"They slept wide-awake, thus sweetly lulled."

Book Eight: Enchantments and Desolations, I: Full Light

Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Spherewater


Lulu


The instant that Lulu beheld the infamous father, she understood all the troubles that he had wrought upon Yuna's life.

That warrior's face, still handsome despite the scar, was not one which would happily welcome outsiders to the world he had so carefully crafted for his small family. Lulu herself had been subjected to his distrustful interrogation at their initial interview and witnessed the meticulous cautiousness with which he approached his affairs. Yet the steeled tenderness with which he looked at his daughter spoke volumes about the heart he concealed beneath that cool exterior. He would come back from the dead for her, she knew.

She had left them to make their goodbyes, retreating to the Sender's room when parent and child began to talk in hushed voices. It had been clear that Yuna was unhappy with her father's leavetaking and Lulu had no wish to intrude on that private struggle.

Though part of her knew of course that she already had intruded. At their reunion the past evening, Yuna had managed to maintain the charade of their being unacquainted, though she must have been near to bursting with questions.

The entire search had passed so quickly that Lulu herself could barely keep up with events. In the first place, Gippal, of all people, had presented himself at her doorway having discovered a private Crusader advertisement seeking a companion for a young girl. Then it was a matter of his swiftly making sure Lulu was known to them as a former Guardian. Of course, they had not known for sure, only suspected… until the moment Lulu had walked through the Sender's doorway at last. Even then they had not shared the revelation with the boy it concerned the most. She had wanted the choice to be Yuna's alone.

In the southerner's absence, Lulu took the opportunity to scan the room she had sought refuge in, at the yellowing books and old trinkets decorating the dresser, like memories of a life that had already passed long ago. In a fairer world, it would have been filled with lover's gifts and rumpled sheets of rare, snatched sleep, stubs of Blitzball tickets and spheres flickering with friends' faces. Yet it was obvious that the Sender had quietly accepted her fate, barely pausing to consider the injustice life had dealt her - strange, lonely island soul that she was. She would have wasted away here, thought Lulu, expecting nothing, just waiting for her heart to break.

When Yuna returned to the room, she scarcely let two seconds expire before throwing herself into Lulu's arms. Lulu gave what comfort she could and allowed herself a small smile over the young girl's shoulder. "You are not angry with me, then?" she asked.

Yuna unfastened herself from Lulu's embrace. "Angry?" she repeated.

"You had made your choice, had you not? Now I have made things more difficult for you." She watched Yuna's face carefully for a sign that her interference would be unwelcome. It would be too like her to answer the question with a kind lie and spare Lulu's own feelings. Yet to her credit, the girl recognised the subtlety of the question, and answered with the necessary thoughtfulness.

"Yes, in some ways," Yuna conceded quietly. "But, I will not pretend this is not the path I wanted. Truly… I am glad to see you, Lulu."

She asked eagerly after the health and happiness of the others, and Lulu wasted no more time in keeping her from the truths she deserved; the united search for her, Gippal's role and her own, of course. Other details she glossed over – Tidus' state of near misery in her absence, for example – that was for the Blitzer alone to address.

"So what happens now?" asked the southerner. Suddenly she looked as vulnerable as Tidus had when he first returned from the empty garden, hungry for counsel.

"We find you a dress, of course." At Yuna's quizzical look, she elaborated. "It's the Annual Athlete's Ball tonight. The Blitz Ball, they call it. All the Zanarkand teams are obliged to attend."

She could see instantly that Yuna understood, and did not like the idea. "Lulu... it's been so long since we've seen each other. With all those people-"

"-The two of you have much to say to one another." There was no need to ask who Yuna had meant. "I realise that. You won't be paraded around as a spectacle to watch. I will find some quiet space for the two of you to say your piece. Though it may not be the garden of paradise you are accustomed to."

When Yuna blushed Lulu knew that her decision had been the right one. She would be the agent of their reunion, no more. Provide the meeting ground, and the rest will follow naturally. Without each other the two children were only faded versions of their former selves, as though at a breath of wind they would blow away like paper.

"Of course, Tidus would come here if we asked," Lulu said for Yuna's benefit, "but Wakka would never forgive me if I robbed him of his star player on the most important night of the year."

