Author's Notes: This story contains spoilers for the entire game. If you haven't finished it and at least most of the side quests, I would highly suggest not reading this story until you do it will spoil you all kinds of rotten. Also, this story will contain shounen ai/yaoi implications. If that's not your thing you probably shouldn't be here. Standard Disclaimers apply as usual. ^_^
Castle in Spain
Chapter Five - The Black Forest
Are you awake?
Are you dreaming?
When does the dream become reality?
When does the reality become dream?
You can't die.
You were never alive.
And that which is not alive can not die.
But it can fade.
Time to wake up.
Tidus jolted awake, grasping instinctively for something real.
His fingers grasped at black cloth, pulling the warm body beside him desperately close.
Closer than close.
Warm body, cool flesh. How was that even possible? To be so warm and so cold at once.
He didn't know.
He only knew that this living, breathing contradiction was real. And he needed something real.
"What are you doing, Tidus?" Seymour inquired, raising his face from Tidus' chest enough to glare up at him. Though Tidus didn't fail to notice that the summoner made no attempt to escape his grasp. At least not yet.
Tidus sighed, chewing at his bottom lip. Now that he was fully awake and Seymour was looking up at him with that 'you stupid human' look, he felt kind of... well... like a stupid human. "I had a nightmare, I guess." Tidus offered weakly, earning himself a intensified version of the 'you stupid human' look for his trouble.
"Well, that's no excuse to attempt to squeeze the life out of me. I'm not a teddy bear," Seymour replied briskly. "Now I would suggest you release me before I eat your soul."
"Eh?!" Tidus relinquished his hold and attempted to retreat from the summoner, only to find his escape thwarted by Seymour's hair. The summoner yelped, dragged a few inches along the ground before Tidus had realized what was happening and stopped moving. Somehow the silky strands had wound their way around him, much to their owner's displeasure. "Stop that! Let me go or I'll cut you off. Wouldn't much care for that would you?" Seymour growled and it seemed to Tidus that the hair reacted to the admonishment of its master and loosened its grip, allowing Tidus to pull himself free.
"O-kay. That about does it. What is with your hair?!" Tidus exclaimed, as Seymour sat up, his hair still hanging loose, framing his face.
"I told you already! Your blood makes it act stupid!" Seymour retaliated, his fingers curling in the sand. "I can't help it!"
Tidus starred in shock as tears slipped across the summoner's cheeks. He hadn't meant... well... shoot. "Seymour..."
"It's not my fault it does this. I didn't ask for this! Any of it! I didn't ask to be born! It's not my fault she's dead! It's not my fault!"
He didn't remember scooting back across the earth to sit beside Seymour. He didn't even remember putting his arms around him. Yet, the next thing he knew Seymour was curled in his lap, sobbing brokenly against his chest, arms wound loosely around his neck. "Hey, it's okay. It's okay."
"Stupid human. What do you know?" Seymour whispered, his voice bitter. "What do you know? How could you possibly understand?"
"I don't, I guess, but I don't like seeing you like this. You're... I mean... you're..."
"Oh, shut up, Tidus." Seymour grumbled, chuckling softly. "You're terrible at being comforting."
"Hey, I'm not that bad at it. I just didn't expect to have to do it for you, okay?"
"Okay." Seymour sniffed and sat up straight, a hint of a smile lifting his lips for the barest of moments before his expression darkened once more. "This is what's going to be like, Tidus, when we enter the forest. Except it will get worst. Much worse. I'll fall apart like this again and again. And so will you. You'll fall and you'll break and you'll wish the snakes really had eaten you or that you'd stayed back in the plains. No one ever makes it through the forest."
Seymour shook his head roughly, "I couldn't get out. There's... oh, never mind, let's just get going, already. You'll see for yourself what I mean soon enough."
They made their way down the mountain towards the Black Forest in silence after Tidus' first awkward attempts to draw the summoner into conversation fell amazingly flat. After Seymour had left his lap, the summoner seemed to have come to the decision that either Tidus wasn't worth talking to or... or Tidus didn't even know what. What he did know was that Seymour had barely so much as looked at him since they'd begun the journey down the mountain and though he'd kept up a steady string of conversation for a good hour he hadn't gone so much as a nod or grunt in confirmation that Seymour was hearing a single word he said.
It was really annoying.
