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The gateway shattered with a resounding crack, glimmers of red light fading into the surroundings. A gentle breeze found its way through the open archway, whistling through cracks in the stone. The same wind drifted its way atop nearby waves, sending ripples across both the still waters of a nearby lake to the north, and the endless stretch of sea to the south. Quiet splashes of water against rock softened what would have otherwise been a foreboding silence; a momentary calm that would soon disappear, but such was the way of things during war.

Tidus took a deep breath, stretching both arms above his head as he stepped out of the empty gateway’s shadow. He closed his eyes, relishing the cool air on his skin, the taste of salt from the sea. He felt a tug on his subconscious, a swelling feeling of peace as well as something nameless, something that gripped at his heart; a forgotten memory, calling him back to the home he could not remember.

Before he could slip further into his mind, a hand on his shoulder grounded him, kept him rooted in the present. Tidus opened his eyes, noticing the look of concern he was being given.

“You alright, Tidus?”

He let out a soft exhale before plastering a smile on his features; Firion already worried about him, enough for it to be a hobby at that point, and it wouldn’t do to make it worse. Firion sounded concerned but there was exhaustion in his words more than anything else; fighting was taking its toll on him, no doubt. Probably thinks I’m burned out, Tidus thought. He gave Firion’s hand a gentle pat before pushing it aside.

“You really do worry too much. It’s just good to be out of there, ya know?” Tidus took a step forward before sitting down, stretching his legs out with a groan. “It’s so cramped in there, I can’t stand it!”

Firion shook his head with a smile, settling down by Tidus’s side with a sharp exhale. “So you’ve said, many times by now.”

“And I’ve been right every time.”

Firion raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t mean you should complain about it every time.”

Tidus shot him a look, elbowing him in the side. “Come on, cut me some slack! Not got a lot else to complain about.”

“What, apart from the horde of manikins, the enemies tracking us down, and the war we’re stuck in?”

Firion could hardly keep the amusement out of his voice. Tidus gave an exasperated noise before falling backwards to lie on the grass beneath.

“Yeah, yeah, but that stuff’s a little too heavy for regular complaining, isn’t it?” He gave his friend a winning smile. “Gotta save that for special occasions.”

Firion laughed, shaking his head a little. “Right, sure. I’ll make sure to save all the worst moments I can remember for when we catch up with the others.”

A brief silence descended upon them before Tidus spoke, voice quiet and pensive.

“Where do you think they are anyway? They’re all gonna be okay, right?”

Firion turned, noticing the sombre expression on his friend’s face before shrugging, armour clinking with the movement.

“Who knows, but I’m sure we’ll meet them again soon, crystals in tow. For now…” he stretched his arms above his head, wincing at the ache in his shoulders. “… A much needed rest is in order.”

Tidus nodded in approval, closing his eyes and letting out a soft exhale. Interlacing his fingers above his head, he pushed any concerns about his comrades aside, focusing on the quiet noises around him, the feeling of the earth beneath him, the wind through his hair. The sound of wind and water drove any ill feeling away, but without the tug on his memories from earlier, and it was peaceful in a way he could never express with words.

The sound of metal drew his attention, and he cracked an eye open to see Firion removing his weapons from their holsters, checking them with a level of care that Tidus found strange, but oddly pleasing to observe.

He never checked his sword all that closely, knowing it could withstand whatever he put it up against. It was a weapon; it had some level of sentimentality, he supposed, but he didn’t think about such things all that hard. Firion, on the other hand, loved his weapons like any master of the craft would. He checked for any small cracks, any blemishes, carefully examining each and every weapon he held with reverence and care.

Tidus watched in silence, noticing the slight crinkle around Firion’s eyes when he frowned, the gentle way he turned each weapon over between his fingers. He was fearsome in battle - he carried multiple weapons on his person at all times, that was enough to intimidate most people - but he was also one of the gentlest people Tidus had ever met, and it showed in moments like this very strongly.

Cecil was gentle in his own way, but it had far more to do with temperance and dealing with any problem encountered with grace. It was the only word that came to mind when Tidus thought of him; Cecil was graceful, in every way possible. Firion was graceful at times, but it was done with careful consideration and a lot of effort on his part; for Cecil, it looked effortless.

