The cold had left with Shiva. But a thousand years of freezing had ruined the soil of Macalania; it was crumbly and porous to the point where every rainfall turned the ground into marshland. The locals had tried to grow crops, but everything withered before it could bloom.

He could have told them that would happen. He could have told them how the ground had been deprived of nutrients for so long it could not nurture the seeds they planted. He could have told them about irrigation and fertilization and photosynthesis. He could even tell them how in another few years the animals whose meat they ate and pelts they sold would either migrate to the colder climates they were used or die off completely.

But he didn't, because by then none of it would matter anyway.            

He was a man prone to constant revision, who would return time and time again and tweak just so until he reached perfection, but after all this time he was still pleased with the initial death he had chosen for her. It was delicately subtle and lingering like a poison, except of course the morbidity was in the depravation of something vital to the system, not in an addition to it.   

He didn't know how long it would take. None of the old tomes had ever said, doubtlessly because there had never been a chance to find out. That also pleased him, that this was research and discovery as much as anything else. Maybe after her death he would go to Bevelle and record his findings in one of the yellow, disintegrating text. It was the least he could do, really.

He was also a man who recognized his limitations, and he knew he didn't have the patience to wait until the rumors started. (Oh, hasn't the Great Summoner been sickly lately, doesn't she look pale? She never travels out of Luca anymore. What do you suppose happened, it's as if she's wasting away...) He would dearly love to wait and see her only at the very end when she could barely leave her bed, still struggling to

pretend her body wasn't betraying her (and she would struggle, he knew. She was a fighter, that one, especially against forces she didn't understand.). But he couldn't resist the temptation of seeing her now, when he was the only one who knew what was happening and what would happen, when he could watch her smile and know even before she did that it was fading.

He wasn't sure he cared about justice anymore, but it was certainly poetic.

So he bent over his writing desk as he did every day, called in his secretary, and made the necessary arrangements to bring Lady Yuna to Macalania.

****               

Tidus hadn't been on the Farplane.

It was the only thought echoing through the numb cavern of her mind as she listened to Rikku explain the situation with expansive gesticulations and worried eyes. He had not been on the Farplane.

Yuna had never gone to see for herself. It had been Wakka who told her, after he came back from his trip to Guadosalam to speak with Chappu before proposing to Lulu. He had told his new fiance first, of course; not that it had ever been disclosed to Yuna, but she knew how they worked. And Lulu must have decided that it was information Yuna should know; so Wakka had told her, kicking at the dirt and not meeting her eyes, how he had called Tidus too, and Tidus had not come.

Even then Yuna hadn't dared let herself think about it for too long, because she was very busy with important work, and who knew what happens to a dream when the dreamer wakes? In either direction the conclusions were frightening: maybe Tidus had ceased to exist entirely, or maybe he was on Spira somehow, in some form, and he hadn't come back to her.

The first scenario had terrified her more, that Tidus could have just dissolved into the firmament after he leapt and not even a whisper of him was left anywhere. She would rather Tidus be safe, be /real/ and far away.  Now it seemed like she had gotten that old wish, except it didn't at all.

Yuna had nodded while Rikku talked and made little thoughtful noises in the back of her throat and was very careful to look at her hands and nothing else. She had excused herself to get some air. The others, thankfully, had not taken it as an invitation to follow her, and she had managed to make her way to one of the small outdoor cafes that dotted Luca's streets without even wobbling very much. Somehow a glass of chilled fruit juice had made its way to the table although she had no recollection of either ordering it or its delivery.

She used to have the oddest dreams. She still did, once in a while. She would be with Tidus and he would be wonderfully warm and solid beside her. Sometimes the scenarios played like loops of memory of their conversations or the sights they had seen, sometimes they invented impossibilities -- Tidus taking her on a tour of his Zanarkand, full of strange people and machina and buildings so tall they made her dizzy like she always thought they would, or the two of them walking on the beaches of Besaid, holding hands and mostly silent but smiling.

The worst, the very worst, was when she would wake up and still be in a dream where Tidus was lying beside her in a bed that wasn't hers but theirs, both of them wrapped in little more than the sheets and each other. When she would truly wake from those, she choked on the memories as they flooded back.              

But Yuna was familiar with grief. Everyone on Spira was. Mourning had been so much a part of life that it often only seemed significant or shattering to the bereaved. Yuna knew about loss and she knew about pain, and she thought she knew how to survive when holes were ripped into her life and festered. She had her friends. She had all of Spira before her, fresh-faced as it looked at a new era, and there was always

so much that needed doing.