The truth was her husband would already have his hands full, performing many of Lulu's administrative duties for the Ball in her absence. But they had both agreed Yuna and Tidus were more important that a little additional labour. And I will make it up to him when all this is over.

"The most important night of the year?" Yuna quoted, evidently troubled by the thought. "Do you think this is the best time for us to meet? Won't he be… occupied?"

Truly, this is a sad business, Lulu thought, lips pursing with displeasure. The girl's sense of self-worth would be the first thing Tidus would have to address. Thankfully, Lulu now trusted that he could heal the rift. The Blitzer had learned a harsh lesson these past months, and was not likely to burn his hand twice.

"It must be tonight," she explained to Yuna. "We do not know how soon your father will return. I promised him I would bring no one to the house, but I did not promise I would not take you from it." The mage hesitated. "Even so, I do not like deceiving him. But there will be no danger when I am by your side. I am a Guardian, which is why your father chose me."

Still Yuna hesitated, and for the first time Lulu found she was unable to read the words hiding behind those bi-coloured eyes. "Do you want to see him, Yuna?" she asked.

The southern girl's head snapped up. Something like wounded defiance shone in her expression. She thinks I am chiding her, Lulu realised.

"How can you ask me… yes I want to see him. I've wanted to see him every day, every moment. Sometimes I turn a corner just wishing he was there, wishing…" Yuna faltered, and her former energy seemed to abandon her. "But… at the Sending, he felt so far away from me and I… I couldn't…" Her last words were wet and whispered.

Lulu's heart welled with pity such as she had not felt since the days of her Guardian's pilgrimage. It was all too familiar watching this girl, who seemed so strong with a Summoner's Staff in hand, become so fragile when it came to matters of the heart. The memory of the way Lady Ginnem's face crumpled when she talked of the family she left behind in Besaid came unbidden to the mage's mind.

Perhaps she was meddling where she should not, but Lulu had lost her Summoner once. She would not stand by and watch this young Sender sacrifice the life she should have had.

Drawing Yuna into her arms, she soothed a hand down the Besaidian girl's hair. "Hush now," she admonished gently. "Even if what you say is the truth, this is not the way, Yuna. Building walls, locking up your heart. You will turn to hoarfrost that way. You must face these sorrows."

When Yuna's form stilled at last beneath her arms, Lulu pulled away to see one corner of the girl's mouth curled upwards in an odd, fragile little smile.

"What is it?" she asked, curious.

"I have an opera dress that may work."


Yuna


Rikku met them with a vehicle machina and a bone-crushing embrace. It was several moments before Yuna could breathe again, and several more before Rikku allowed her an opportunity to explain her situation.

"D-West? Are you kidding?" she cried scandalously. "That's like, not even really Zanarkand! Oh cuh uv ceh, Brother, will you keep your eyes on the road?"

Yuna had made the mistake of waving to Rikku's sibling from the back seat; he waved back furiously with one hand operating the controls, causing the vehicle to come to a sudden jolting shock. When Lulu turned her black temper on the poor boy, their road towards the Blitz Ball soon smoothed.

Yuna spun her attention on Rikku. "I have something for you," she revealed somewhat gingerly. Dipping a hand into her silver clasp, she produced a string of carefully arranged jade-and-gold Besaidian beads. "The islander women used to make these for each other back home. I started making them for you before I left B-North. And, for some reason, I found myself finishing them here."

Rikku nestled the braid in the palm of her hands like it was a living thing, big green eyes huge in her pixie face. "Oh, Yunie! That's so cool! I love it!" She shuffled forward as far as the transport would allow her and smoothed some hair away from the left side of her face, offering the beads back to Yuna. "Tie them on, tie them on!"

Yuna laughed. "Rikku, you don't have to wear them just for me, you know? I'm sure beads are not suitable for a ball."

"I don't care what people think," Rikku replied, brows furrowing. "You made them for me."

Touched, Yuna tied the beads with neat delicacy and leaned back to admire her work. "You look beautiful, Rikku." It was not only her golden hair; the Al-Bhed was wearing a little bronze dress that did not quite reach her knees. It was the most becoming thing Yuna had ever seen her friend wear, bringing her natural colourings gloriously to the fore.

A pleased flush spread across Rikku's nose. "You look gorgeous too, Yunie. Tidus will flip when he sees you!"

