They called to her; the souls of the fallen, and their phantom-like cries, beckoned. She had heard them—had seen the desperation in the way they circled longingly around her and, though she was duty-bound to give them what they sought after, there was a nagging hesitation beginning to take root deep within herself. The very notion of heeding to the whim of the pyreflies surrounding her had never felt so wrong in all the years she had been able to do so.
Rising from her place among the fallen, she stood upon quivering legs, solemnly gazing out across the land before her; with each breath taken, glimpses of new pyreflies could be seen joining in with the rest. Before long the darkness that had stretched its hand over the Calm Lands was beginning to give way into an overwhelming light of the dead that had steadily accumulated in the aftermath. Each one crying out louder than the last, and the whole of them pulling mercilessly at her heart.
She could ease their suffering. She could dance to the song of death. But, as her grip tightened around the handle of her lowered staff, her heart wrenched and she soon found herself stumbling forward by an inch or two. Lips barely parted, she wanted to give words to what she was feeling, only to fumble over her own whimpers. Eyelids red swollen from all the tears shed, she lifted her sights and followed the droves of the fallen, only stopping when the ethereal lights cast upon her face were dampened by a shadow that had begun to emerge.
The anxiety that had commanded her attention thus far deviated slightly, giving way to curiosity and prompted her to raise her staff a little higher. The ceaseless tension in her limbs could be felt now, acutely aware of the dull throb that would ripple through each muscle when she would move at all, though, she did her best to show no outward signs of pain. For now she simply followed the movements of the figure, squinting her eyes so as not to lose it for a second as the pyreflies continued to flit and flutter between them.
“Are you hurt?”
The voice was faint, if not...cautious. Brows knitting together in uncertainty, her right foot unconsciously lifted and placed itself behind her left, trying to put some distance between herself and the other. Staff now drawn to her front with both hands gripping at its center, she shook her head softly, shuttering mutely as a bead of sweat trickled down her back. Ears straining themselves to their limits, she quickly licked her lips before finally finding her voice among the dead.
“Don't come any closer,” Trying to muster any courage left within herself and hoping this person chose to respectfully obey the warning. “I-I will strike!”
“I won't hurt you,” The mysterious person halted for a moment, noting her steps backward. “I promise.”
A hitch in her sigh of relief was lost to the pyrefiles' cries as she noticed they'd stopped advancing, allowing her retreat to subside. There was no way of telling how long they intended on standing still but, for the moment, she let her arms slacken to relieve the protesting twinges of her muscles and began trying to discern whether or not they were friend or foe.
Watching the incorporeal beings glide against the blackened skies, every other breath or two they would skim past the shadowed figure to reveal bits and pieces. Honeyed wisps of hair, uneven and layered. Eyes a shade of ultramarine that stared right into her own—maybe even further. His skin tone was that of someone deeply kissed by the sun, though she couldn't tell if that was his dark complexion or that of dirt and dust that still lingered from such a strenuous battle. However unsure of his appearance she was, one thing was for certain: it was a man.
“Who are you?” Once again bringing her staff to her chest as a precaution.
“You don't recognize me?”
Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, she nipped nervously at it, ambivalent as to what to say or do in response. Each time he spoke, it seemed to drown out the eerie ambiance encompassing the two; his voice carried a lot clearer than before and, much to her surprise, the familiarity in it had not fallen on deaf ears. However, therein lay the issue: should she, or shouldn't she, let her guard down? Was it even remotely possible?
“Yuna,” Bravely taking a step forward and raising his hands just enough so as to ease her mind. “It's me—you know I wouldn't hurt you for anything in the world.”
She impulsively shook her head at the revelation. He could have sworn she'd stifled a forlorn mewl, but the way her bi-colored eyes instantly glazed over, he was made aware that she knew—she just didn't want to believe it. Chestnut strands of hair fell around the frame of her face and a few stuck to her tear stained cheeks, quickly raising a hand to push them free whilst hastily taking a deep breath and blinking back the renewed tears that threatened to fall.