All her life she had been prepared to die, and Tidus was the only person who told her it wasn't the only choice in a way she could allow herself to believe. He had asked her to live for him, and so she would. Yuna would thrive, and do his memory proud.

She had decided that long ago, and it had helped her get through the days when she felt scraped raw and as substantial as pollen. And those days had grown farther and farther apart, and eventually the pain became that of shrapnel in her side, ceaseless but bearable. And then it only ached when something reminded her of him or she chose to remember him, and Yuna had thought that was as close as she would get to acceptance, that the difference was negligible. She had thought she was fine.  

Yuna wasn't sure what she was now, except as exhausted as if she had lived three years in an hour. Maybe in a few days she'd know, but for right now she could only stir her drink and think about the way Tidus's gloves had felt cupping her cheek, how his voice was rough and throaty early in the morning, the smell of his hair.

"Yunie?" Rikku's old name for her, which the twins had somehow picked up, said now like Rikku wasn't sure she was allowed to use it anymore.

Yuna looked up and the smile came easily because her friends were always there to protect her even when she hadn't known she needed protection. "Yes?"

Rikku relaxed, and Yuna wondered if she were supposed to be angry with her younger cousin. "Lulu thought you might be around here. Uh... she wanted to remind you that Isaaru's coming in a little while and you might want to be at home to receive him."

Lulu, wise wonderful Lulu, knew enough not to bring her back with kindness or pity but with a gentle reminder of her responsibilities. Yuna nodded and fished around her pocket for some spare gil, plunked it on the table and caught up with Rikku, who was already a few steps ahead of her on the way back home.

She asked, when it became clear that Rikku wasn't going to start a conversation, "So how's Cid?"

Rikku nearly missed a step, her eyes large. "Uh..."

Yuna smiled patiently. "He's still my uncle, Rikku. We might be having a disagreement, but I still want to know how he's doing."

"He's good," Rikku answered slowly, nodding to herself in private affirmation. "Things are going really great, actually. Home's being built according to schedule, except for a few innovations that popped up at the last minute and...uh...is this, you know, official or anything?"

Yuna sighed. "Not unless you want it to be."

"Okay. 'Cos no offense, Yunie, but I really don't." Rikku buried her hands in her hair briefly and clenched her finger, as if securing the information in her head.

Yuna looked down at the cobblestones, her necklace chiming softly. "I'm sorry,

Rikku. I know it can't be easy to be stuck in the middle of this."

"Hey, it's no big deal, Yunie!" Mercurial as ever, Rikku patted her on the shoulder with a quick flash of teeth. "You obviously haven't been around the Al Bhed enough if you think /this/ is a real fight."

Yuna ran her fingers lightly over the display window of a passing store. "It's just...this is a time when all of Spira needs to be coming together. If we're going to make the world without Yevon work, all the races need to be united. This could be the beginning of the most peaceful age we've ever known...and a new Home is just tearing the Al Bhed away from everyone else."

"Well, yeah," Rikku said, contentious despite herself. "But it's not that simple, Yuna. It's not like all the Spirans are all happy-skippy ready to treat the Al Bhed like...like.../people/, Yevon or no Yevon. We've been really hurt in the past, and we just need a space for ourselves, to live and be happy. Most Al Bhed /like/ being Al Bhed. We don't want to be anything else."

"I'm not asking that the Al Bhed be anything but tolerant." Yuna felt the tension crackling in the air and tried to mellow her voice and her argument. "I know most Al Bhed just want to live in peace, but rebuilding Home on Bikanel is just giving the Separatists a base and an /excuse/. There's no way the Al Bhed can coexist with the rest of Spira if the faction gain much more influence."

"That's sorta the point," Rikku said, not quite under her breath. "You know that Dad isn't as extreme as Bruvok and the rest of them. Pops doesn't want to break away completely...but if we're gonna be a power at all, we need a base of operations, you know?  Besides, the rest of Spira just has a bad track record when it comes to keeping promises to the Al Bhed. We need somewhere we can go back to if we need to protect ourselves, is all."

 "If we can't stop thinking in the old ways, how can the old patterns /not/ repeat themselves?" Yuna had had versions of this conversation countless times with people she preferred not to count at all. It normally left her frustrated and hopeless, half convinced that the grooves they traveled were too deep for people to even know they were there. Now, though, it was a relief to walk down one of the variations of this argument when the new wilderness of her thoughts frightened her.

Rikku misinterpreted the look on her face and became all frantic apology again. "Let's not talk about this, Yunie. I know where you're coming from too, you know. That's why I'm not Home right now playing with a blowtorch. Pops is fine letting me do my own, so don't worry about me!"

