For such a small meal, Yuna felt like it was her masterpiece. Constant plumes of smoke rose from the sturdy crust, and the casseroles of meat and vegetables within were piping hot all throughout. Along with the sheen of moisture on the golden-brown mushrooms, Yuna had to muster up the resistance to chow down. She couldn’t forgive herself if Tidus went hungry.
Following up that thought, she prepared their plates and went to search for him. Considering she overheard bits and pieces of him talking to himself, she assumed that he was still on top of the outlook.
“Tidus! Food’s ready!” she called out to him from the base of the cliff. “Tidus?”
She grew a little concerned when he didn’t respond verbally, instead opting to beckon her up the incline. She picked up in pursuit, thinking he was playing a game with her until she had realised where she was.
He had stood at this exact spot at the end of their pilgrimage, when the foreboding expectancy of her sacrifice was nigh. When the rest of her guardians were making gloomy small talk around the campfire, with Tidus showing no signs of joining, she had followed in his tracks and encouraged him to tell some of his stories to all of them.
He had always been good at taking her mind off the inevitable, but these days, she often found that it was the other way around.
He stood with his back turned to her, arms folded and looking out at the horizon. Not wanting to intrude, she stood back with her hands clasped behind her, watching his form scrutinously.
“I got a theory.”
She lowered her hand and hummed, letting him continue.
“I think the fayth gathered up my thoughts, and then put ‘em together to bring me back,” he said, sounding quite unsure of himself even then. He quickly dismissed the air he created by reaching up to stretch out his body. “Maybe. Somethin’ like that.”
Of course. He had been wondering about his state for so long, and now he had given himself the opportunity to think it over. Perhaps a change of topic was exactly what he needed to power through.
Tidus brought up his arms and flexed his fingers, staring at them with a silent melancholy before letting them fall brashly.
“Or maybe… I’m still a dream,” he muttered with a strange reluctance to his words.
“Wait! So you’ll disappear?”
She didn’t mean to blurt that out so adamantly. Guilt immediately struck her and she submitted to a sheepish stance. A deep frown creased her face, dragging it downward.
But she had a point, right? It was something she always dreaded thinking about. She was fairly certain it affected him just as much, if not more, for they both knew how unpredictable the fayth could be. There was always that chance that they would not only get tired, but also sick of providing for them.
Especially since they promised ‘always’ to each other. However long that may be...
He hadn’t budged since Yuna’s outburst. A churning gut feeling convinced her that she had offended him, or made him scared. But then the steady twisting of fabric turned her gaze up to meet his. A calm, content smile adorned his face.
‘ That look, that… You haven’t looked like that since Ma--’
“Cherish me, Yuna. And I’ll cherish you.”
A painless twine shot through her, making her heart skip a beat.
“All right? We gotta stick together. That’s what we have to do!”
A shy spell appeared to hit Tidus just then, as he squeezed out a grin and quickly pivoted around, acting like the exchange didn’t happen.
Rich feelings enveloped Yuna’s body and took control of her mind. Letting out an infatuated breath, she skipped up to him and tightly wrapped her arms around his midsection, burying her cheek into his back -- eager to let him feel her rapid heartbeat. The convulsions in his neck let her know that he was chuckling throatily.
“Is that what the fayth told you?” she asked genuinely, caught up in an emotional whirlwind.
“Nah. But I like it.”
A contagious laugh was bubbling beneath his words. Multiple strong, very different insecurities erupted within her at that point, but that laugh of his infected her, and soon they were caught up in a loud harmony. Not being able to take it anymore, she playfully yet forcefully shoved him off the rock. A yelp, a splash and her smug grin completed the scene.
“H-hey! That’s not cherishing!” Tidus complained defensively, glaring up at her with an exaggerated pout.
“You didn’t disappear.”
Yuna intended to say that with light-heartedness, but the impact of that sentence gave her a new perceivance of what just happened.
An overwhelmed chuckle escaped his throat as he showed her his hands with an air of victory. As if to say he was here ; he was solid, warm, and soaking quite heavily. She simply affirmed his actions with a smile and rose to meet the horizon.