Lulu had kindly complimented Yuna's opera dress with a pair of long dagged Sender's sleeves of gauzy silver, almost transparent and finished with deep blue ribbon. Yet no matter how lovely, a dress would not determine what Tidus would do, or say, when he saw her. The uncertainty must have been written on her face as plain as day; it did not go unnoticed by Rikku.

"Now you listen to me, Yunie," her companion told her firmly. "What Wakka said about you and Tidus and those Blitzer girls, that was a load of old chocobos. He's been as miserable as a Fiend since you went missing! And he'd never admit it but-" - her voice dipped to a conspiring whisper - "his Blitz has been super bad lately. He's crazy about you, Yunie. Trust me."

When Yuna's hand found hers, Rikku squeezed it affectionately.

The Al Bhed was putting Yuna's hair up with a slender metal clasp when they finally arrived. She finished swiftly so they could both crane their necks at the window to catch a glimpse of the venue. They had stopped outside one of Zanarkand's most admired architectural feats - three conjoined towers affectionately nicknamed 'The Magnus Sisters' by locals. Yuna had enjoyed high tea there once with Shelinda, and marveled at the views overlooking the city and stadium.

Inside, the Towers were already writhing with guests. Swirls of people billowed past the three companions in all their finery, most lost or laughing with champagne glasses held dangerously above their heads. Not without a measure of awe, Yuna recognised more than a few Blitzball personalities and even some prominent Bevellian politicians that regularly featured in her father's newspapers.

When Lulu left them to relieve her husband of the duties he had shouldered in her absence, Rikku and Yuna clung close and attempted to push through the throng towards the ballroom, but it was like battling the tides.

It seemed fitting that Gippal would rescue them, just as he once had forever ago at the Zanarkand stadium. He seemed to take great pleasure in surprising she and Rikku at the foot of the grand staircase, looking almost princely in his formal ball attire.

He met Yuna's long awaited reappearance with his trademark lazy smile. "We thought you'd disappeared, my Lady," he drawled. "It's nice to see you back among the living."

Which, she reflected with amusement, was probably the kindest thing she could ever expect to hear from someone like Gippal. He offered her an arm, gentlemanly, then the other to Rikku, who grabbed it with giddy enthusiasm.

The Al-Bhed boy seemed singularly pleased with himself. "Now I just need another arm for Lu and I'll be the biggest pimp at the ball."

"Lulu would kill you if she heard you say that," Rikku pointed out.

"She definitely would," agreed Yuna.

"Hey, hey, ladies, ladies." Gippal patted their hands distractedly. "Let's not start the evening on a sour note, alright?"

Yuna and Rikku shared a glance beneath his eyeline, struggling not to giggle. As he escorted them into the grand ballroom, Yuna gripped Gippal's arm to keep her knees from buckling, knowing that beyond all the splendor and music and walking stars, something far more precious awaited her.


Tidus


Lulu had done an amazing job. Every year she seemed to choose a venue for the Blitz Ball more impressive than the last. The Magnus Sister towers boasted wealth and sprawling grandeur with its glittering drapes, intricate chandeliers and a floor so polished that he had even caught his teammate Shaft using it as a mirror.

Tunes streamed unrelenting from a Djos'ian band as Tidus appraised a set of ice carvings of famous Blitzball sigils. Lu and Wakka have really outdone themselves this time, he admitted. The whole place looked incredible, a night swathed in gold. So how come all he could think about was some scruffy garden in B-North?

Tidus considered one of the champagne towers. He could drink himself stupid and atleast salvage some enjoyment from the party. Or maybe just drink until he forgot about... but the image of Jecht at his worst flashed in Tidus' memory. What good would it do him to take up the bottle just as his old man had finished with it? No, he thought, somewhat ruefully, that's not the way to deal.

When he saw Rikku bounding towards him through the crowds, he summoned a smile. He had no desire to plunge her into his sour mood.

"You look great, Rikku," he complimented.

The Al-Bhed girl smiled radiantly. It was the truth – infact she looked so feminine that it set Tidus' brotherly instincts at a strange unease. He couldn't help but feel a little sad at how quickly she was growing up.

"You look miserable," she accused with her usual aplomb. "But not for long! We all got you a present. Come with me!"