Yuna smiled at her cousin, all grown up enough to know when to stop growing before she lost her shine. "I'm glad I don't have to."

Rikku pumped a fist in the air playfully. "Right!"

Tidus had been fascinated by the Al Bhed, their culture of machina and guttural language. Maybe they reminded him of home; maybe he was just naturally drawn to their pragmatic cheer. Yuna remembered all the time he had wrangled out of their journey to search for those primers, how Lulu was nearly ready to throttle him after hours of sidetracking culminated in his proclamation that he was one whole letter closer to understanding. He was pretty fluent by the end, although Rin had told her privately that Tidus had an atrocious accent.

Yuna was sometimes still uncertain if she had truly done right by his memory. Her first impulse after Sin had been defeated and the swarms had been demanding to know how was to omit his presence from their story. Five Guardians was more than any Summoner had ever had before, by itself, and anyone who knew Tidus for what he had been was either dead or deferential to her wishes. The various people they had met during her journey could easily forget a blond, impulsive blur who watched from the fringes. Talking about him, she had felt almost instinctively, would be beyond her tolerance. She wanted to keep him secret, protect him as something solely hers.

But in the end, she couldn't do that to him, couldn't do him the injustice of erasing him from Spira's history. Tidus had craved fame, basked in it like it could replace the sun. In front of a cheering crowd he was accepted, and the longer Yuna knew him the sadder it made her that he did not believe a miracle like that could happen anywhere

else. Tidus had constitutionally mistaken adoration for love, and Yuna couldn't deny him the ultimate glory of idolization. Tidus had been a star; now he was a hero. He would like that.

Still, she couldn't bring herself to tell his whole story. Tidus was the most mysterious of the Great Guardians, the one who had joined them in Besaid for reasons unknown and died with Sir Auron during the fight with Yu Yevon. Tidus wouldn't approve, she knew; he was honest to the marrow. But back then, even thinking about it made her feel like there were rocks in her throat, acid under her skin. Moreover, she refused to let the legends of Sin's eternal defeat be riddled with sorrow. As a culmination of all the Summoners before her, she wanted only joy for Spira now.

But in a part of her that was thin and sour, she also did not want the two of them to be Spira's great tragedy. There would be plays after her death or maybe when she was still alive to see them, and Yuna refused to let them be melodramas full of wistful sighs and farewells written in verse. Neither of them were fit to be martyrs or poets, when it came down to it. Tidus had simply done what he thought had to be done, and she refused to let the nobility in that be cheapened. In this way she kept him safe, as she couldn't on the airship when he had slipped through the arms she had meant to cradle him in.

"Yunie..." Rikku was saying, moving as if to hold her hand but stopping at the last minute to lightly brush her fingers. "I'm...I'm sorry it happened like that. He wasn't supposed to...I told him to stay put."

"It's all right," Yuna said absently. "He might have died if you had left him on that island, right?" She tilted her head and gave Rikku a closed-lipped smile.

Rikku shrugged as if that were beside the point. "I felt bad about it, but the only place I could think to bring him to was here."

"Mm," Yuna said, watching a woman scold her son for crossing the street without waiting to hold her hand.

Rikku looked up at her anxiously. "So...is it okay if we...he...stays here with you and Lulu and Wakka until we figure out what's going on?"

Yuna felt a flash alarmingly like anger that Rikku thought she had the power to send him away, that she could say no. "Of course."

Rikku beamed with relief, bouncing on her toes. "Great! Thanks, Yunie! We'll find out what's going on in no time, you'll see! And maybe... maybe we'll bring his memory back, or whatever it is that's wrong, we'll fix it. We'll get him back to normal!"

Yuna just nodded. Rikku could just be being hopeful for her sake, but Rikku expected the best to happen because she believed that it was the only way you could be capable of doing everything it took to bring it about. It wasn't Yuna's place to disillusion her.

Yuna knew about loss and she knew about pain, and she knew the only true curatives were time and determination. She didn't know if    this...this /thing/ with its slack and stupid face was really Tidus. It didn't seem like him, once she got past her first visceral reaction. Seeing him had been a step back into the past as unexpected as a puddle of cold rain water, and part of Yuna didn't want to be submerged deeper into this, didn't want to relive the hurt.

But this felt too random not be significant. Dreamstuff didn't just fall out of the sky like this. There had to be a reason she just didn't know yet. Yuna had to figure out what was going on. And then there was the chance, even if it might be small, even if believing in it would end up breaking her, what was going on was that Tidus had come home.

