A/N: A few people expressed interest in a story like this one, so I went ahead and wrote it. Here you go. :) Chapters will probably shorter but more numerous than in my other FFT stories, so I expect the pacing to feel a little weird. Also, it's just romance and such. No action. And the romance stuff might not be... suitable... for sensitive readers. No lemon but hints of citrus, and the relationship is not for the faint of heart. You've been warned.
Credit must go to Gaming Ikari, who got me to start posting what I'd already written of this story. I started working on it sometime in early 2009, and I'm just posting it now. Haha. Ha. Please don't hurt me.
This story is written in alternating first-person point of view. All POVs belong to either Ramza or Alma.
Usual disclaimer: I don't own it. Not FFTactics, not the characters, not the setting, nothing. And you probably don't either. And if you do, uh, that's cool but what are you doing here? You're kinda scaring me.
Chapter One: Storm of Memory
Romanda reminds me of Ivalice in fall. Vast, rolling flatlands boasting swell after swell of golden grass, stands of tasteful maples shedding the odd orange or crimson leaf no matter the season, no matter that the others are still green. Lumpy slate-grey sky looming over us, threatening rain, driving a warm wind which ripples my dress and hair. It's warm here, both in temperature and in hue, warm enough that even in the coldest season I won't need more than a light cloak. Warmer than back home.
Tree branches shake and rustle above me, shedding a handful more leaves, which drift fluttering a good ten paces away before alighting on the red dirt of this town's only road. A moment later Ramza drops to the ground and slaps twigs from his clothes and armor. He looks a little messy as usual, a little rumpled, with that shortish golden hair, the same color as mine, pulled into a halfhearted tail. Also as usual, his clothes are wrinkled from being stuffed into backpacks, and they could probably use washing.
Something cradled in his right arm is meowing.
"Yay! Tiger!" A dark-haired young girl, no more than seven years old, rushes out from behind the protection of her mother's apron to accept the orange kitten Ramza gives her. "You got him down!" She holds the thing like a sausage, just under its front legs, letting all four of its limbs hang in dangling uselessness, and nuzzles her nose against the animal's.
"Yep. He wasn't up too high, at least." Ramza squats on his heels to watch the girl's reunion with her kitten, and his face is earnestly serious. Opposite him, the girl's mother, a slim woman calling herself Anala, is smothering a smile. I am, too.
"Yay! Thank you!" Propping the cat against one shoulder, the girl darts forward to give Ramza a one-armed hug.
He returns the gesture, though his lips thin in embarrassment; I'm the only one he can hug with any level of comfort. Then, straightening, he catches my eye and tilts his head in question.
As I nod, Anala shuffles towards us, smiling once at her daughter cooing over the kitten, and presses her hands together before her chest in gratitude. "Thank you. Can I get you two some tea or anything? Inya's been worrying over that silly cat all morning."
"Oh, no, it's okay." Ramza gives his head a slow shake, and his smile is apologetic. He doesn't even need to glance my way before answering; we've done this dance before. "We need to keep moving if we're going to reach Saná by dark."
The Romandan woman's dark eyes widen in mild concern as she glances between the two of us. "Are you sure? It's really no trouble; I have a pot on already."
"Nah, it was nothing big, and I'm just glad she's happy." Ramza inclines his head in a minimal bow.
"Well... okay." Anala shrugs. "Then, travel safely, at least." Turning, she raps her knuckles playfully on the top of her daughter's head. "Come on, Inya. Let's get Tiger back home, shall we?"
"Okay!" The girl whirls and hurries along with her mother, probably having forgotten us already. Together the two of them make their way towards one of a cluster of plain homes crouching around the road.
Ramza stares after them for a moment, then bends to grab his backpack and bedroll from the road before turning to head in the other direction, east, without a word. I follow, falling in by his side. The wind stirs again as we walk, flapping my dress around my calves.
"Anyway," he sighs after a moment, tucking his thumbs under the backpack straps. "What were you saying before all of that?"
I frown. "I... can't remember now. You made me forget. Meanie."
"You'll be fine."
"Mmm." We walk along in silence for a time before I lose out in my ability to control my smile. "It seems Brother is a young girl's fairy-tale hero."
He snorts at this and doesn't take his eyes off the road ahead. "Knock it off, Alma. By tomorrow she'll have forgotten we were ever here."
My smile fades. "I suppose." That's the way it is now.
It's been six months since we came to Romanda. At first we could barely speak the language, just enough to stutter out requests for food or lodging. To remedy that we've worked a handful of odd jobs, all in remote areas. Stopping at a farmhouse where, say, Ramza would chop wood for the inhabitants and I would help with household chores, all in exchange for a pittance of a wage, or more often, just food and a warm place to sleep. Never for more than a few days at a time. But it's not like we needed the money; Ramza has a pouch full of nothing but gems, all converted from gil back in Ivalice, an incongruous legacy of his days as a wanted heretic.
No, what the friendly people of Romanda have given us is a handle on their language, their customs. So now, we're obviously still foreigners, but we can move and communicate freely. Or, freely enough to do what we came here to do, which is just what we're doing now: little things to help out people in need. Wandering, never settling. Just the two of us.
The road to Saná is empty and winding. A ribbon of reddish dirt threading between low hills and around groves of maple and olive trees, little more than a line separating one vast ocean of amber grass from another. By midday the road takes us close to the rocky coast, then follows it northward. The rain the clouds promised earlier starts up shortly after the turn, driving warm fat drops of water sideways into my face and clothes.
I smile to myself as thunder rumbles across the western sky. Ever since I was little, thunderstorms have made me think of Ramza, so it's only fitting that I'm walking with him now.