The strange abundance of pyreflies tinted Zanarkand with blues and violets, with darkness slowly encasing the sky. She observed how the silhouettes of the ruins stood in stark contrast to the vibrant clouds. The potential for a beautiful starry night was definitely upon them.
Yuna slid down the incline to assist Tidus, who was trying to climb back up and onto the bank. Her hands bolted into a painful icy sensation, which kept stinging even as he shook himself free from the droplets. The regret only dug deeper when she heard him shivering.
She rushed back to camp and got out a fleece blanket from his bag. Upon seeing her return he reached out for the soft material and made himself snug within it.
“I’m sorry,” Yuna squeaked, still getting a bit of a kick out of the situation. “I didn’t know the water would be that cold!”
“Nah. I needed a wake-up call,” he dismissed her with a light tone, sniffling quietly. “But that’s a really strange way to ‘cherish’ me, you know.”
One glimpse into his mischievous eyes and she was shrivelling up under the heat, her cheeks glowing pink. ‘ What’s with you and that word all of a sudden? ’
“If that’s the case…” he took a large step forward, still grinning -- capturing her full attention with his husky tone. “...you wanna know my definition?”
Knowing full well that she wasn’t going to move, he closed the gap between so that there was a steep angle between their heads. He bent down towards her lips, nudging her beneath the towel as he did so. He waited in aching silence until her arms voyaged within the creases… and then netted her with the material, pulling them together in a veil of frost.
“There,” Tidus sang, tightening his hold on her to rub it in. “Now we’re even!”
“C-c-c-cold!” Yuna’s voice peaked, squirming within his arms -- attempting to tow them away from the bank. “I need fire!”
“But of course, Moonlily,” he emphasised with a toothy grin, shifting behind her and pointing forward. “Lead the way!”
She puckered her lips and knitted her eyebrows together, falling into his scheme by waddling towards the campfire in ridicule.
“I thought sunshine was supposed to keep me warm.”
“Hey. We can both learn from this, right?” he started, finally caving in by letting her go free. “If you keep me warm, I’ll keep you warm. Treat me good and I’ll treat you good, right?”
“Is that what you mean by ‘cherish?’”
With curled lips, he brushed past her and up to her ear. “Consider it our pact.”
Something about how he said that line -- something about what he was implying -- sent Yuna’s heart packing into a wild frenzy. With her temperatures fluctuating at such a rate, suddenly the fire didn’t seem so crucial.
“I’ll give you time to think about it,” Tidus called from the campfire with a chuckle. “That wasn’t a good first impression.”
Now she knew that he wasn’t just saying that to be romantic. Something deeper was at play. Still, she didn’t want to get her hopes up, but a indiscreet sensation was running amok within her. This was a case that only time could tell.
Tidus offered Yuna a stroll around Zanarkand. The night grew cold with the disappearance of the sun, and the waters vanished into dark shadows. Wispy streams of lights curled around the towers on the walkway, guiding them on their path to the dome.
Among all of this, a few young monkeys were swinging between the slabs, seemingly without a care.
“Monkeys?” Tidus chirped, stopping in his tracks to watch their shenanigans. “What’re they doing in Zanarkand?”
“Me and the Gullwings did a little experiment to see if they could survive and have families here,” Yuna explained. “People come here to give them food.”
“Ah…” Civilisation had returned to the city, but not in the vein that he would have expected. “Well, I hope they didn’t screw up the place.”
“The people, or…?”
“The monkeys, of course. You know how they behave.” He exaggerated the last word with a suggestive tone, and then retreated to her side. “There’s nothing somebody’s gonna come all the way out here for, right?”
“Surely not! Why would they?” She played along, masking her nervousness with chuckles.
Just as soon as he resumed his trek, he stopped once again. The dome basked as an imperfect artefact to the liquid streams criss-crossing above it. Taking Yuna’s hand they strode over the rifts and slowed down to a crawl in the face of the entranceway, as if drinking in where they were.
Rather than take the usual road into the interior, he decided to take her along another route. Raised, teetering platforms provided a stairway up and along the dome’s ribbed walls. Leaps that would otherwise be impossible for them were bested by magic. Being as careful as can be, they eventually spiralled upwards and onto one of the front railings.