She wondered if she had enough time to lie down for a moment before Isaaru came. The morning had been so draining.

*****

Tidus was lying on his bed, waiting for Rikku to come back.

He had just learned what waiting was. It meant doing nothing but knowing something was going to happen soon. He had learned a lot today. He learned that Rikku and the other people who lived with Rikku on the boat (floats on water) and the airship(floats on air) were not the only people. There was the man, orange and bronze like the sunset, and the woman, black and cream like the night and the moon, who both looked at him. And there was the other girl, who looked at him and touched him and then looked away.

She saw out of two different colors. If you mixed them together, you would have the ocean.

*****

When Lulu was six, she would ask the acolytes who cared for the foundlings where her mother and father and baby brother, who was so new he didn't even have a name yet, were. They would touch her head or hands with tender pity and say, "in the Farplane, child."

So Lulu decided she would go to the Farplane too, to be with them again.

She asked everyone who seemed like they might know where it was, how people got there. She drew maps to Guadosalam on the spare white tunic given to all the Temple's orphans with charcoal she rescued from the fire. She hoarded food and the little pocket money she was given. When she had saved up seven gil and fifteen biscuits, she snuck out of the temple in the middle of the night and hid on a trading barge.

The first mate found her huddled up in the sails the next morning, crying because the night wind on the ocean was cold and stowing-away was lonely and she had forgotten her stuffed moogle.

The temple Elders decided Lulu was a high-strung child and sent her from Djose to Besaid, where it was assumed that the warmer climate would do her good.

Over twenty years later an irate and badly scratched sailor dragged Lulu's only daughter back to her by the ear. The mage had first been nearly faint with relief, then furious at both herself and Setta for letting such a stupid, dangerous thing happen. Only much later was Lulu amazed that she and Wakka could have created a person who would unknowingly parallel her own actions with such eerie accuracy.

After she had scolded Setta until her ears were blue and, with Wakka, cuddled her even longer, Setta had told them that she had ran away because she wanted to be a pirate and they had been paying too much attention to Ghadi since he started his potty training.

Lulu had tried to run away out of lonely desperation and her inability to understand her family's death. Setta had done the same because she was daydreaming and jealous. Realizing that, the final piece of understanding had clicked into place, like when she had finally realized the movement and pull of energy that sparked fire and ice

from her fingertips. There would be no more Sin-orphans found sobbing with remains of their village piled at their feet or comatose with shock next to the disfigured bodies of their parents. There would be no more Sin-orphans at all.

Lulu rocked her children back to sleep after their bad dreams, and they had them often. There were a thousand tribulations and horrors to overcome while growing up, and no one could destroy those forever. But Lulu's children would never be helpless in the face of a force that dripped things with fangs and destroyed because it always had.  This youngest generation would never know what it was to fear that tomorrow could be taken from you at any time by a tidal wave, a burst of liquid energy, a gigantic pox-marked fin. Chapri, Setta and Ghadi might not lead easy lives, but they would live them on their own terms.

And one day her children would be the oldest generation, and the idea that something other than yourself and your situation could control your life would be little more than a myth.

She had told Wakka, almost uneasy that he would think it a silly and obvious revelation, but he had held her for a long time, stroking her back with strong, callused hands that never had to fight again.

It had taken Lulu nearly five years to fully grasp the enormity of what they had done, but she suspected Yuna had always known the full reach and scope of her own intentions. Perhaps it was the same for all Summoners, perhaps it was why they had chosen such a life. Yuna had known her mind and had been firm in her decision. It wasn't her fault she hadn't been prepared for the true purpose of her dedication.

Yuna had collapsed on her bed the minute she and Rikku had come back together, huddled in ball with her hands in loose fists by her cheek. Isaaru was due to arrive in ten minutes, but none of them had the heart to wake her. Lulu locked the bedroom door, and informed Shelinda that she and Wakka would receive the guest by themselves.

Waiting in the round room for Isaaru, Wakka was hunched over in his chair, punching a fist rhythmically into his other hand. Lulu put a hand on his shoulder. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Wakka looked down at his hands, surprised, as if he hadn't been aware of what he was doing. "Oh, sorry, Lu." He rested his arms on his knees, hanging his head. "Just...Chappu dies, and then Tidus comes, lookin' just like 'im. An' then Tidus... dies, and now comes back lookin' exactly the same." He ran his fingers through his crest of hair with a short, explosive sigh. "I'm gettin' tired of sayin' goodbye to that face."

