she gasped for air, tears continued to roll from her eyes, and if he hadn't been part of the tickling that had just come to pass, he'd have been very scared that she were actually crying.

Eventually she straightened and forced herself to inhale a deep breath. They continued their walk, with her emitting a dry hiccough every once in a while as she tried to stabilize her breathing. He glanced at her from time to time, highly amused.

They unlocked the door to the room (still arguing and trying to snatch the keys from each other) and went in. Tifa gasped at the lavishing decoration and the high windows and ceiling; Zack stared silently at the center of the room.

After a moment Tifa saw it too, and the only sound that could be heard was her, hiccouphing. Then she turned to him and grinned.

'Fine,' he muttered, I'll sleep on the ground.'

She stared at the humongous bed in the middle of the hotel room.
'Apparently they didn't get me when I asked for a double room,' she said, supressing her sense of humor for a moment.

'You probably should have said something about two beds,' Zack said logically.

She nodded and shrugged. 'Honestly..'

'It's okay. I can sleep on the floor. It's a really nice floor.' And to add to his point, he bent over and patted the thick dark red carpeting.

'Zack, the bed's gargantuan. We could fit in there together and easily have room to spare for a small airship.'

He blinked at her. Was she suggesting what it sounded like she was suggesting?

'Are you saying you'd trust me enough to share a bed with me? I have to remind you there won't actually be any small airships to separate us.'

She looked at him; her eyes were still small and reddish from the laughter-induced cry.
'You know I trust you more than anyone,' and suddenly she was serious.
Their eyes met and something passed between them; something very tiny and quavering, but still heartthumpingly real.

'Yeah, okay.' Zack said softly, and stepped closer to her.

She stared apprehensively at his Adam's apple. He could tell from where he was standing, looking down at her. He ducked his face down slightly, towards her.

They were standing very close; if she put out a hand it would be pressing on his chest. She was overcome with the incredible realization that, if she looked up, he would kiss her.

She swallowed. She wanted to look up. She could feel her neck, the muscles moving to crane it, the warmth of his breath on her face, she could feel her mouth opening itself slightly to be stirred by his lips-

Sadly enough, at this point in time the door swung open and the bellhop lugged in the bags, whistling shrilly. He sort of faltered when he saw the man and woman standing so close by, both looking up at him like deer caught in headlights.

'Um, here's your luggage, then,' he said hesitantly, wondering if he should stay and wait for them to tip him.
The young woman sprang to life and walked over to the table, on which she had left her purse. She smiled at him and pressed a note of Gil into his hand. The boy glanced at the man, who was standing behind, towards the bed. He looked troubled, his thick eyebrows pressed together, one hand running aimlessly through his long hair. The boy greeted them and left hurriedly, not having wanted to have interrupted what seemed to have been a serious talk.

Tifa stood, watching him go. Her knees were shaking. She was feeling more faint and fluttery than she had when she had been gasping for breath not five minutes ago, and she knew she was flushing madly.

We almost kissed. She nearly said it out loud. The reality jarred her. Why? The question kept running through her. Why did we almost kiss? Why did I want to? Did I imagine it? Does that mean I want to kiss him and I'm expressing that subconsciously? Does he-

'Do you want to change before we go out again?' Zack asked her. His voice was slightly strained into casual tones. She moved to meet his eyes and found him looking right the other way.

'Yeah.. I think I should.' She laughed, carefully. 'I smell like sweat, airplane food, and cheap perfume..'

He smiled, she could tell, but he still wasn't meeting her eyes. He started to root around in the bag the bellhop had brought him.

'Me too, except for the cheap perfume part.' He replied after a moment, pulling out a clean black shirt. 'I wear really expensive perfume.'

*

That night, Tifa and Zack went out on the town, had a brilliant (and brilliantly expensive) dinner with lots of red wine, and then went to a nice bar/club/café thing, called Malaise.