Balancing upon it, they ended their hike by climbing into one of the eastern spires, settling far beneath a crooked archway that was reaching for the sky. Streams weaved between it, and the pyreflies blended in with the stars. Most staggering of all was the moon that the streams were cresting; it was glowing magnificently from behind a strong mist.
“I doubt anyone’s gonna find us up here,” Tidus whispered, finding a pillar to hold onto within their cosy nest.
“Amazing…” Yuna’s breath was stolen by the chimes of the night. She picked up a corner of the blanket and coaxed herself into his side. “I-- What brought this upon you?”
Tidus grunted, scrunching up his face -- looking for an answer he didn’t understand.
“It’s beautiful, Sunshine,” she continued nonetheless, seemingly in a trance. “But, did I do something to deserve this? Having this with you?”
“Of course you did!” he remarked, a gleeful expression sprouting up. “That pie was amazing."
“Really?” She twisted around to support herself against his torso -- to catch herself off-guard with the intense colours of his face. ‘ Is that all it takes?’
“That is, we-- we haven’t… I haven’t asked you yet.”
“Asked what?” Yuna drawled, feeling a little daft.
Shockingly yet charmingly, Tidus’ usual stammering was lathered in timidness. Laughing quietly he broke eye contact, knowing there was no backing off now.
“That’s kind of the difficult part.”
Quietude fell upon them once more. Despite the cold he was beading with sweat. The flickering flame from the torch, burning up with an alluring velvet-gold, created a mood within their little spot. Their eyes were drawn to each other.
“I don’t suppose this is about earlier?” she assumed, biting her lower lip.
“Y-yeah. About that.” Good grief, his nerves were thumping already! “It’s something… Something I’ve been thinkin’ of for a while.”
Smiling, she laid her head comfortably against his chest, a hand slipping delicately into his. “Take your time.”
She felt herself being lowered onto a block of stone, with a simple duvet cushioning her body. Opening her eyes, the most peculiar sight of all was Tidus taking deep hisses of breath and searching for answers in the sea of stars.
“Sorry,” he muttered, opening his eyes and shooting her a sideways smile. “Just bear with me, all right? I’m-- not good at this kinda thing.”
His hand cupped Yuna’s bare shoulder, making her skin tremble from his warm presence. He twisted his whole form around to take all of her in, draping the loose ends of the duvet over their laps -- drawing them ever closer together.
He had to make this right. Never would the tightness in his throat or the uneasiness pooling in his gut deter him now.
“You’re amazing, Yuna.” Seconds rolled by, deciphering the truths which lay in his heart. “You always were. But all this time, through everything… you’ve meant more to me than ever.”
All of the tentativeness pent-up within him seemed to melt away when his Yuna eased into him, cradling both of his hands. The intensity in her eyes, the honesty in her body, her gentle nature -- all of it gave him the courage to continue.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to get through it all, if you weren’t there. I’d… I’d hate to put anyone else through that. You know, cause, like-- you’re one in a million, and not everyone’s...”
With a rush of bravery (and a little bit of impatience), Tidus leaned down and brushed his lips against the corner of her mouth. He pulled her in by the waist, capturing her in a tight embrace. Yuna responded by letting her hands trickle up beneath the material to grip his shoulders.
“But you know what I’m goin’ on about, right? It’s this feeling I’ve never had before. I can’t even put it into words; it’s like when you’re around, I feel like I belong ,” he continued mumbling into her ear, his fingers rubbing circles into her bare skin. “And I never want that to go away, Yuna. Is that… something you feel as well?”
She nuzzled further into his neck and nodded, feeling the last of her strength going into her crinkling smile. His arms convulsed slightly -- still around her -- and she could hear tender, stifled tears.
“I’m glad,” he managed to say, his voice hoarse, “that you were with me all the way.”
“And I still will be. I’ll never leave you.”
“Neither will I.” With a final shudder he pulled back and clasped her hands again, joy swirling about them. “We’re gonna grow old together. I promise.”
With the blanket in tow she propelled herself closer to him, gently locking her lips with his. The torch’s fire crackled behind them, painting the scene with warm passion as they delved into their own little world within the cloak.
No further response was needed.
‘ So this is it… Everything: the pilgrimage; the sphere hunting; the struggles; our joy and sorrow; our pain and our pride… ’
Tidus took a deep, slightly laboured breath, feeling like his soul was drifting on air despite how tightly she clung to him.