Wakka had always been able to do this. Chappu had charmed her and made her laugh, Yuna had a soul so radiant she wanted to protect her and watch her bloom, but only Wakka was capable of earnestness so poignant it cut and healed at the same time.

She slid her chair closer to his and rested her head in the crook of his neck, feeling some of his tension dissipate at the touch. "Maybe you won't have to say goodbye this time."

Wakka puts an arm around her shoulder automatically. "I dunno. This is all pretty screwy."

"That it is."

"What you think we should do?"

"I suppose we'll do what we always do. Deal with the distractions first than figure out how to solve the problem as we go along."

She could feel Wakka nod. "Yeah, I guess. It's just frustratin', ya know? I don't know what I can do 'bout any of this.. Not like there's anythin' I can go beat up to make things better." He mulled it over. "'cept maybe Tidus."

Lulu swatted him, which made Wakka laugh a little.

"I know what you mean, though," she said thoughtfully after a moment. "I'm a little angry too."

Wakka braced his shoulders, and Lulu already knew what he was going to ask. "Lulu? You think Yuna gonna be okay?"

Lulu buried her face deeper in his shoulder, breathing in the scent of tank water and clean skin. "She always has been before. But this is...different."

After that they sat in silence until Isaaru came in, Pacce in tow, apologizing for his tardiness and inquiring after Lady Yuna's health.

Lulu liked Isaaru, she did. He had accepted the truth about Sin and Yevon with more shock than protest, and now he was a dedicated traveling Summoner, Sending and spreading the new creeds where he went. His visits to Luca were always informative about the moods and opinions of the different areas of Spira, and out of all of them only Lulu was willing to think of people as assets and admit Isaaru was one. Still she was in no state right now to talk to anyone other than her dearest ones, and Isaaru was a nuisance and an obstacle.

"While I am always pleased to have an opportunity to speak with the Lady's Guardians, I must admit that I was looking forward to meeting with the Lady herself. I trust she is well enough to be up and about soon?" His politeness, in Lulu's opinion, had never fit him as well as he would have liked. Yuna had a gift for formal speech that made her sound ageless; Isaaru just seemed younger than he should, especially

next to his brother, who at the moment epitomized bored and sullen adolescence.

Lulu gave Pacce a long, slitted look that was not quite a glare at the way the boy was eyeing her. She had never dressed to hide her figure but that didn't give thirteen year olds permission to look at her like she was a chocobo for rent. "I'm sure Yuna will be fine by tomorrow. But hopefully you don't have news that requires her immediate attention."

Isaaru shook his head with a dismissive wave and a smile. "Not particularly. You guessed right, Lady Lulu, I do have a message of sorts for the Lady, but I was also just looking forward to seeing her. It's been such a long time."

Pacce snorted, trailing off into insolent giggles when Isaaru shot him a look similar to the one Lulu had given the boy earlier.

"Waaaaaaakkaaaaaa! Luuuuuuuuluuuuuuu! I'm baaaaaaaaaack!"

Rikku bounded in, bursting through the doors with ease that belied the heavy wood. She always gave an impression of lankiness unexpected for such a small person and she glowed golden framed by the door's dark varnish. Rikku's eyes darted to the back of the room, quick and sapling green, and she crossed one leg behind the other, scratching her cheek sheepishly. "Oops. Didn't know you had company."

"That's...that's all right," Isaaru's voice was oddly dusty, as if he weren't used to this particular tone or the emotion behind it, and he was blinking like the sun was in his eyes. Pacce had promptly stopped giggling, although his mouth was still slightly open.

Lulu reflected it had been years since either of them had seen Rikku, after all.

Rikku bounced into the room, brushing her cheek against Isaaru's in a way that was almost an Al Bhed greeting and ruffling Pacce's hair. "Long time no see, right? You guys look great. Pacce, you really shot up! I bet you're as tall as me now." She picked the seat across from them and next to Wakka, cupping her chin in her hands with her elbows propped up on the table. "So what did I miss?"

Lulu wondered if this was one of the unspoken reasons behind the original prejudice against the Al Bhed, jealousy over the way they could take over a room just by entering it.

"I was just to tell Lady Lulu and Sir Wakka about my recent trip to Macalania," Isaaru said, recovering admirably. "I had the honor of speaking with Minister Daenir before I left."              

"Oh great," Wakka muttered, just under his breath enough. Then louder. "What he want?"

"To meet with Lady Yuna. About the Crusaders."

Wakka crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, a hairbreadth away from being rude. "Again with the Crusaders? It's not like Yuna's in charge of them."

"There are many who would say otherwise." Isaaru smiled a quiet, smug smile.

"Yeah, well Yuna ain't one of them."