Despite that, Firion may hold some level of grace on the battlefield, but that did not apply to his interactions with other people. Tidus was in no way graceful when it came to social interactions - on the contrary, he often made a fool of himself - but he was aware of that, and played it to his advantage more often than not. Firion, however, was quite clumsy with others and it was endearing, to Tidus at least. He was a very genuine person, and it was a nice change of pace compared to Cecil’s more reserved nature and Cloud being… Cloud.

“Is something wrong?”

Tidus blinked, realising he’d been caught staring, and gave a sheepish smile.

“Nothin’, was just wondering what you were doing is all.”

Firion tilted his head, opening his mouth as if he wanted to ask further questions, but turned aside instead, placing his last weapon on the grass beside him before sighing.

“It’s important to make sure everything is in order when you’ve got the chance, right?”

Tidus gave a resigned noise in response. “I mean, I guess.” He gave Firion a wide smile. “Though I don’t have hundreds of weapons to deal with, so I guess it’s less important to me.”

Firion shook his head with a laugh. “If I could wield hundreds of weapons, I’d never have enough time to keep them all in order.”

“That’s true. I don’t know how you even deal with that many, or all that armour.” Tidus extended an arm to poke Firion’s shoulder with a finger. “Doesn’t it feel cramped, being in an outfit like that the whole time?”

Firion pushed his hand away, raising an eyebrow at him. “Right, because I should go half-shirtless like you, I’m guessing?”

Tidus flicked Firion’s forehead. “Hey! I’ll have you know I am at the height of comfort at all times. No awkward armour, no metal to polish. I can just go for a swim and be fine.”

Firion grinned. “Sure, if you say so. I’m sure you’ll be well protected when a manikin tries to chop you in two.”

Tidus pulled a face. “I do say so. Now, leave my fashionable outfit alone and I’ll stop criticising your one piece armour get-up.”

Firion laughed, shaking his head a little before settling back against the stone gateway behind him, looking out over at the sea with a soft expression. A peaceful silence descended upon the both of them, broken only by the wind and the waves. Tidus closed his eyes once more, listening to his surroundings and the sound of Firion making quiet movements beside him, fighting off the urge to sleep. He’d never hear the end of it from Firion if he took a nap and left him to deal with any passing manikins alone. The mental image was satisfying, however; Firion trying to grab all his weapons, tripping over his own feet, caught unawares as Tidus slept in blissful ignorance nearby. He couldn’t help but smile, and he nearly pushed himself up to share this thought but faltered.

Firion had removed his cloak, leaving it folded neatly beside his weapons, and was trying to unclasp the armour around his chest with a frown. But it wasn’t this that made Tidus falter; Firion’s hair was undone from its usual ponytail, his ever-present bandanna folded atop his cloak, leaving his hair hanging in loose tresses across his shoulders. His hair caught the light of the sun beautifully, shining like spun silver.

Curious, Tidus found himself sitting up, removing his gloves before reaching out to lift a strand away from Firion’s face. His hair was coarser than Tidus thought it would be, and it brought a frown to his features. Firion didn’t notice Tidus’s actions at first, too distracted by his armour to pay attention to anything else. He let out a pleased noise as a quiet clink meant his chest-piece had come undone, but as he tried to lift it away he felt a tug on his hair. He turned his head to find Tidus a lot closer to him than he’d been previously, running Firion’s hair between his fingertips with a look of concentration. Firion frowned, voice wavering a little.

“What… are you doing?”

Tidus looked up suddenly, as if unaware of his own actions, and let go of Firion’s hair with a nervous laugh.

“Ah, I was just… uh…”

“Yes?”

Tidus faltered, unable to meet Firion’s gaze, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ve just, uh, never seen you with your hair down before.” A somewhat awkward silence descended upon them before Tidus continued, voice softening. “You should take better care of it, your hair I mean. It’s all tangled.”

Firion couldn’t respond for a moment, struck by the sudden emotion in Tidus’s voice. Tidus had a strand of Firion’s hair in his hands once more, looking down at it with a frown. Firion felt something well up within him, something nameless that he couldn’t put his finger on, and he felt his lips pull into a smile.

“If it bothers you that much, you can brush it, if you like.”