“So Yuna, I know this is sudden, but…”
He slowly motioned his head in what looked like a courteous bow towards her lips. Eagerly she closed her eyes expecting the obvious, but instead he swooped down to her ear in a warm, loving whisper:
“Will you cherish me?”
‘ If it wasn't for him I would have long departed for the Farplane. By all accounts, it's where we both belong. ’
“I-I’m, sorry, I--”
“Why would you think I’d say no?” Yuna blurted out with an excited laugh, squeezing his upper body tightly. Despite her words her eyes sparkled with tears, reflecting the cosmos above them.
“I-I just, well, wanted to know if you were comfortable with it first,” he admitted, disguising his embarrassment with a chuckle in his throat. “You know, considering all the suitors you had. And then befo-- I mean, I don’t want to...”
“That was because I didn’t love any of them, and they didn’t love me back.” She used her hand to cup and stroke his cheek gingerly. “Tidus. I did and would have turned down all of them for the rest of my life, because… I believed you would come back someday. ”
He was rendered speechless.
“Truth be told, I always loved you.”
‘ He felt more tangible and strong than anyone I’ve ever met; I knew he could never be allowed to be just an illusion. I refused to accept it. He deserved everything we fought for. ’
“I just never thought of it way back then,” she whispered, too late to stop herself. “That’s one way to put it, right? I couldn’t stop to think about it with my responsibilities. But then it hit me, that night…”
“It hits you, and afterwards it’s something you never forget, right?” Tidus whispered, touching his forehead to hers. “It was the same for me, Yuna. Even right now I can feel it.”
“Was I your first…?”
Redness crept up to his cheeks, “In a lot of ways.”
‘ But here we are. We’ve made it. Our story was still continuing. ’
Ethereal chimes from the night’s abyss echoed around the spire. Played into a trance, Yuna got up from the stone and leaned against the entrance, drinking in the splendour. Tidus came up just behind her, wrapping her arms around her and cocooning them up in the blanket.
“By the way,” he spoke to her, breaking away from the lights with a dizziness about him. “I didn’t get something that you like, seal the deal with, but--”
“You took me to Zanarkand, didn’t you?” She turned to give him a sweet smile. “If it was as wonderful as tonight, then I didn’t need it.”
“Still,” he continued, his soft eyes casting warmth onto her as he reached behind his neck, “I want you to have this.”
With a clink his beloved pendant, one of the only remnants of his lost city, unclasped and was strung between his hands. Yuna could only stand in silent giddiness as he reached forward, slowly fitting the chain around her and taking the chance to envelop her in a sneaky embrace.
“Now you’re a part of my Zanarkand Abes!” Tidus boasted with a doofy grin, “Now they will finally get that you’re taken.”
To put it bluntly, she was starstruck. Perhaps it was the nerves, or how perfectly cheesy he was being, or even just because the big moment was starting to sink in. But in a bout of adoration she quickly removed her own pendant and adorned it around his neck, hoping to send the same message:
“Wouldn’t want anybody stealing my star player,” she mumbled with a cheeky smile, tracing his clavicle.
A large, audible yawn pushed out of Yuna’s mouth. Her body fell forward, snuggling into Tidus’ with absolute content.
“Wouldn’t want anybody stealing your sleep either, Yuna,” he quipped with a gentle grin, stroking her hair and looking to the stars one final time.
‘ We didn’t need to say anything else . I was to be marrying for love -- for ourselves. We were to find happiness in each other. ’
Using the space he had on hand, he made themselves as adequate of a resting place as he could. His head lolled against the pillow with Yuna stretched out beside him. The firmness of the blanket wrapped twice around them gave them as much warmth and security as possible. Sparks of light jumped from his fingertips, tracing over the outline of his lover’s beautiful face.
“Sleep well, Sunshine,” was Yuna’s final confession of the night, kissing his cheek before her eyes fluttered shut, to imagine their venue in her dreams.
‘Kimahri can be the first one we’ll tell, ’ Tidus devised, squeezing her as he began to drift off. He craned his neck one final time, staring up at the pyreflies and thanking them meekly.
‘I hope it will always last.’