"What Wakka is trying to say," Lulu said with a sideways glare to make it clear to Wakka that this /better/ be what he had been trying to say. "Is that Yuna has a great deal to do already without making more work for herself. With all due respect to the Minister, it was a bit thoughtless of him to request her presence on such short notice."

"I understand, Lady Lulu. It's just that the Crusaders appear to be up to their old tricks again."

Rikku rubbed the back of her neck. "Aw, /man/."

The Crusaders were one of the many groups who had been set adrift by the dissolution of Yevon, but they were practically the only one proficient in arms and accustomed to military rigger. Many had left their ranks including in the end Luzzu, out of disgust, and the ones who stayed were the ones who liked to fight and the superiority of a weapon in hand. They were little more than a mercenary group these

days, and only a grudging respect for Yuna kept them in line and useful. The Summoner treated them with the affection and exasperation one felt for errant children, and the Crusaders acted accordingly.

"What are they doing this time?"

"According to Daenir there have been reports of drunkenness in the ranks, assaults on some of the villagers." Isaaru looked down, wincing slightly. "Sexual advances made toward unwilling women."

Lulu put a hand to her brow and sighed. "Yuna is scheduled to meet with Lyuik next week."                       

Isaaru nodded. "I'm glad to hear it, my lady. Please don't think Lady Yuna has to respond immediately. Minister Daenir only told me this in passing and I thought it wise to tell all of you as soon as possible as I was heading to Luca anyway. I'm sure an official request will be made in a few days."

"Great," Wakka grumbled. "Like she don't got enough on her plate now."

"So long are you guys staying?" Rikku asked, abruptly.

Isaaru relaxed at the subject change. "I'm not sure, Lady Rikku. Pacce and I are quite the wanderers these day. We were hoping to enjoy the lovely weather here in Luca for at least a short time."

"I want to go air gliding," Pacce piped up suddenly.

Isaaru smiled indulgently at his brother. "Yes, and go on an air glider if we get the chance."

Lulu stayed mostly silent as the conversation devolved into small talk. After what seemed long enough, she stood up with a briskness that was nearly friendly. "It was wonderful to see both of you again, but we are all very busy. Please feel free to come back tomorrow."

"Yeah," Rikku said. "It's been fun, but I know Wakka and Lulu have a lot to do and I have to get back to the ship to check on-"

It was all in their reaction, Lulu would think later. Isaaru wouldn't have even noticed if the pause hadn't been just long enough, if Rikku hadn't bitten her lip, if Wakka hadn't made an involuntary noise of alarm deep in his throat. But the blip had been conspicuous enough for Isaaru to ask politely, "Check on whom?"

"Rikku's brother has a slight cold," Lulu said smoothly. "Nothing serious, but she wants to make sure he's all right."

Isaaru nodded, but he wasn't a natural liar. Lulu ushered him out of the room before she could watch him think about it.

****

Yuna dreamed of not dreaming, of spending the hours comfortably floating in the dark behind her eyes. It made it particularly jarring when Shelinda bustled into her room and flung open the drapes with a cheerful, "Good morning, Lady Yuna!"

"Morning?" Yuna asked with a trace of alarm, propping herself up on her elbows and blinking at the light.

"You slept through dinner, my Lady." Shelinda turned to her with none of the reproach Yuna was starting to feel towards herself, just worry. Shelinda was upset by any aberrant behavior although she'd never dream of saying anything to Yuna about it. "I thought it might be best not to wake you for it, you seemed so tired. I told the cook to make a big breakfast though because you must be hungry."

"I am," Yuna said automatically although she hadn't had time to evaluate her appetite. "Thank you, Shelinda."                            

Shelinda was in her closet, picking out something light and colorful. "Would this be suitable for today, Lady Yuna?"

Yuna rubbed her forehead, feeling a slight, uncharitable urge that Shelinda go away. "It's fine."

Either reacting to something in her tone or just moving on to the next step in the schedule, Shelinda breezed out of the room with one last concerned smile which Yuna did her best to return.

She was grateful to Shelinda for the thousand everyday miracles her assistant performed which made it possible for Yuna to function at all, but also on a deeper, more intrinsic level, the way she was grateful for rain. They had found Shelinda on Yuna's doorstep one rainy night, delirious with a fever, her rage only dampened by exhaustion. Over the next few weeks, as she grew better, Shelinda told her story on the spare bed over bowls of soup. When Yevon had died (and that was how she

always spoke of Sin's defeat, even now) she had been set adrift in every possible way. Shelinda had no home, no friends, no purpose; no reason to keep going or start over.

