/ Dedicated to Erika. /

It was... nice, when summer came around.

Everything seemed to be full of life. Even here, on Zanarkand, between the pyreflies and the ruins - life managed to flourish. Deep between the crags, if you looked hard enough, you'd find veins of moss stretching over the rocks. It's... not much, but it's something. She had grown used to digging deep to find something worth treasuring, parting earth and stone and moving seas of fur if only to find the soft, soft core. Kimarhi had been her first lesson in finding delicacy, and, well, she'd broken through then as a little girl. She could do this, now, seventeen years old and finding beauty in the mud that would soon be her gravesite.

Somehow, she'd managed to steal a moment alone. Her guardians were finishing the last of their meal, and really, she didn't feel like eating, much. She'd taken her fill to seem polite (and so as not to concern them, the last thing they needed was to worry about her health in the last hurdle. They didn't need to know about how she couldn't sleep, how she trembled and sweated and turned all night long, how she wanted nothing more than to vomit up everything that was inside of her because she didntwanttodothistothem.) Still, she had taken the time to hide between the rocks and stare on out towards the city of her dreams.

This was nothing like how Jecht or Tidus had promised.

She held her hands over her heart, the last of her childhood fantasies finally being crushed out. Did she really believe that somehow, somehow a city full of lights and people and laughter that never ceased was waiting at the end of all this? She had wanted to. She had wanted to so badly.


She turned her head, slowly, a small smile starting to form. Nodding, she immediately put on her happy persona, crushing out the sorrow, just for him.

"Hey," she nodded, bowing her head and letting that small smile split across her face.

"What're you thinking about?"

She paused, watching the fleeting sunlight catching the tips of his hair. She almost laughed, and indeed, did - very lightly, at how silly a question that was to ask now. It was funnier still, with all the thoughts that ran rampant through her mind - she couldn't find a single one to latch onto. Sin, Seymour, Gagazet, life blooming, Kimarhi's fur, Lulu's lips, the deep red of Auron's jacket, death, death, death, death, Macalania spinspinspinspinning, but no, her mind went blank, and she fumbled with the inches of her laughter.

"Just... how different this must be, for you."

"Yeah. I kind of... was expecting it, though. After everything," he rubbed the back of his neck, walking over to stand beside her and locking eyes with the ruined blitzball stadium. She cringed, just a little, knowing how his hope had been slowly eroded away. She admitted, hers had long since faded, too.

"Mm," she nodded. She wondered if he wanted to scream, to cry, or maybe just to laugh. She didn't have the energy to suggest they pretend that letting out all their emotion was going to make everything better, though. Was she really going to go back to talking about how the wind felt 'nice' in order to fill out conversation? No, she shook her head, and cast a smile out to rise. "Maybe, once we're inside, we'll find out what happened to your Zanarkand."

"Yeah! We'll find a way there. I'm not gonna give up on going home, not yet," he grinned, and it burned, long and hard into her mind. She knew, she knew he really meant that he wasn't going to give up finding a way for her to go home. It hurt, it hurt too much, to remind him that she never would.

So she let the fantasy fall between their lips again, and said, "you'll see the blitzball stadium, all full up with people. The sky will be full of stars, all blocked out by the brilliant lights that never go out. You'll... meet all your old friends again, you'll see. They'll be waiting there, for you, and they'll be smiling." Lifting her head, she reached for his arm, placing a hand gently on his glove. "And you'll be smiling, too."

"That's right. And you'll be right beside me. You'll meet the whole team, every one of the Zanarkand Abes. You'll love them. You know, they aren't really much different from Datto or Keepa or any of the Aurochs," he found his hand curling around hers, a gentle squeeze spilling butterflies into her belly. "And you'll get front row tickets. You'll cheer for me, right?"

"Of course!" she closed her eyes, indulging in this release, for just a minute. Looking back to him, lifted her fingers to her mouth, "And I'll whistle, just like this," and there, that long, forlorn whistle cried through the dead city. "And you better score for me, when I do!"

"You bet!"

A silence began to fall, but it was a nice silence. Not one that promoted awkward sighs or shuffling, it was just... nice.

"Should we be getting back?" Tidus stretched, putting his hands behind his head and swaying very slightly.

"No... not yet, I'd like to spend... a little time, here, with you." And though she didn't say it, he knew she meant because there wouldn't be anymore, after this. No matter how long they held on, no matter how long they dreamed together - no matter how fleetingly their fingers brushed and touched and their smiles ached on their faces, it wouldn't matter, in a matter of days.

"Alright! Well, what do you want to talk about?"

It's funny.