The Black Forest was, true to its name, very black indeed. The trees seemed unnatural and just looking at them gave Tidus a case of the shivers. They loomed over him, black and skeletal, their branches and trunks twisted at horrifying angles, like tortured souls screaming their pain to an uncaring world.
Tidus shivered, shaking off the thoughts as they stepped beneath the first boughs. Leaves rustled softly, whispering their welcome as Tidus forced himself to ignore them and stare straight ahead, following the path before him with his eyes as much as his feet. The path was little more than a thin trail of winding dirt which darted around and between the dark trees. The world seemed so much darker with each step he took deeper into the forest and air seemed to be getting colder. He shivered again and felt the firmly weight of Seymour's hair as the long strands wrapped around his wrist. He chanced a glance at the summoner and found him walking beside as he knew he would be, his face curiously devoid of expression. The only thing which gave Tidus even the slightest insight as to what was going on in the summoner's head was his hair, which had come loose from its familiar hairstyle once more. One tail had wrapped itself securely around Seymour's waist, while the other had slipped around Tidus' wrist. The only other times he'd seen Seymour's hair do anything unusual was when the summoner was either sleeping or weakened. He wondered it meant that it had taken on a mind of its own while Seymour was awake and walking about. Whatever it meant, he was pretty sure it probably wasn't a good thing.
"Seymour?" Tidus inquired softly, his voice sounding too loud in the stillness of the forest.
"Yes?" Seymour snapped, slanting a warning glare in Tidus' direction.
Seymour's expression seemed to soften a bit, "No."
"Anything I can do?"
"You'll have enough to worry about without worrying yourself about me, Tidus." Seymour murmured, shivering and folding his arms around himself. "It'll be night soon. We took too long..." He paused, tilting his head to the side as if he were hearing something Tidus could not which, Tidus reflected wryly, probably wasn't far from the truth. "We should pick up the pace a bit, I think," Seymour commented finally, his stride lengthening. His hair gave Tidus wrist, though Tidus wasn't quite sure if the squeeze was meant to comfort him or hurry him up, either way he found himself matching Seymour's quick steps.
"What'd you hear?"
"Something or some thing?"
"I don't particularly want to know," Seymour replied irritably, shooting Tidus a glare.
They continued to make their way quickly down the path until at last they came upon a small clearing. The light was a bit brighter here, though it still had the inevitable feeling of sunset. It was here that Seymour stopped at last. For a long moment they both stood in silence, catching their racing breath, before Seymour turned to Tidus at last his eyes dark with something which looked suspiciously like regret.
"It's too late. It's here," Seymour whispered as the bushes in front of them began to rustle. Branches snapped and the bushes parted, pushed aside by two pale hands, and a figure stepped through.
Tidus' breath caught in his throat, his eyes growing wide as he stared at the familiar features of woman before them. A tentative smile broke over her face and her eyes seemed to glow with happiness in the fading light. "Tidus..."
"Yuna... Yuna!" Tidus felt an answering smile curve his own lips, "Yuna! I'm so glad... how... how did you get here?!"
"The fayth. I prayed and... are you really..."
"Yeah, I mean, yeah. The fayth told me that I could go back to Spira if I just..."
"...made it to the exit, right? I'm here to help you find your way."
"Hey, that's great! We could use some company and it's kinda dangerous here so..."
"Yeah, me and..." Tidus paused, realizing that Seymour was no longer beside him. He glanced around quickly and found no trace of the blue-haired summoner. "Shit. Shit. Where is he?"
"Where is who, Tidus?" Yuna inquired, taking a step closer to him as he surveyed the clearing.
"Seymour! He was here and now he... damn it. Seymour!" He called, real panic creeping into his voice. "Seymour!"
"I'm sure he can take care of himself, Tidus." Yuna murmured, her voice very close suddenly and Tidus took a stumbling step backwards. He hadn't heard her move at all, he shook his head and swallowed hard around the rising panic and fear.
"You don't understand. He didn't want to come here and I promised... I promised I'd protect him." Tidus replied, distractedly. "Seymour!"
"Tidus," Yuna murmured, reaching out a hand towards only to be brought up short a pale, long-nailed hand settled on her shoulder.
"If you touch him, it will be the last thing you ever do," Seymour hissed, his eyes narrowed into slits.
Tidus whirled at the sound of Seymour's voice, "You scared the hell out of me! Where'd you run off to all of a sudden?"