“I don't believe you,” Digging deep within herself and refusing the want to propel herself forward and into his arms. “You're not—you can't be.”
“Hey, it's ok,” Another step taken, letting his hands fall to his sides; he attempted to offer some comfort in his words. “I'm only here to help you, I promise.”
The closer he came, the harder it was to deny his true identity. It was, in fact, Tidus. And, though her heart swelled, it proved to be fleeting. His voice had quelled her temporarily, but the harsh reality came crashing down around her in the form of sorrowing howls, letting her gaze settle on the vast river of souls filtering around and between them. How could he help? This was her own fault and there wasn't a single person on Spira who could save her—nor did she want them to.
“You shouldn't be here,” Once again, her feet started carrying her back as she caught his longing stare. “I'm not finished; I never was.”
“Then we'll finish it together,” His voice brimming with sincerity in spite of the discouraging expression she’d given in return. “You're not alone. I promised you—we all made a promise, remember?”
“I'm begging you, please, leave me to finish this...”
“I'm not leaving you again. I've been here the whole time, but that's not where I belong. My place has always been beside you.”
His stubbornness may have been an endearing quality once upon a time, but now, it had only proved to be exhausting. So much so that the tears she once bit back had seen fit to flow freely, descending down dirt smudged cheeks and falling away from her chin. He could never know that she was doing this, not only for Spira, but for himself as well, as he was becoming his own worst enemy. And, as she stood hot under his unwavering stare, Yuna struggled to establish which one hurt more: the torment of the pyreflies, or Tidus' declaration.
“You have to go—get as far away from this place as you can and don't look back,” Imploring him, willing to get on her hands and knees if that's what it took. “Your promises will not mean a thing if you stay here.”
“What are you so afraid of? The battle is over,” Pausing momentarily, arms outstretched and looking out to the ground littered with countless slain. “We can go back and regroup. Figure out our next move and go from there—whatever you want to do, we'll do.”
No matter how rational he thought his solution to be, she found absolutely no solace in it. The path she had chosen left but one option: Tidus could no longer be a part of her life. As difficult as it was, and no matter how much she wished there was another way, this was, without a doubt, the only way to ensure he would continue to live. No matter how much her friends thought they could help her, or should be by her side, their notions, though valiant in nature, would afflict insurmountable consequences to all of them—especially herself, and rightfully so, as it was her fault to begin with.
“Here,” Offering a gloved hand in her direction. “Just take my hand.”
Yuna shook her head defiantly, recoiling from the gesture and moved to plant the bottom of her staff firmly into the ground between them. The cries of the pyreflies came flooding back, and with them, the crippling pain that tore through her insides; punishment for her prolonged neglect. Time was not a luxury they could afford, spinning the conversation around in circles in each others company and, when it was clear neither one was yielding to the other, her intentions from herein were resolute.
“A guardian is someone a summoner chooses. To protect them, always, even at the cost of their lives.”
Tidus watched as her entire demeanor began to shift right before his eyes. The tears dried, watching the last fall from her jaw and break upon the tip of her blood-stained boot. Yuna's grip held steadfast upon the neck of her staff, and he could only tilt his head in confusion, letting his expression reflect in his eyes. The hand that reached out to her recoiled, and as her lips parted once more, his fingers continued curling inward and into a clenched fist.
“A guardian...is someone a summoner chooses,” Those words spilling from her lips emphatically; her eyes rising to catch the look in his own. “But the age of summoners, and their guardians, has since passed. I am in no need of your guardianship. I renounced all feelings of affections for you, and I do not wish for you to stay. If you do, you will die.”
Each word bit into him, leaving lungs deprived of oxygen and, only when they burned, did he take a small, unsteady breath. He could no longer hear the pyreflies, or the still burning fields behind them. All he could seem to pick up were the sounds of his uneven attempts at breathing where hers were calm and steady—as if what she'd just said had no effect on her. Narrowing eyes found themselves burning into the woman before him incredulously and, despite her warning, he stood unmoved.
