Written on March 29, 2020 (♈)

Author's Notes: Based loosely on a headcanon by Jaydee_Faire, who suggested that both Delita and Ramza suffered partial deafness owing to the explosion at Zeakden. I altered the hearing loss to tinnitus so as to achieve more angst.

Graphic Imagery: Warning for trauma in relation to the Zeakden explosion.

“I still hear it sometimes, you know?” Ramza said, not looking Delita’s way as he leaned against the church’s white limed wall. “Sometimes I wake and it’s as though I’m in the midst of the fire again.”

They fell back into silence as Delita looked towards the horizon, the red sky over Zeltennia lending some of its color to the parched hills beneath it. After all that had been said, after all the times they’d now spoken, the particulars of both men’s survival had never really been broached--not at the very least by Ramza.

“It’s better than it was, I suppose,” he continued. “ I remember stumbling through the snow back then and wondering if I’d ever hear anything again. It was like the world had been muffled in cotton.”

“This has little to do with wars or with relics, Ramza.”

“I’m sorry.”

It was an abrupt apology, and Delita felt his shoulders go slack as he waited for a further reply. He told himself that they both had more urgent business to attend to than lingering on the foremost instant of tragedy between them. There was a dead inquisitor tucked behind the night stairs, and what was to be done about him ranked surprisingly low among their shared concerns.

Ramza stood up, pale hair backlit by the sunset. There was something about him in that instant, some gesture or motion not quite identifiable, that recalled immediately all of the orchards and fields under Igros. Delita’s breath hitched, as though this were the first moment that he realized one or the other of them would soon step outside of the church courtyard and forgo hope of seeing the other again. 

“Delita,” his former friend continued quietly, “I did not mean--”

“I know what you meant.”

He looked to Ramza, and saw in him all the sincerity he expected there. He breathed deep, closed his eyes a moment, and upon opening them stepped forward. 

Wordlessly, he removed his right gauntlet to show the web of scars that laced themselves over the skin of his arm. The world fell into a silence between them--as if the chatter of birds and insects fell away when they left off speaking. 

Ramza, in a gesture Delita ought have anticipated, took him soft by the wrist and traced along the marks the flames had worn into him. He did not pull away. He did not remark. When Ramza, still looking like a child of sixteen, traced those scars down to where they interwove along his wrist, he balled his hand into a fist. Ramza clasped it gently.

“The rest isn’t so bad,” he said in a somber tone. “The blast didn’t hit me full on.”

“Delita… when you said she saved you--”

“I hear things too.” Delita cut him off again, not caring to countenance his coming question. 

What could be said to it? How could he communicate that horror--the scent of burnt hair and cloth, pieces of white sky falling soft on his abraded skin? He tensed his hand but did not pull it back. 

Ramza let go of him of his own volition, and brought his own hand to his ear as if something pained him. He knew, looking at him, that the conflagration had not touched them in the same fashion--that if Ramza was doomed to hear the fire, it was a burden he bore with a lesser grace. 

He covered his hand, realizing that they both were both dawdling in memories now and knowing it would not be long before Balmafula “happened” to drift by. Ramza smiled sadly but did not ask him what it was that played in his head. Delita tried his best to listen then--to pick out the sound of the breeze that played in the trees or the call of the blackbird that rested in them. As the hint of twilight began to creep in, he imagined he heard such things.

“What’re you going to do, Ramza?” he asked at long last, nodding his head back towards the night stairs.

They spoke as normal men might after that: about Orlandu, about Bethla, about Balmafula’s eventual appearance and what he wished Ramza to make of it. It was only when they clasped hands again that he wondered if he should not have let him dwell further on Zeakden.

As he lay abed that night, wondering at an interview he had not imagined he should have and ruminating as to whether the hogs had yet transubstantiated Zalmour’s flesh, the pounding in his head grew clearer amidst the silence. He had learned over two years to distract himself from it: to let it recede into a gentle wash like the ocean or the whisper of a spring breeze. Looking up at the moon from the embrasure that served as his window, however, he let himself sink into it.

The roar of his own heartbeat thrummed in his ears, and he closed his eyes and remembered how he had thought it once belonged to someone else--how he had lain in the shadow of ruin and fire, head to Tietra’s breast, and told himself that he could feel it rise.