"Nowhere of importance," Seymour murmured in reply, his gaze meeting Tidus' briefly before he turned away and went back to preparing the fire.
"You could have at least said something..." Tidus grumbled, earning himself a raised eyebrow from his half-Guado companion.
"Tidus, that's..." Yuna whispered, her voice holding a note of fear and Tidus turned his attention back to her.
"I know, but he isn't really. He isn't anything like the guy we knew. Seymour's all right, even if he is cranky."
"I am not cranky and stop talking about me as if I can not hear you," Seymour replied, fire leaping from his fingertips and setting the branches ablaze.
"So, you're... Seymour?" Yuna asked awkwardly, taking a step closer to Seymour as she spoke.
"You know who I am," the half-Guado spat, glaring up at her with fury written clearly across his gaze.
Tidus' gaze widened. He'd understood that Seymour seemed to dislike humans as a general rule, but he certainly hadn't expected such open rage. "Hey, Seymour... it's okay. She's... She's a friend."
"She's no friend of mine," Seymour hissed, turning his attention back to the fire which was now burning nicely.
Seymour refused to speak again until an hour later when Yuna and Tidus were softly discussing the fact that Wakka and LuLu were planning on getting married in the spring. "The night is going to be long, we should all get some rest."
Tidus glanced up from his conversation, meeting Seymour's gaze. Normally he might have argued, but there was something... something in Seymour's gaze which frightened him and combined with the fact that Seymour was the only one of the three of them who knew anything about the forest and its dangers made him decide that following Seymour's orders were probably the wisest choice. "Okay," he murmured, nodding his agreement.
Satisfied, Seymour turned his back on them and curled into a ball, his light-blue hair almost glowing against the deep black of his clothing. For a long moment Tidus watched him in silence before making a decision and turning back to Yuna. "You gonna be okay sleeping alone?"
Yuna blinked, obviously surprised by this. "Alone?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna sleep over there with Seymour. I'm kinda worried about him. He doesn't like this place and he's been kind of freaked out since we first got here." Tidus replied quietly and grimaced at the uncomprehending expression on Yuna's face. It wasn't that he didn't want to sleep beside her, but... something about the idea made his stomach turn inside out. Before he'd left Spira she'd said she loved him and it seemed cruel to hold her when his return to Spira wasn't a sure thing yet. Plus, he'd promised to protect Seymour and he couldn't be a guardian to them both at the same time and it was Seymour who was petrified of the forest, not Yuna. Yuna didn't seem bothered at all by the forest and Seymour... well... he cast another glance toward the stiff-backed summoner and sighed. "I mean, you can sleep next to us if you..."
"No!" Yuna exclaimed, her gaze wide and almost frightened. "Don't... Don't worry about me. I'm just fine sleeping by myself right here."
"Are you sure?" Tidus asked, secretly relieved.
Tidus nodded, taking Yuna at her word and scooting around the dying fire to curl up next to Seymour. The blue-haired boy grabbed him and pulled him close, clinging to him almost possessively. The fire crackled, shifting as it lay dying within its ring of stones, the last heat of it warming his back as he tucked his head against his folded arm and fell asleep.
In a very vague sort of way, he found it funny that dreams could dream, but then again maybe it wasn't so much dream as... a revision of reality. A mismatched collection of thoughts and memories which were woven together to from this strange vision. Was this what he desired? Was this what he feared? Was this fate? Was this his will? He couldn't be sure. But it felt real and sometimes a dream could be better then reality. Especially for him, because reality had never been a bed of roses to begin with.
"But I don't want to be a summoner! I don't want it!"
"They'll love you, Seymour. They won't tease you anymore if you become a summoner. If you save them. Can't you see that this for the good of everyone? What's one person's life to save thousands?"
"Come now, Seymour... it is time."
"Be a good boy now, Seymour. Make your father proud."
"Seymour, wake up."
He opened his eyes slowly, almost painfully, taking in first the glittering blue eyes hovering above him. They were wrinkled at the corners, narrowed with something like worry or concern and Seymour reached a hand up to touch them, his fingers were caught just before his nails touched the surface of those beautiful eyes and he settled for closing his fingers around the hand which gripped them, relishing the feel of callused skin beneath his fingertips. His mother had been the only person willing to touch him, but his mother had had brown eyes...
Remembered his purpose and his price.