She couldn't remember... what they talked about, then. She was sure that they had, though. So certain that they had stood beneath the city that destroyed all their hopes and dreams and stood there, hand in hand, still dreaming. Still hoping. And all that time, all that time - he knew! He knew... that this would be their last moments, alone, together. She knew it, too - but.. not in the way it turned out. Not in that way at all.

But she refused to let anything negative cling to those memories. She remembered her laugh. His laugh. Their final, final defiance against sorrow. She let her thoughts linger on his hand brushing lightly on her shoulder, on her heart bursting, on the tired, destructive belief that they would indeed make it out of here alive.

And when she stood on that same ridge, two years later, when she stood there and breathed in the choking dust - she remembered. She remembered the same light that caught in his eye, the swirl of happiness that choked between the wrinkles beneath. That moment, that fleeting moment that had to end but burned forever in her mind - the bright flashes of his white, white teeth, the lines that crinkled like paper around his mouth. And maybe he really was made of paper.

After all, she'd written out all the lines of her life on him.

And when he crinkled, crumpled, ripped apart and vanished in the wind - it felt as though he had stolen all the lines of her life, too.

"Are you sure about this?"

Yes. He had said that.

He had said that when their lips had already brushed once, brushed twice, brushed countless times. He had said that when their breath grew tight, her stomach unknotting something that flourished in her skin, her heart set to surely burst. He said that when his fingers ran across her breasts, silk on skin, silk on skin - and in that desperate, lonely time beneath the shadow of the broken city she had said, "Yes." And she had thought, over and over, on one loose thought - no regrets. no regrets.

A chink of sunlight made their bed.

Zanarkand, terrible, towered up before them. Death had soiled every moment of their journey. But they could find life here. They could find joy slipped and hidden between the crags - like rainwater that had waited and pooled for a thousand years. But he had always fished out her stagnant rainwater, and cupped it in his palms. Who knew that he would be the one to let his fingers open, and she'd drip drop all over the ground, scattered.

When she stripped herself of her humility, where a chink of sunlight made their bed, she fumbled and stumbled over the coils of her bra. He laughed, and told her to take it slow - even though nothing about this was slow and all she wanted was this moment. This one, fleeting moment, to be theirs. The fear of being caught, the fear of this not being enough, the fear of the pleasure and the pain - all that and more asked her to quicken and to stiffen.

But he brushed his lips against her neck, and she softened.

The earth was cold. His body was not.

She had always been drawn to his heat, and he burned her up now, with his liquid touch. His fingers swept across her bare skin, and the fires in her licked instead. Over and over her lips sought his, her eyes seeking the smile that lay hidden in his eyes, and never once, never once did he flicker or fade. Everything in this was good, was pure, was whole - and when all the patches of his clothing lay scattered beneath the sun he didn't once seem sorry.

Her sun. Her sun. Her sun.

"I'm here."

"I know."

"I'll always be here."

"I know, I know."

A gasp, long and sharp and short.

His face was soft lit by the dying sun, his lips no longer a smile but curved into a hungry circle. Her fingers trace his face, and his eyes half open, half smile, and they flicker together. Her palm finds his cheek smooth, and her eyes swell with half-tears, and half-smile back.

He asked her if it hurts.

She refused to spoil the moment, and lied, and said no.

How awful it was, to think, that she had lied.

But though it hurts, though it hurts and burns in her and licks like fire - it feels so whole. It feels so good. It feels so pure. And with him, as Zanarkand and the hard, cold ruins beneath her all fall away - all she sees is light, and the pleasure, and the pain - and the hunger in his face.

And when he gasped and surged and held his head desperately against hers, and she clung to his hair and whispered, "it's okay, it's okay," and willed with all the will in the world, they became creatures with no end and no beginning and she forgot. She forgot that she must die and pounded her head against the earth and whispered his name - his name - over and over and over. And when it was done he brought his lips to her neck and not once not twice but countless times kissed and kissed and kissed, she filled up with sunlight.

"Thank you," she whispered, and though he did not understand, he laughed and breathed a sigh.

And for a moment, for a moment, then. Everything had been holy.

And now he was gone.

She brought her fingers to the necklace around her neck, and gently flipped it over and over.

"I will never forget you."

And it was true, because even when she tried to forget... on those dark, and lonely days - she saw a chink of sunlight. A breath of air. A blitzball tossed against the skyline - and then she was here. She was there. She was everywhere where they had walked and been, and a vastness filled her that shuddered with a bitter realization that she would never feel so whole again.

"I hope... that you are back in Zanarkand."

She tilted her head, and imagined he was in that stadium right now.

And gently, she brought her fingers to her lips.

The whistle mournfully echoed through the ruins.

She closed her eyes, and saw him score a goal. Just for her.

Just for her.