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setting sail, coming home

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The Kid never stops sailing.

The years come and go. They don’t keep track of days, not strictly speaking, but have a loose approximation; they count seasons, and figure it out from there. Snow means it’s winter, so the tents need to be reinforced; cool and sunny means it’s spring, so the whole Bastion blooms by itself; burning hot means it’s summer, so they sleep outside at night when it finally cools down; downpours mean it’s fall, so they need to put tarps up. As the seasons roll by, Zia insists on birthdays. They need something to celebrate, something to make things normal, make things okay. They’ve lost track of the days, but they can remember the seasons, so they figure it out. It’s fall, so it’s Rucks’ birthday; winter, so it’s Zulf’s; spring, so it’s Zia’s.

(They think the Kid may be born in summer, but they never throw him a party, or even mention it—Rucks told the Kid his job wasn’t done, said he couldn’t turn in his Marshal badge, not yet, so the Kid’s decided he can’t celebrate, not until he’s finished his job. When you have a title, when you’re on the Wall, even if it’s in spirit and not in body, you don’t have a birthday. No amount of cajoling, pleading, or begging could change the Kid’s mind on that.)

Things are difficult in the beginning. Zulf and the Kid clash, head-to-head, hand-to-hand, fighting and yelling and shedding blood. All their anger with nowhere to go, nowhere to go but at each other. They break each other down, break each other apart, but as time passes, they heal. Their hate fades. Zia hates, but quietly; her anger simmers beneath the surface, behind strained smiles, and it’s not until she breaks out screaming and crying, not until she vomits up all her resentments that her own healing process can begin.

Rucks does not have any anger, does not have any hate; all he has are regrets and buried sin.

They make the best of what they have. They don’t find any other living souls, don’t find any other life besides angry beasts, animals upset that their homes are ruined and they don’t know why. The first few months, it’s scary; four people left in the world, four people with a somewhat volatile relationship, all trapped together with nowhere to go and no one else to talk to. Rucks and Zulf, when they are back on speaking terms, watch the Kid and Zia for any signs of romance, whisper about repopulation. The Kid and Zia do not get together, and they do not ask them to; no amount of children can bring the world back, and the Bastion is no place for a child.

When Rucks’ hands ache too much to steer, he lets the Kid take over. He tells the Kid it’s finally time for him to be captain and laughs, but he can’t hide the pain in his voice. Zulf charts their course based on the stars, Zia finds the stars, and Rucks sits back and gives the Kid direction. The Kid takes to flying like a fish takes to water and for the first time Rucks tells him he’s proud.

The years come and go. Rucks grows older, frailer; he tries to hide his pain, and he does well at first, but then grows too tired to keep up the charade. There’s no sense in hiding the inevitable. They have limited knowledge of medicine, and even more limited resources for it. He spends most of his days in the medical tent with his head in Zia’s lap as she tells him her own stories when it’s too difficult for him to speak. When he gets too weak to move, he asks to be taken to his tent, his real tent. He says he wants to die in his home. Zia tells him, you won’t die, and he says, don’t lie to an old man.

The Kid spends three days searching for a good, strong stone for his grave marker, something to spend the test of time against weather and years, and another three days creating it. Every day, Zia puts the flowers fresh from her garden on his grave, and every day she sings to him. Zulf prays for him in the Pantheon, no matter how much Rucks would have hated it. The Kid tells Rucks his own stories, stories never told. In the quiet, dark nights, he whispers about the Jawson Bog. Their mourning fades, but they never leave his side.

The Kid never stops sailing.

The years come and go. More seasons than they can count have passed. They’re all a little worse for the wear, but they survive. They’re okay. They gave up on finding other survivors long ago, and they are happy to be a family. Having someone is better than having no one.

Zia watches the clouds through her spyglass. Green stains the edges, but the bronze still shines through. Zia yells out, look! There’s something in the distance! Go there!

The Kid sails. A rock in the sky, floating all on its lonesome. An island, growing bigger by the second, bigger as they grow closer. They can see buildings. Tall towers, spires from temples. Figures come into view, figures gain shape, gain features. Figures become people, real people, living, breathing people with beating hearts and blood flowing through their veins.