And he jerked his hand free of Tidus' grasp, "What do you want, human?"
Tidus winced, "Hey, sorry, I was just... You were having a nightmare..."
"You're probably right then. Go back to sleep, human," Seymour grumbled, clutching his hands firmly against his chest as Tidus pulled him closer. "The night isn't over yet."
Tidus awoke with a start, but this time it wasn't Seymour's soft whimpers that summoned him for sleep. Seymour was quiet and warm in the circle of his arms and Tidus was silently glad he'd decided to sleep beside the boy. "Yuna?"
"Hm? What's that? What's going on?" Seymour inquired, his voice heavy with sleep.
"And the problem is?"
"Oh all right. You win. Let's go look for your little girlfriend," Seymour grumbled, pushing himself to his feet. He glared out into the darkness of the forest. "Let's try this way," he decided, pointing to the left.
Tidus nodded, "Right. You go that way and I'll go this way. We'll meet back at camp."
Seymour turned his glare on Tidus, "No. No, that's a very bad idea. We shouldn't separate. Separating is bad. That's just what it wants, you stupid human."
He ran a hand back through his sleep-tousled hair and sighed. "Seymour, we'll find her faster if we split up, okay? No arguing."
The summoner snorted, "Fine, do what you like, but don't say I didn't warn you. You won't like what this forest has to offer you, Tidus."
It wasn't long after they'd gone their separate ways that Tidus began to wish that he'd listened to Seymour.
He was lost.
Completely and hopelessly lost.
It wasn't his fault, of course, that the trees and paths all looked basically the same. "Yuna!" He called, his throat was beginning to ache and he wondered how far he'd managed to wander from camp. And for that matter, how long he'd been out here wandering around calling Yuna's name. "Yuna!"
Tidus jumped, startled by the voice, and whirled around only to be confronted with a sight that made him want to run screaming into the night.
His mother stood before him, just as he remembered her from childhood, a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Ma...?" Tidus whispered, taking a tentative step towards her.
"I hate you..." The woman rasped, and Tidus could see her more clearly now. Blood dripped from her wrists and she glad out a hand to him, as if beckoning him to come to her. He stumbled back. "No..."
"He always loved you best. Loved you. I hated you... hated... hated you." She whispered, her voice tearing at his heart with its familiar sound.
And she was coming closer...
And he couldn't move...
And her hand touched his cheek and then there was only blessed darkness...
Tidus swam back to consciousness to the feel of a hand stroking his cheek, "Hm? Seymour?"
Tidus managed a weak smile, "Seymour."
"Stop smiling like a damn fool and open your eyes," Seymour grumbled.
"Tidus! Are you all right!"
"Yuna?" Tidus asked, turning his head just enough so that he could see the woman hovering over him without losing the feel of Seymour's hand on his cheek.
"Of course! I was so worried. I thought he'd really hurt you," She murmured, dropping to her knees beside him. Tears had left visible tracks on her tan cheeks.
"I told you, I had nothing to do with it," Seymour hissed irritably.
"Seymour wouldn't hurt me, Yuna. And he's right, he didn't have anything to do with this. He tried to warn me," Tidus turned his tired gaze back to the summoner crouched beside him. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you."
"You never believe the danger until you feel it first hand. Stupid human."
"Yeah, I guess I am. You okay?"
"Of course, I'm okay, idiot. I wasn't the one lying unconscious in the middle of the forest. I told you we should have stayed together. Your... friend was just having a dip in the river, in the middle of the night. You have the most wonderful taste in friends, Tidus."
"You're my friend too, Seymour."
"That's what you think."
"Yuna? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Tidus. I was just so worried about you. If I'd known you would wake up while I was gone, I wouldn't have left the camp. I'm so, so sorry. This is my fault."
"It's not your fault and I'm okay, so cheer up, okay?"
"Right. Still, I think you should try and get some rest and..."
"No time for that," Seymour interrupted coldly, turning his head to glare at Yuna. "Or have you forgotten that we're working under a deadline here? We've still quite a way to go before we reach the End and the time is running short."
"But he..." Yuna began, her voice trembling. Her voice seemed so sincere, but something in her face seemed... wrong.
"I have no intention of arguing with you. He's fine, aren't you?" Seymour asked, turning his glare back to Tidus.