She wasn't sure how long she wandered (like a vagabond, she would say later, with a polite little shudder) until she had made her way to Yuna, the only person who could answer her questions of why things had gone wrong and what to do now.

Yuna never did, not in so many words. She had done nothing for Shelinda other than provide a warm bed and a sympathetic ear. When Shelinda was well enough to be up and about, she started doing little chores, tidying the bedrooms and doing the laundry (to make herself useful, she had said. To earn her keep.). As time went on, it only seemed natural that Shelinda took more and more responsibilities upon herself, shyly asking Yuna if she wanted her to take notes on a meeting or plan the day's schedule. Shelinda slipped into the household as if she were a painting tucked in the corner because, Yuna realized, she had a purpose again.

Shelinda had asked her a question Yuna hadn't known would be asked, and provided an answer Yuna didn't want to be right. Shelinda's life had meaning again, and that meaning was Yuna. The High Summoner had simply slipped into the slot in Shelinda's life that Yevon had filled before. It had frightened her, at first, how content, how unquestioning, Shelinda was in subordinating herself to Yuna, how she automatically assumed she was inferior to the font of wisdom and strength Yuna must

be.

Shelinda, with her deference and demure stance, had forced Yuna in the bluntest possible way to realize that unless she was careful nothing would change. Yuna used to think that Sin's death was all the people of Spira needed to be happy. Shelinda had shown her that they wanted something to follow, wanted something to believe in. And who better than the one who had taken the old order from them? Yuna could become a  new Yevon. No one would dare oppose her; most would consider it her right. She could rule Spira, shape it as she saw fit.

Yuna couldn't imagine a worse possible thing she could do. She had never truly hated Sin because it could be nothing but what it was, but people were capable of being so much more than disciples.

She had cancelled all of her public appearances and most of her private ones, and sent for Maechen because he was the only person she could think of who was wise enough and remote.

"Milady Summoner," he had greeted her, his shabby scholar's robes out of place in the great sweep of the main hall. "This is indeed an honor. How may I be of service?"

"I need your help," Yuna had said, as plainly as she knew how. "I need someone who knows how things work."

Maechen had looked down, shaking his head. "I'm afraid I may be of little use to you then. I only know how things worked long ago, and very little of that. There is more failure than triumph in Spira's past, Milady."

"Then tell me how things failed," Yuna had said. "And we can start from there."

So he had told her about the Spira before Sin, about the old machina cities, which she had always treated with respectful indifference. Maechen had told her how people lived, the houses they built and the currency they used. He had shown her letters powdery with age and brittle negotiations of war, and what struck Yuna the most was how /few/ of them there were, how much silence went into the bloodshed.

"Much has been lost to time, Milady," he had said when she had asked. "But also, I suspect, from looking at how the documents seem to nearly seamlessly fit together as they are now, the ancient cities communicated little if at all before deciding those around them were a threat."

And after thinking for a long time in ways that stretched dormant parts of her brain, Yuna began to realize what to do. The cities had /worked/, they were the thriving metropolises Yevon had always accused them of being. If the seeds of their destruction had been planted in pride, it wasn't symbolized by the machina. Their downfall was in the unthinking arrogance of believing in your own superiority of purpose without even considering the other side.

There could be cities again, or at least centers of unique culture ruling independently over their own kind; Spira was set up for that. And Yuna would be there to make them listen to each other, to open up channels of contact and thought.

And for six years it had been successful, this shifting balance and this noise. A lot of the time it ran on shoestrings and burnt enthusiasm, but it /worked/. The cities of Spira were growing. They bargained and bickered, but more as a substitute for a real threat than anything leading up to one. Yuna had resigned herself to being an icon a long time ago, but she was not a leader. A guide, maybe, but Yuna was never going to be considered inherently superior to anyone - except in the girl's own mind, Shelinda.

Yuna was vaguely, groggily cheerful when she sat down at her desk for reasons that would probably disappear if she thought about them too long, so she concentrated on paperwork. It was amazing, the amount of things she had to sign.

She fell into the rhythm of her signature, and Deneti surprised her when he came into her office, apology written all over his face and a letter with an broken seal in his hand. "It seems like a tribe of Yevonites has announced they plan on doing missionary work in Killika."

"And you want to see for yourself what they mean by missionary work." Yuna rose and inclined her head in an informal bow. "When will you leave?"

Deneti returned the gesture jerkily. "On the next ship. I plan to be back next week or so, my Lady. I have a few things to say to Lyuik myself."

"May your journey be a safe one," Yuna said. "I look forward to seeing you again soon."