“So that's how it's going to be? You're just...going to throw it all away? Leave us all behind and....pretend that you don't care?”
One bold step after another, she found him closing the proximity between them while she stood rooted in place. Her words, however false they were, had cut him deep, but he refused to back down. Tidus was calling her bluff, and with no other contingency plan in place, Yuna found herself being backed into an invisible corner. In an unfathomable amount of pain, her nails dug into the wood of her staff and her teeth clinched, feeling beads of sweat beginning to form on her forehead. Hanging on by a thread, she challenged him with such a fierceness that could only stem from trying to protect someone you love.
“No,” Tidus shook his head, only stopping once her staff was in reach. The hand he once offered her now landed forcefully upon the handle just above her own. “You don't get to do that, Yuna. You don't get to take the easy way out—I won't let you.”
Before she could finish, he’d pulled her staff from the earth, causing her to jump and breath to audibly hitch. He held it in his hand and when she instinctively lunged to get it back in her possession, let it fall from his grasp and caught her by the wrist, thwarting any more efforts to retrieve the weapon. Yuna struggled to break free from his hold, only to find her other wrist captured; Tidus pulled her to him, a firm, yet gentle lock still intact. They caught each others stare and to his surprise, he could see her face awash with panic.
“Look me in the eye and tell me,” Breath fanning hot across her face as he instinctively pulled her closer. “Tell me you don't love me—that you don't want me here.”
His wounds were deep—maybe, too, deep for her to heal, but it wasn't until she couldn't feel his breath falling against her face anymore that the anxiety began to claim her. How had it come to this? Hurting the man she loved to such a degree that she wasn't sure if anything she said would bring him back from the brink of heartbreak.
“Damn it, Yuna,” Watching her as it looked like she was teetering back and forth while he waited on bated breath. “Tell me!”
“I-I...” Choking back her emotions as he lightly jostled her to reality. “I-If you love me...”
Before she could manage anything else, he released his hold on one wrist only to bring a finger to her lips and shook his head. Yuna watched the hopeful gleam in his eyes start to dim, moving his hand again to brush silent tears away. Her eyes closed at his touch, realizing it wasn't the feeling of leather against her cheek but rather, the warm, calloused touch of his thumb instead. The free hand moving to rest on top of his bare hand, she leaned into his palm and let a painful smile take hold.
“You're a bad liar, you know?” Releasing the grip on her other wrist and pushing her hair back as he stood there admiring her relaxing into his touch. “I knew you were hiding something, I just couldn't figure it out until now.”
“I wish I didn't have to, Tidus,” Opening her eyes to stare up at him through a veil of fresh tears threatening to fall. “But I have to. For now until...who knows when...to keep all of you safe, it has to be this way.”
“Why couldn't you have just said that before?”
“Would you have believe me? Would it have stopped you?”
“I'm here aren't I?”
It was then that the twinge of pain sharply penetrated her core, but she would hold it together a little longer; if for no other reason than biding him some time to escape. This brief respite could not withstand the calling of the spirits forever, nor would the iridescent shelter allow an escape from the duties she'd yet to preform. Best now that they part ways, rather than risk losing his soul forever to the Farplane.
“You have to go now,” Palming his cheek affectionately. “As far and as fast as you can. Promise me that you won't look back—no matter how much you want to, and no matter what you hear.”
He bit back the urges to protest, choosing instead to pick up her discarded staff laying at their feet. Dusting it off, he held it out to her and watched as she carefully took it into her hands, nodding confidently. Though he still had reservations, he could see parts of her, even if fleetingly, full of panic and sheer dread at the thought of him staying. He still wanted answers but now was not the time; they would have the chance, one day, to discuss it without emotions running so high. For now, he would do as she’d pleaded. Turning from her, he started to walk away, leaving her to do what she needed.
And, just like she'd asked, he never looked back.