'Look at what it's called! Look at all those kids! This place looks so hip!' Tifa protested at first, as Zack dragged her in, clutching her hand so they wouldn't get separated in the crowd. Honestly, there were masses and loads and throngs of people everywhere you went in this city.

'So what? We are hip! And we're still kids. We're young, attractive, rich, intelligent, and blatantly arrogant. We'll fit right in.' He responded.

She laughed and let him lead her in. After four red wines each, they had loosened up considerably, given what happened that afternoon. They seemed to have silently agreed that it didn't happen. Tifa wasn't quite sure yet that she wanted it to have not happened, but she felt her heart skip up and jiggle nervously whenever she thought about asking Zack about it. She left it for now.

They sat at the bar and drank more and laughed more, and met some really nice young people as well. Tifa got into a conversation with two pretty girls wearing big hoops in their ears and sparkly bangles on their wrists. It turned out they would both be starting classes at Tifa's school, next semester. She exchanged phone numbers with them, promising to get in touch soon.

After saying bye to the girls, she set off in search to find Zack, since he was no longer by her side. She fooled around with her phone for a moment before she had figured out how to keylock it for the time being.

'Too much liquor,' she muttered to herself, pressing her hands against her cheeks and feeling how hot they were. She was probably all red in the face.

There was Zack! She moved to go to him. Then she stopped walking so suddenly that two people collided with her. After apologizing to them she stood back -slightly more careful to avoid collisions this time -and observed, feeling something very hot and sour rise in her throat, like apple cider but wrong.

Zack was talking animatedly to a very attractive girl sitting by him; she was laughing prettily at whatever he was saying. He finished his story and leaned over to get his drink, when the attractive girl caught him with her lips on his.

Tifa felt something dark and lurching flare up inside her, like an ugly gargoyle with black leathery batwings or something, and the gargoyle sort of stumbled confusedly when she saw Zack jerk away from the girl very suddenly -almost immediately after she had kissed him.
The gargoyle did a peculiar sort of happy dance, sent a trembling tingle down her spine, and sunk back into the pit that was the back of her mind. She saw Zack stand up and spot her and come over to her. He looked tired.

'Hey,' he said in her ear; she resisted the temptation to put her arm up around his neck and just lean on him for a little while, to relax and let him hold her.

'Why didn't you kiss her back?' Tifa asked, never really the one to ignore something like that. Only when it happened to herself, of course.

'Not pretty enough,' he said, with a scathing sort of tone. She frowned at him but rolled her eyes when he grinned at her, making it obvious he was joking.

'Seriously, though?'

He shook his head. 'I might tell you some day.'

She regarded him over the flashing disco lights, the diffuse glitter of the people dancing fervently around them. 'Let's go back.' She said.

Almost right away, he nodded.

*

They walked into their hotel room.
Their ears still pounded with the memory of the blasting music. Tifa sighed and dropped her purse into an armchair. Zack stretched and let his jacket slide off his shoulders; he left it slung over the couch. She caught herself watching him move; he was so graceful, and had such a lovely body, it was really difficult not to watch him all the time. She smirked wryly at the thought that the girl in the club had obviously thought the same thing.
He turned to her and smiled, one of his eyes closing as his smile turned into a yawn.

'Well, that was certainly a lot of fun,' he said, and went to the kitchen. Before they had gone out to dinner, they had popped down to the little grocery shop at the bottom of the hotel and picked up a few necessities.

'You want anything?' Zack called back to her as he poured himself a glass of milk.

'That's okay.. I'll just get myself some water in a moment.'

Zack shook his head, smiling, and poured her water. When she walked into the kitchen he held it out for her.

'Oh!' she said, beginning to smile, 'thanks!'

He nodded and poured himself a second glass of milk.

'So, did you see the two girls I was talking with? They were so nice..'

Zack shook his head. 'That was probably when I was talking to that other girl, the weird one.'

Tifa wondered at his description of the girl as 'the weird one', but didn't ask anything further about it. 'Well, anyway, those two girls I was talking with, they were really pretty, had great outfits on and stuff, and I loved their jewelry..'