Tidus blinked, stunned. “I can do what now?”

Firion reached down to pull a small comb out of a bag on his belt before placing it in Tidus’s hands, unable to keep the laughter out of his voice.

“There, that’s what you wanted, right?” He faltered, voice wavering. “Wait, that is what you wanted, wasn’t it?”

Tidus couldn’t help but laugh at that, shaking his head a little. “I didn’t even know you had a comb or anything, but sure, why not!”

He moved to grab the rest of Firion’s hair, crossing his legs to get more comfortable behind him, before he faltered. Where armour had once been was a sleeveless black undershirt instead, leaving every jut of bone and muscle evident. Tidus pulled Firion’s hair away from his neck, noticing the jut of his shoulder blades and the slight ridges of his spine. He felt the urge to reach out and trace a finger along his back before it occurred to him that even brushing Firion’s hair was a level of closeness they hadn’t shared before. Before he could do anything, Firion spoke, making him jump.

“You okay back there?”

Tidus fumbled over his words, swallowing thickly. “Uh, yeah, I’m doing just fine. Just, uh, wondering… where to start, I guess.”

If Firion noticed any deeper meaning to those words, he ignored it, and replied with amusement in his voice. “At the ends, if you please.”

“R-right.”

Tidus let out a shaky exhale, trying to push aside any thoughts in his mind, focusing on the task at hand. He eased out the tangles at the ends of Firion’s hair, taking care to keep a firm grip on the hair above so he didn’t tug at Firion’s scalp. It was an intuitive gesture, one he didn’t entirely understand; he never bothered brushing his own hair beyond running his hands through it every now and then. Firion seemed to notice Tidus’s sudden lack of hesitation, and spoke with curiosity in his voice.

“Have you done this before?”

Tidus hesitated before replying. “I… guess so. Not sure how though, it’s not like I need to do this for myself.”

Firion gave a quiet laugh. “Imagining you with long hair is… certainly interesting.”

“Hey, I’d look great with long hair. Though it would get in the way too much.”

“I manage mine just fine.”

Tidus raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really? All these knots say otherwise.”

He pulled on a knot a little harder than necessary, and gave a satisfied grin when Firion sharply inhaled.

“Hey, watch it!”

Tidus replied, unable to keep laughter out of his voice. “Sure, sure, Mr. I Manage My Impossibly Long Hair Just Fine.”

Firion huffed, though it was hard to stop his lips from pulling up into a smile, and it eased whatever tension had arisen between them. Tidus took his time, slowly moving closer to Firion’s scalp, leaving the hair beneath knot-free and soft to the touch. After a moment of silence, Firion spoke, a gentle emotion in his voice.

“I remember…”

Tidus stopped his movements, peering over Firion’s shoulder. “You remember… what?”

Firion didn’t reply at first, seemingly lost in whatever had come to mind, before continuing in a quiet tone.

“I remember someone doing this for me before; a girl, who was nowhere near as gentle as you’re being.” He gave a fond smile. “I don’t know who she was though. She had… long hair… and she’s someone I’ve known a very long time, I think.”

Tidus nudged Firion in the shoulder with a grin. “Oh? Does our dear old Rosebud have a girlfriend waiting for him back home?”

Firion pushed him back, spluttering over his words. “I do not! That memory is very little to go on.”

“I’d say brushing someone’s hair is pretty romantic to -” Tidus faltered, looking down at the comb in his hands before abruptly cutting himself off. “- to, uh, some people. You sure she’s not your ‘wild rose’?”

Firion pulled a face at Tidus’s wording before replying. “I can’t… say for certain but I don’t… get that kind of feeling from her. Does… does that make sense?”

Tidus paused before giving a quiet hum. “Yeah, it makes sense. That stuff has nothing to do with remembering, I guess.”

A somewhat awkward silence descended upon them until Firion spoke up, a curious edge to his voice.

“What about you?”

Tidus faltered. “Huh?”

“Do you… have anyone waiting for you at home?”

Tidus couldn’t answer at first, suddenly aware of the soft hair between his fingertips and the warmth of Firion’s back against his legs - brushing through her hair, feeling the sun’s warmth on his back, her gentle laughter - and he hesitated, gripped by memory. Eventually he spoke, so quiet Firion could barely hear him.