"See? He's fine and so we will not be staying here a moment longer. It's morning and the days are getting shorter. The river is close and we should get out of the forest as soon as possible." Seymour replied briskly, pushing himself to his feet. He dusted off his black clothing and glared at Yuna and Tidus at turns until at last Tidus got to his feet as well.
They walked in relative silence to the river, only stopping once they had reached the banks.
The river seemed harmless at first glance. Because at first Tidus only saw what was there. He only saw the true natural blue-green water flowing over rocks. The gentle rapids upstream and the thundering waterfall which seemed deafeningly loud even though it was some distance downstream. He noticed that there didn't seem to be any fish or anything, but he didn't really know all that much about rivers, so this could be completely normal for all he knew.
It was only when he saw the expression of outright fear on Seymour's face that he began to wonder if there was something about it that he was unable to see. "Seymour, what's up?"
Seymour shrugged his shoulders vaguely, never taking his gaze from the water. "I can't swim."
"You can't swim." Tidus repeated slowly.
"Why not?" Tidus inquired, honestly curious because he was simply unable to understand how someone could have lived on Spira or, anywhere for that matter, and never learned to swim.
"Guadosalam is rather landlocked, in case you didn't notice. I didn't see the ocean for the first time until I was seven and at that time I was on my pilgrimage so I didn't really have time to enjoy it. Plus, Guados don't particularly care for the water in the first place."
"But you're human, too. Isn't that right?" Yuna asked gently, earning another glare from Seymour.
"Yes, I suppose I am," Seymour hissed.
"Are you okay going across the river?" Tidus interrupted, frowning. "We don't have to..."
"Yes, we do. There is no bridge that crosses this river, but it is shallow enough that one can walk across if one is very careful." Seymour replied. He said it so matter-of-factly, but Tidus could see the fear in his eyes.
"Is this why you had to turn back?" Tidus inquired, pitching his voice low enough that he knew only Seymour would be able to hear him.
The summoner gave a curt nod and Tidus' frown deepened, "You don't have to..."
"Yes, I do." Seymour snapped and he stepped into the icy water, flinching as he did so, and began to make his way across. Tidus sighed and glanced at Yuna who offered him a tentative smile as they both followed Seymour into the river.
The current was faster then Tidus had thought it would be just by looking at it, but nothing that he couldn't handle easily. He and Yuna both caught up to Seymour easily since the summoner was being very careful to steady himself after each step he took. As the water deepened, Tidus laid a hand on Seymour's elbow to help steady him only to be shrugged off.
"Don't touch me just now," Seymour shouted, though Tidus could barely hear him over the roar of the waterfall.
Tidus nodded and they continued on their way. They had reached the middle of the river and they found themselves all almost shoulder-deep in the rushing water and it was becoming much more difficult for them to keep their balance.
It all happened so fast.
Yuna cried out and Tidus had turned towards her, concerned, taking his eyes off Seymour. They were all walking so close to each other anyway that it shouldn't have made a difference, but it did. Yuna was smiling as he turned to face her and the smile was all wrong. A curse from behind him was all the warning he had and he turned to back to Seymour with wide eyes.
He watched Seymour tumble into the water in what seemed like slow motion. It seemed for the briefest of moments that he had all the time in the world to reach out and catch the summoner's arm, to steady him. Then he was gone, lost beneath the river's swell. If he'd thought about it, he might have hesitated, might have checked to make sure Yuna would be all right on her own, but he didn't think.
He couldn't think about anything, but the fact that he needed to help Seymour. Seymour who had helped him. Seymour who had come with him into the Black Forest even though he was afraid and faced down his worst nightmares as a result. Seymour who couldn't swim, but had agreed to cross the river anyway. Seymour who he'd promised to protect.
He dove beneath the water, his eyes opening wide as he was thrust downstream. He could barely make-out Seymour's pajamas, black against the blue water and moving away at a seemingly impossible speed. He kicked his feet, slicing through the water like a knife in pursuit of his target. He reached him in moments, hands reaching and finding purchase in the form of Seymour's slim waist. Pulling the limp summoner back against him, Tidus kicked to the surface. He burst free with a shout, shaking his hair from his eyes and taking in the situation. He tightened his grasp on Seymour as he took in the falls only feet away, clutching the summoner and bracing for the fall.
"Tidus..." Seymour seemed to whisper, a sound Tidus could somehow hear over the roar of the waterfall. And then they were falling.
It seemed they fell forever.
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