'yeah..' Zack urged her on. He had difficulty with girl details, especially at 4 am.

'Well, anyway, turns out they're going to the same school as I am, when term starts! It's so brilliant. Who'd have thought, in this great big city..'

Zack shrugged, wondering why his good mood had slipped away from him. 'Your school's big, remember, Tifa? They could be doing any direction next year, you might not even see them again..'

'No.. they're also doing Fine Arts next year, so they should be in my class..' Tifa said, losing what she wanted to say about them. Why was Zack suddenly so.. distant?

'Whatever.' He said.

'So anyway,' Tifa started again, not looking at him now. 'We're going to meet up when I move up here, I said I'd call them, and they'll help me with the apartment and stuff, and getting to know the city..'

'Whoop-dee-doo..' Zack said, twirling a finger in the air.

It was silent for a moment. Then Tifa burst.
'Look, what's the matter with you? I thought you came here to support me, not be condescending when I'm telling you about something I thought was really cool!'

He looked at her in surprise. He hadn't quite realized that he had done anything particularly rude.

'I'm not being condescending!' was the first thing he could think of to say.

She narrowed her eyes at him. 'Oh. You're not?'

He scowled and looked down at the kitchen counter. 'Fine. Maybe I was, a little.'

She waited.

'Well.. I don't know!' Zack said after a few moments, looking at her exasperatedly. 'I mean, I think it's all great, you're getting the ball rolling, so to speak.. you're learning the dialect, getting to know the city, already making new friends..' he was quiet for a while again. 'Does it sound really stupid when I say I'm starting to feel left out?'

She swayed slightly on her feet, but her eyes were still fixed on him. 'Left out?' she repeated.

'You're moving to a different continent, Tifa,' he said softly to her. 'You're starting an entire new life, and it doesn't look like I'll be playing a very large part in it.'

Tifa felt a thud in the base of her torso, like someone had just kicked something extremely heavy off a table, and it had landed with a clunk.

She knew this. This was not new. She had thought about this at great length. She wondered helplessly now why it was hitting her so hard.
Because you haven't wanted to accept the fact, a little voice in her brain told her airily, that he also has a life, and it does not revolve around you, and at some point you're going to have to both move on. That is, went on the voice thoughtfully, assuming neither of you are going to go out on a limb and try and kiss the other again?

'Zack..' she murmured, suddenly feeling very tired and weepy. 'Please.. don't say it like that. I.. I don't yet know how often we'll be able to visit each other, but I won't run out of money for a while to go, and once you start working more and more, you'll also be loaded, so.. we can pay for tickets..' she trailed away.

Zack voiced her thoughts.

'That's not quite the same as living together.' He said stubbornly.

'You're right,' she agreed slowly, 'It's not.'

They were both quiet for a very long time, both of them waiting and wanting for the other to murmur a timid, perfect solution that would solve their problem, their growing, swelling problem. Neither of them had the guts to say it, though. They could still barely even word it in their thoughts.

After about five minutes of standing there and fooling with the peeling corners of the kitchen countertop, Zack chanced to glance up at Tifa, who was standing across from him.

She was crying.

'Tiff..?'

'I need you to understand,' she said hotly, wiping tears away from her eyes as she spoke. 'I need you to understand that you are the single most important person in my life, and you will stay that way, even when I do move here and you stay in Kalm!'

He smiled sadly and stepped over to her, circled her waist with his arms, and let her cry into her shoulder.

'You too,' he whispered, stroking her hair, 'you are my most important person, even when you move to this silly continent, away from me.'

They both felt very tired, and each went to put on their pajama's. While Tifa changed, she wondered about many things, and how she could have let some of them happen, and how she could have let some of them not happen.

But because she was drunk she did not wonder at the comfort and warmth with which she fell asleep in his arms.

AN.. Hmm.. where to go from here? *roku seems to be holding Zack Plushie and large container of B&J's finest..*