“I… don’t know. I think there was someone once, but…”

“But what?”

Firion’s voice was gentle, grounding in a way Tidus couldn’t explain with words, and he shook his head a little before continuing, trying to make light of the conversation.

“But nothing, I just get the feeling she’s not waiting for me.”

Firion tried turning his head, reaching behind him for Tidus’s shoulder, but a sudden tug at his hair halted his movements. He winced a little, letting out a quiet sigh, unsure what to say. Eventually, Tidus continued, a sombre tone to his voice.

“There’s a… manikin of her, actually.”

Firion couldn’t help but turn his head, shock evident in his voice. “Wait, are you serious?”

Tidus let out a pained laugh. “Yeah, the girl with the staff and the long skirt.”

“What… do you think that means?”

Tidus shrugged, pushing Firion’s head back to face forward and continuing to comb his hair, trying to stay distracted.

“I don’t know. Cloud mentioned he recognised someone, right? Cecil, too. Guess the enemy’s just reading our memories or something like that.”

“I… suppose so. I’m sorry for bringing up something painful.”

Tidus flicked the back of Firion’s head, trying his best to sound light-hearted. “Nah, you’re good. You really do worry too much, Rosebud.”

Firion sighed. “So you keep saying. Also…” he paused, a hint of awkwardness in his voice. “Why do you call me that?”

Tidus tugged a little too hard at Firion’s hair, letting out a quick apology before replying. “Well, I mean, you’ve got the whole rose thing going on. And I guess I just… like giving nicknames to people. Do you… not want me to call you that?”

Firion waved his hands in front of him. “No, no, it’s… it’s alright. I just wondered why you were using it.”

Tidus raised an eyebrow. “Are nicknames not a thing in your world or something?”

“No, nothing like that. I guess it’s just… something new to me.”

They both fell silent, a somewhat tense silence settling upon their shoulders. Tidus moved his fingers to the back of Firion’s neck, running the comb gently through his scalp, trying to ignore the quiet sigh that Firion gave in response. Both the current situation and the somewhat painful memories cloying for attention left him tense, on edge for reasons he didn’t entirely understand. When he finally eased out the last tangle in Firion’s hair, he felt strangely relieved that it was over, and moved backwards to put distance between them.

“There, all done.”

Tidus’s voice was strained, though he tried to hide it as best he could. He pushed himself up and stretched as he got to his feet. Firion pulled his hair over his shoulder, running his fingers through it before looking up, noticing the tense way Tidus was stood. He faltered, unsure on what to do. After a moment of hesitation, he reached for Tidus’s hand and pulled him down, as gently as he could, so he was sat with his back facing Firion.

Tidus looked over his shoulder, confused.

“What’re you doing?”

Firion pushed Tidus’s head back so he was facing forward, letting go of his hand and running the comb through his hair without a word. Tidus abruptly understood, and couldn’t help but smile.

“You could’ve just asked, ya know.”

Firion didn’t reply, giving a quiet and slightly embarrassed noise in response. Tidus laughed, settling against Firion’s knees and closing his eyes. It was comforting, grounding in a way he didn’t entirely understand. It was exactly what he needed, and any sense of memory dissipated into nothingness, leaving behind a sense of being content.

The feeling of Firion’s fingers against his neck - weapon-worn, rough callouses against his skin - and the comb gently running through his hair brought back the nameless feeling from earlier. It wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling, and it also wasn’t a feeling he’d never experienced before - water all around him, tears sliding down her cheeks and his fingers, the salt taste of her lips - but it still felt new, leaving Tidus feeling a little too vulnerable for his liking.

But he wasn’t one to overthink such things, and whatever happened in the moment was what mattered. The past, the future; it didn’t take precedence over the here and now, not to him. He settled into it, the intimacy shared between the two of them, and let it be a comfort to him instead of something to worry about.

The thought brought a smile to his features, and a quiet laugh escaped him. Firion froze, fingers buried in Tidus’s hair, uncertainty in his voice.

“Is something the matter?”

Tidus shook his head. “Nope, was just thinking I’m gonna turn into a worrywart like you at this rate.”