Saná is a port on the Larner Channel separating Romanda from Ivalice, and it's not a particularly big city. Not even half the size of Dorter. Stocky walls of rust-colored stone form a rectangle around the city, seemingly squeezing the buildings within into a cramped mess. Smoke rises from countless places inside, smithies and foundries and such, while to the east of the city long piers jut into the water like stone fingers, sometimes sending sprays of water ten feet into the air when choppy waves strike them.
As we take our time descending a rocky mud-slicked trail from one of the bluffs overlooking the Channel, I poke Ramza's shoulder. "What do you want to do here? How long do you want to stay?"
"Dunno." His eyes are trained on the uncertain ground as he moves. "Maybe just hit an inn, listen to rumors or something. See what's happening here and if we're even needed at all."
Less than a half-hour later we're strolling into the city, past a pair of solemn guards in black tabards bearing the silver Fist and Star of Prince Lanard. No, I guess it's Imperator Lanard, now; after Delita's and Ovelia's coronation, the guy felt he had to one-up Ivalice so he re-titled himself. In any case, on the inside Saná is much like any other city I've seen, crowded, noisy, full of travelers and children and animals, not to mention vendors yelling at us to buy their wares because their children are so, so hungry these days and don't you really need a new brooch to hold that cloak shut against this awful rain? I ignore them and follow Ramza to the first inn we come across, a solid-looking place called the Lucky Feather.
Once inside I shake rainwater from my cloak, then pause when Ramza grunts and freezes beside me. Blinking, I glance up at him, then follow his gaze past a chattering group of wizards to where two familiar figures are standing at the bar.
After a moment he shakes himself, then strides briskly towards them. "Mustadio! Meliadoul! What are you guys doing here?"
Our fellow Ivalicians whirl at the greeting, then stare at the two of us, clearly as surprised as we are. Mustadio looks the same as he always has, and as silly, with that tri-colored engineer's garb that hurts the eyes. His ponytail might be slightly longer than when I saw him last. Meliadoul is different, though; she's doffed the emerald Shrine Knight robes and is sporting just a common cloak over an intimidating suit of gold-plated armor that looks like it was taken from the portrait of some legendary general or conqueror. She's doing her hair differently now as well, having pulled it back into two loose brown pigtails hanging nearly to her spiked shoulders. If Ramza hadn't been here, there's no way I would have recognized her, especially from behind.
She recovers first. Grinning, she delivers a punch to Ramza's shoulder. "Shouldn't we be asking you that? I knew you were planning to..." She blinks, then pauses, glancing in calculation at the crowd nearly bursting out of the common room. "Maybe we should talk about this after we get our rooms."
"Oh. Right." Beside her, Mustadio shrugs, then turns back to the aged innkeeper, who's been waiting for us with arms crossed and an impatient scowl on his face.
As they settle into the details of their transaction, Ramza shuffles forward. "You still greet people by punching them, I see," he mutters to Meliadoul, rubbing his shoulder.
"Keeps you on your toes," she answers. "You need it, too, you softie." As she speaks she reaches over to pinch his cheek.
He knocks her hand aside and leans away. "Oh, for..." Undeterred, she laughs and keeps trying to pinch him, which shortly results in the two of them simply batting ineffectively at one another's hands.
I clear a scowl from my face. These people are Ramza's friends, not mine. I mean, they seem nice enough, but I'd only call Mustadio an acquaintance of mine, and I barely know Meliadoul at all. Ramza's probably going to want to sit and chat with them all night, which'll mean I get to sit there too, smiling and nodding as they laugh at old stories I wasn't there to witness firsthand.
But it's a reasonable thing to do, I guess. He loves all his friends and they do share a lot of history. I can forgive him.
Soon Mustadio's arranged lodging for himself and Meliadoul, and the two of them trudge up the inn's stairs. Ramza takes their place at the bar and begins speaking in a low voice with the innkeeper. I know the routine: one room, cheapest one available. Okay, one bed or two? Cheapest available. Alright, sir, up there, last on the right.
In moments we're in the middle of stowing our gear in a corner of the room. It's dark in here, a consequence of it being twilight outside, not to mention that the shutters are closed against the driving rain. It's tight, as well. That, I don't really mind, as the room is really just for sleeping, and it's clean besides. As I'm busy hanging my cloak on a wooden hook near the door, Meliadoul strides into the room, followed by Mustadio.
"So," begins the former Shrine Knight, planting gauntleted hands on her hips, "what are you guys up to these days? I knew you wanted to disappear, but I didn't know you meant in Romanda."
Ramza eyes me for some reason, then shrugs. "Why not? You know we didn't want to stay in Ivalice, and Romanda sounded interesting. So we're just kind of wandering, doing whatever strikes us. What about you two?"
"Well," breathes Mustadio, "we're here for business. This town has a curio dealer who has some old things my father wants to look at, and there are good metals in this region for our other work."
"And I'm just muscle," adds Meliadoul proudly, pointing at herself.
"Ah." Ramza nods. "How long are you going to be in Saná? Did you just get here or what?"
"Got off the ship not an hour past," confirms Meliadoul. "Sounds like we'll be here a few days, at least. Right?"
"Oh. Right." Mustadio shakes his head. "I don't know where this vendor's shop is, and I'm not certain about his name, either. So I'm not really sure. I guess we'll stay until our business is done."
"But more importantly," interjects the knight, throwing one arm around Ramza's shoulders and one around my own, "now that the basic stuff is out of the way, we could be talking downstairs where there's both light and food."
Ramza nods. "Good point. Alma, you hungry?"
Not anymore. "Oh, sure."
Meliadoul laughs and ushers us out of the room, but I manage to squirm out of her grip, then tail the others as they chat their way down the hallway and the stairs. I'm not looking forward to tonight, but I can endure. I could endure anything, for Ramza.