Not stone statues without anyone to mourn for them.

The people regard them with curiosity, wonderment, caution. Zulf does his diplomatic duty, and they communicate in a mixture of broken Cael and stilted Ura. They get supplies. They trade what they have, shards and scrap metal, songs and sorrows. They gain food and materials and medicine, medicine that could have saved Rucks all those years ago.

The Kid holds the herbs in his hands and cries when he is alone.

They stay a few days. A few weeks. A few months. The locals take to them, Zia especially; she is an exotic beauty, pale and dark haired compared to their dark skin and light eyes, a young girl who has grown into a woman like no other. During their stay, Zia finds a boy, a man; they hold hands and whisper to each other, they smile and laugh. The Kid is angry for reasons he cannot quite place.

Their stay has grown long. The Kid says to Zia and Zulf, we should go. They ask him why; they have finally found other survivors, finally found a place humming with energy and bursting with life. A place where they are not alone. We need to go to the Motherland, he explains. Rucks wanted to go there; I’m taking him.

They have nothing to say to that. That night, they all sleep fitfully.

I’m not going. Zia has tears in her eyes. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I have a life here; I can’t spend forever trying to find something that may be completely empty.

But it might not be, the Kid says. There could be something. Why can’t you come with us?

She does not look them in the eyes. I’m pregnant.

Oh, says the Kid. Oh, says Zulf. They are silent. The Kid walks up to her and says, you’ll be a good mom. They hug her goodbye, hug her a little too long, and the Kid whispers into her ear, I love you.

Zia whispers back, I love you, too.

All their friends, friends so quickly gained and now so quickly lost, come to say goodbye. They give them food, supplies, anything they need. They tell them, come back any time. They tell them, we’ll miss you. They wave goodbye as the Kid and Zulf pack up and leave. The Kid and Zulf wave back. None of them stop until they’re out of sight, and even then, they still keep waving.

The Kid never stops sailing.

The years come and go. Things do not run as smoothly now that Zia is gone, but they figure it out. It’s not quite as clean, and the food isn’t quite as good, and their songs aren’t quite as sweet, but they manage. It’s lonely, just the two of them, but they make it work. They share a tent, they share their bodies. It is not love, but it is comfort, and that is enough.

The Kid isn’t in as good shape as he used to be. He has a little bit of a limp, no matter how much he tries to hide it; his hammer is harder to lift; his shoulder aches, his scars grow. Rucks taught them as best he could, but they only know so much about how to heal, how to mend, how to fix. The Kid breaks his arm and it doesn’t set right and Zulf tells him, I’m going on the Skyway.

You can’t. The Kid tries to lift his arm and he hisses in pain. It’s too dangerous. His voice grows soft. Don’t leave me alone.

I’ll be fine. Zulf smiles as best he can. It is hard to smile these days. I made it to the Wall by myself, didn’t I? I can handle it.

Zulf has healed well over the years. But he is not fully healed, he is never fully healed, not after the Terminals. None of them healed quite right, body and spirit. The Kid tells him to stay, please, please, don’t go, but Zulf goes anyway.

Zulf comes back. He is a little worse for the wear, but he comes back, grinning and proud. The Kid doesn’t remember the last time he smiled like that. The Kid is cautious, always cautious, he can’t afford to not be, not after everything they’ve lost, but he lets Zulf go again. Gives him his blessing, more of; Zulf goes regardless of how the Kid feels. Zulf feels he needs to pull his own weight, and he cannot let the Kid be killed out there, out in the crazy, unexplored lands, lands never before touched.

It works, for a while. Zulf can handle himself better than the Kid thought. Better than either of them thought. They take turns, but it’s not long before Zulf doesn’t let the Kid go at all. The Kid is too hurt, he’s done too much for too long; his shoulders have carried the burden for longer than anyone one man should.

Zulf kisses him before he goes on the Skyway. I’ll be back soon, he says. He presses his forehead to the Kid’s, looks into his eyes, smiles. Don’t leave without me, he says with a laugh.

Please don’t abandon me. The Kid has learned what is unsaid.