Firion rolled his eyes with a smile. “Always with the insults, huh?”

“Hey, it’s not an insult! I like that you worry.” Tidus hesitated at his own words, aware of the sudden stillness from Firion behind him before he continued. “I think it’s great that you… care enough about me to worry that much, ya know?”

Firion didn’t reply at first, stunned into silence. Tidus waved his hands in front of him, visibly embarrassed.

“I, uh, thought that was what was goin’ on but -”

A laugh cut him off. Tidus immediately relaxed before tensing up again as Firion rested his head against the back of his own, speaking softly into his hair.

“Is that so? Then I’ll keep making it a habit to worry about you.”

Tidus faltered, eyes wide, before letting out a soft exhale of breath, lips pulled into a smile.

“See? That’s why I call you Rosebud. You’re such a cheesy bastard sometimes!”

Firion laughed. “You tell me these aren’t insults, and yet…”

“They aren’t! I promise I mean these things with a lot of love.”

Firion smiled wryly. “Love, you say? Now who’s the cheesy bastard?”

Tidus pulled away, turning to face the man behind him with a huff, cheeks flushed. “H-hey now, don’t get ahead of yourself!  You may be a stupidly pretty guy with lots of cool weapons and all but you can’t get big-headed about it.”

Firion laughed before reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind Tidus’s ear, leaving his fingers pressed against his cheek.

“Now I can’t tell if you’re complimenting me or insulting me.”

Tidus froze, wide-eyed and unable to respond, heart jack-hammering in his chest. Firion faltered, suddenly nervous, and pulled his hand away.

“Ah, sorry I got carried away, I shouldn’t -”

Tidus cut him off with a tight grip on his hair, pulling him forward into a kiss. Firion tensed up before he felt himself relax, eyes fluttering shut, lost in the feeling of it all. Tidus pulled away first, pressing his forehead against Firion’s own with a gentle sigh.

“There, that shut you up, didn’t it?”

Firion faltered before letting out a shaky laugh. “I… yeah. Wow, okay.”

Tidus couldn’t help but laugh at that, interlacing his fingers behind Firion’s neck with a grin. They stayed like this for a long time, quietly laughing together, taking in the intimacy they felt for each other with gentle reverence.

Firion eventually pulled away. When he tried to stand, Tidus attempted to pull him back down. Firion shook his head with a smile.

“We should get going. Not sure I want the manikins to catch us unawares like this, after all.”

Tidus leant back, looking up at Firion with a grin. “Yeah, that fancy tight shirt of yours won’t stop them cutting you in two, will it?”

Firion rolled his eyes before walking away so he could carefully reassemble his weaponry and armour. Tidus remained where he was, watching as Firion re-clasped his armour around his chest and returned each weapon to their proper places with care. Tidus smiled softly, full of emotion, committing to memory the sight of the sun casting Firion’s hair into soft amber hues, the graceful way he moved. When Firion was done he carefully fastened his bandana in place before pulling out a ribbon. He raised his hands to begin tying up his hair up but faltered, noticing the gentle way he was being looked at. He looked away with something akin to shyness in his expression. Tidus grinned with delight.

“That’s real cute.”

Firion pulled a face. “Sh-shut up.”

Tidus laughed, pushing himself up and making his way over to Firion. He took the ribbon out of his hands, moving behind him to tie up his hair before turning him around for a kiss. Firion raised his hands and gently ran them through Tidus’s hair, delighting in the appreciative hum he got in response. Eventually he pulled away, cheeks flushed.

“We, uh, really should get going.”

Tidus contemplated pulling Firion back down for a kiss but knew there was no arguing with him; they’d spent far too much time in one place, after all. He sighed, poking Firion’s nose with a finger before pulling away.

“Alright, but we’re picking up from where we left off later.”

Later - that word held a lot of promise, implied more than one simple moment by the waterside left to fond memory alone. Firion smiled.

“Sure, that’s a promise.”

Tidus interlaced his fingers behind his head, amused. “Oh? You better keep that promise, Rosebud.”

Firion stepped forward, nudging Tidus’s side with an elbow before cutting ahead at a run, calling out behind him with a grin. “I will, but only if you beat me to the next gateway.”

“Oh, you’re on!”