He expected Rikku's 'present' to involve the whole gang, but when the Al Bhed girl pulled him forcefully behind the long glittering veils of the outer balcony, it was empty save for themselves and a girl in a blue dress, staring out into the illuminated cityscape.

The night air was cool, but it was difficult to notice when the view of Zanarkand was this spectacular. Even the sea was visible from this height. If he looked close enough, he thought he might even be able to pick out the houseboat.

The girl in the dress had not moved a muscle as they intruded on her quiet universe, cutting a pure and lonely figure as though she was waiting for a lost lover. Just as he was about to whisper to Rikku that they should leave her to her privacy, she turned to face them.

Tidus felt his world crumble beneath his feet.

"Yuna."

The coloured beads were not there, nor the shy smile he knew so well, but it was her, sure as sunrise. Still, it set his mind reeling, and for a feverish moment he couldn't make sense of the fact that she was here, of all places, standing in front of him like the memory of a painting come to life.

He had imagined this moment a thousand times. Pictured her face a thousand times. Rehearsed his lines, played out their conversation a thousand times. Yet now that he saw her, unharmed, dressed up like some noble from Bevelle; porcelain, perfect… no sadness in her eyes, only hesitancy. Just turned up at the Ball like it wasn't a big deal, like he hadn't spent the last two months desperate to find her.

Rikku looked sly as she took her leave of them, but for a moment Tidus only felt his relief give way to numbness. If she'd been fine all this time… in Zanarkand all this time? What is this, a game to her?

"Yuna," he said again, taking an unbidden step towards her. "Where have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you. Were you in Besaid, or…?"

She shook her head. With her hair up like that she looked like another girl. It was all too surreal. For a moment Tidus began to wonder if he wasn't dreaming again. "Some months ago, we moved to the outskirts of the city," she said quietly, carefully. He noticed that she kept one hand resting lightly on the edge of the balcony, as though to keep herself standing. "Then, yesterday, Lulu came."

"So you were inZanarkand," he confirmed, unable to disguise the hurt and confusion leaking into his voice. "Why didn't you leave a message for me? Gods Yuna, I was worried about you. Did you think I wouldn't care?"

"I'm sorry," she said. Yet the apology sounded so formal, distant;an address to a stranger. Their two months of separation stood between them like a third person. "I don't want you to think I didn't appreciate what you did for me. Wakka said-"

He glared. "What? What did Wakka say?"

"Something about you always having your head turned by people," she told him, eyes lowering to the polished floor.

Even second hand, the comment stung. Tidus gave her a searching look. "You believe that?"

It was then that her shell of courtesy finally seemed to show the first crack. "I didn't want to. For me, we were more than passing strangers. But after the Sending, you seemed so distant. It seemed as though you were disappointed in me, or even-" She hesitated. "It was easy to believe after that. I thought… maybe you didn't need me, but I'm all my father has. So when he needed my help, I thought it wouldn't matter if I… just faded away."

"What, and you thought I would be relieved? Because you're a Sender? Yuna…"

It was only then that he noticed the whiteness of her knuckles curled around the balcony. "I don't know. I didn't know. Rikku said you were sad when I left-"

"She told you I was sad? Yuna, I was going crazy without you. You're not just some girl to me, alright?"

The slight widening of those striking eyes told him that Yuna really had been in the dark about his feelings, just as Lulu and Rikku had always told him.

All at once the reality of their situation slammed into him. Here she was, the girl of his dreams – literally – and what was he doing? Scolding her, just like Lu and Rikku did to me. And all it was doing was leaving the unwelcome taste of guilt in his mouth.

And maybe I deserve it, he told himself, but she sure doesn't. He looked at her then, truly looked at her, wearing that irrepressible heart-on-her-sleeve look that was so familiar it was almost painful. All at once the tension drained from him, like the aftermath of a rainstorm.

"Look," he told her gently, "what happened with the Sending, we're going to talk about it. But it was nothing to do with you, Yuna. I promise. You did scare me, but not in the way you think."

She shook her head, looking for a moment as lost as she once had in his dreams.

Finally he smiled, his heart filling with pity. "Yuna, I'm sorry. I've been giving you a hard time. That isn't what I wanted to do. And you probably had an ordeal trying to get if Rikku's been talking your ear off."