I’ll never leave you, the Kid says, and Zulf kisses him again, kisses him hard, kisses him like he’s never kissed him before. Zulf whispers something into his ear, something in Ura, something he’s never taught the Kid, and he’s gone.

A day passes. Two days, three days. The Kid watches the horizon through the spyglass. Another day, another day, another. It all blurs together in the end. He loses track of the days, and after it’s been a week, or maybe two, he heads back to the helm.

Zulf’s last kiss is what was left unsaid. Something he hadn’t yet learned. The Kid thinks to himself, I’ve always been kinda a slow learner, huh?

The Kid never stops sailing.

The years come and go. An empty grave and another marker is all he has left of Zulf. He made a marker for Zia, too; she is not dead, but she will be one day, and her body will never be buried on the Bastion, but he feels like it’s right. Zia deserves a place here, too. She deserves a place to rest in a home that was once hers. She will always be welcome; it will always be her home, too. He sits between the graves, Zulf to the left, Rucks to the right, Zia below him, when he is not piloting, cleaning, cooking, building, repairing. He goes to the Skyway only when needed. He doesn’t spend as much time as he would like with them, but he has things to do, and he has no time to feel sorry for himself. He has to take Rucks to the Motherland. Maybe, when he’s done, he’ll take Zulf to the Terminals. It might be a painful memory, but the Kid thinks he’d like to go home.

Maybe when the Kid is done, he’ll go home, too.

The Kid doesn’t know where he’s flying. Without Rucks’ directions, Zulf’s plotting, Zia’s searching, he’s lost. But the City Crest hums louder, grows warmer, the more he sails. He can feel it in his bones, his aching, tired bones; go north, they tell him. And he goes north, north, north, goes north as best he can. He’ll go north until there’s nowhere left to go north.

The Kid never stops sailing.

The years come and go. He’s older than he remembers. When was his birthday? He forgot long ago. What was his name? His real, true name? He doesn’t remember. A secret he was saving for when he had finished his job, a secret for the one he loved, for his friends.

A secret he can no longer share.

The City Crest hums so loudly it hurts his ears. It grows so warm it burns. He’s here, he’s here, he’s finally reached the Motherland. He’s finally finished his job.

The Kid leaves the helm. He climbs the lookout. He gazes through the spyglass, the once shiny bronze now corroded and green. He sees… he sees…

It is desolate. Barren. A wipeout like none before. A place the Calamity swallowed and spit out.

The Kid is silent for a long time. He puts the spyglass down. He climbs down the lookout, ignores his aching shoulder and back, the deep pain of his half-broken arm, still never healed right. He sits between their graves, and he laughs.

Guess it’s a good thing you didn’t get to see it, huh, he says to Rucks. To his grave. Real sad state. Woulda broke your heart.

He doesn’t cry. It’s not right to cry, not about a thing like this. He did his job, he finally finished what he set out to do. Just because it didn’t go how he planned doesn’t mean he should cry about it. It’s a strange relief, to be done with his job, after all the years, all these years he stopped counting, but it’s a strange emptiness, too. He’s not sure what he’ll do now. But he can figure it out; he has time on his hands. He’ll find a new job. There’s always something that needs doing.

He lies down, surrounded by his loved ones, their spirits, their souls. It’s funny, he says, feels like I haven’t slept in a long time. Maybe I’ll take a little nap. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Yeah, a nap, that sounds nice. He’ll rest for a little, and then he’ll head back. He has to take Zulf back to the Terminals, after all. Or maybe, maybe, he’ll take Zulf home with him…

The Kid’s memory clicks into place and he whispers his name into the air. He hasn’t started his new job, so it’s okay. It feels good to let go of his final secret, to share it with the ones he loves. It doesn’t matter if they’re not here; he can feel them in his heart, and that’s enough. Yeah, that’s enough.

The Kid yawns and curls up, facing Zulf. Now that he’s got everything done, he’ll take his nap. Just rest his eyes for a little…

The City Crest hums and burns in the helm. The wheel of the Bastion turns. The Kid’s breathing slows down, down, down, and the Bastion keeps on.

The Kid never stops sailing.