Deneti nodded sharply, which he tended to do when protocol failed him. Then he squinted. "If I may be so bold, is something troubling you, Lady Yuna?"

It sometimes felt like she was lacking some essential bit of programming everyone else had that she couldn't smooth the emotion out of her face, even when she hadn't really known she was feeling any. "Oh, no! I'm...I'm fine. A little tired maybe."

He was staring at her with an intensity she had previously associated with interrogation, Deneti nodded again, although him might not even have been aware of it and it certainly wasn't in response to Yuna's effort to placate him. "You always do that."

"Do what?"

"With your chin." Deneti didn't move forward, but he shifted his weight as if he meant to. "Whenever you're determined or upset you stick your chin up. As if...as if it would make you tall enough to take on the world." His gaze softened to something not exactly wistful but not really still there in the room either, and Yuna did her best not to squirm. Deneti wasn't as practiced as most politicians, but this was awkward in its lack of polish, in its depth of something Yuna wasn't at all sure of.

And then it was gone, and Deneti was backing away. "Forgive me, my Lady-"

"It's all right," Yuna said. She didn't know what she was pardoning, but she was sure it wasn't an offense. "Please tell me how things go in Killika."

"I will, I will." Deneti nearly tripped over himself, looking as if he wanted nothing as much as being out of the room but somehow lacking the mobility to leave quickly or gracefully. "Goodbye, my Lady!"

When he was gone, Yuna checked her reflection in a small decorative mirror on the wall. Her chin was jutted out and up, like a determined child. She tilted her head down until it was parallel with the line of the ceiling and sat back down again. Whatever that had been, she decided, was a matter best left for discussion with Lulu.

She got a few more pages of work out of the way before she sensed someone looking at her. Half expecting Deneti had forgotten to tell her something, wondering why Shelinda hadn't announced him, she looked up.

It was Tidus.

It could be, she corrected herself without a hitch. It could be Tidus; it was the person who looked like Tidus. But at first sight, the reaction that shivered through her nerves was the unmistakable shock of /him/. He was in the doorway, arms limp and obedient at his sides. He was staring but not actually looking at anything, not surveying what was around him, eyes just happening to fall here or there.

"Hello," Yuna said, carefully.

He focused on her, slowly, and his eyes were that same blue, like a punch or a smile, and so very vacant. "Hi."

"You can come in if you would like."

He took a weighty step or two inside, looking around a little bit now. Tidus had always barged into a room and took notes later, unless he was absolutely awed by whatever was there. That had been surprisingly often. Tidus had respected beauty.

"We moved here a few years ago," Yuna found herself saying, the words tumbling over each other. "Lulu, Wakka and I. It's busier than Besaid but it's nice. The stadium's still here. It's used all the time. I miss the sunsets in Besaid sometimes though. But it's still nice."

After a moment he nodded like someone nodding at a grocer, and Yuna clenched her pen hard.

It was almost unbearably awkward - for her, he didn't seem to have enough in him for embarrassment - until she hear running feet out in the hallway and Rikku poked her head in. "There you are! What did I tell you about staying put? I hope he wasn't too much trouble, Yunie. C'mon, let's-"

"Rikku, could I speak to you for a moment in private, please?" Yuna said, already out of her chair.

Rikku looked puzzled but followed her cousin out of the room. Yuna drew her closer and said in quiet, confidential tones. "Please don't let him wander around again."

"Well, yeah, I didn't mean to. I was just distracted for a minute. I know it's not good to let him roam around by himself-"

"It's not just that. Deneti was here just a little while ago. Shelinda is usually nearby. Many dignitaries visit. People have seen the statues, they would...recognize him. It might cause trouble if anyone saw him."

"Okay," Rikku said slowly, not really understanding.

"So I would appreciate it if you could keep him in the wing where you two are staying. Please don't let him come near the office or the dining rooms or, or anything."

Rikku's eyebrows knotted in dismay. "But, Yunie-"

"Rikku," Yuna said it louder than she meant to, her voice like the vibrations of a breaking string. She breathed in deeply and tried again. "Rikku. Please."

And Rikku stared at her, hard and defiant, and then looked away. Then she said with something like disappointment but sadder, "Okay. Okay, he won't go anywhere. Sorry, Yuna."

Yuna murmured something in reply, and Rikku went back into the room, saying things in soothing tones, and came out leading him gently by the elbow. Yuna was careful to have her back turned as they walked away. He had been watching her again.

She straightened her shoulders and sat back down, and let herself cradle her head in her hands for a few minutes before she went back to work.