Yuna laughed, even as her eyes shone with tears. "No, she calmed me down. I was so nervous."

"Come here," he said fondly, opening his arms. She went obediently like a child being called home, stepping into them as one might step through a doorway.

That was all it took to break the barriers between them. Suddenly they were transported back to the dark of her garden, or the highest seats in Zanarkand stadium, or the long sweet road home to B-North. Her cheek was soft and warm and wet against his as he breathed in every memory, pulling all the misty pieces of her back together.

"I'm sorry," she whispered roughly.

"Don't say sorry. I'm the one who should be sorry." Suddenly he couldn't believe he was ever mad at her. "Gods, Yuna," he breathed into her hair, voice muffled. "I thought I was going to go crazy. No one could tell me where you'd gone."

"D-West," she answered him. "Father took us to D-West."

"All the way out there? Why? Is it because of me? Did he find out?"

"No," she told him, "I don't believe so. He was… scared."

"Scared?" Tidus pulled away from her at last, letting his hands slip to her upper arms. "Of what?"

"I'm not certain." She tried to smile. "Secrets."

Tidus knew her too well not to recognise the pain that tightened the corner of her eyes when she said it. He also knew this wasn't the time or the place to address it.

"Tell me later?" he asked quietly.

She nodded, looking so damn sad, so much like her old self that he would have said almost anything to make her smile again. Luckily, he knew just the tactic.

"You left someone else behind too, you know," he teased. "Furry, blue, pointy ears – ring any bells?"

"Oh!" Her eyes lit in recognition, and she clutched his shirt with an air of wildness around her. "Kimahri? Oh, please tell me..!"

Tidus took hold of her wrists and gently detached them without letting go. "I've got him."

A relieved cry rose from her throat. "You've had him all this time?"

"Hey, no worries." He squeezed her hands still captured in his. "Me and the little dude are getting along fine. Except he seems to think my blitzballs are scratching posts."

To make her laugh again was a joy he had almost forgotten. Tidus looked gratefully down at the pale, slight hands he held, the slender wrists disappearing into gauzy silver sleeves. He brushed a thumb across her knuckles then caught up her gaze.

"You look awesome, by the way."

It had the desired effect; the colour that rose in Yuna's cheeks was more beautiful than any sunset. He wanted to scoop her into his arms and spin her in a circle, but for the sake of overwhelming the poor Besaidian girl, he quelled the impulse.

"So, first thing's first, Yuna. How about you give me your Commsphere code?"

"But I don't have one."

"You don't have your own Commsphere?"

"Who would I call?" she asked, not without humour.

He ran a hand through his hair. Damned if she's right. He shouldn't be surprised, really. An old man like hers wouldn't likely take to the idea. "Well then, I'll buy you one."

"You don't need to do that."

"Yes!" He leapt forward and tickled her sides as she batted him away, laughing. "I do! You're the most elusive girl in Spira! I'd put a tracking collar on you if I could!" Tidus lifted his fist to his mouth like a microphone. "Crrrsh, confirmation, we're getting a signal on Yuna in B-North. Crrsh, could you please state her exact location? Crrrsh, just listen out for the worst busker on the road and she'll be throwing her gil in his hat. Crrsh, copy th—okay! Okay! I take it back!" He raised an eyebrow at her as she pushed her fists playfully against his chest. "Hey, you have a pretty strong right hook."

"Got that from my father," she smiled, and punched her open palm mock-threateningly. He'd never seen anything less menacing in his life. It was kind of adorable.

Suddenly he felt restless as though struck by Blitz fever, wanting to shout Yuna's return to the skies. Tidus knew just where to direct the energy. "I need to go and talk to Rikku," he explained. "Promise you won't disappear on me this time?"

"I promise."

"'Cause afterwards, we're going to party."

"Okay." Gods, she has the sweetest smile.

"And to stop the disappearing act I'm going to make sure everyone has a mental mug shot of you by introducing you to everyone in the room."

"Okay."

"Even the people you already know."

"Go, go!" she laughed.

Rikku was waiting for him just outside the balcony, grinning from ear to ear. "You're so obvious when you flirt with her," she teased.

Tidus wrapped her in a huge Ronso hug, lifting her clear off her feet. "Rikku, did I ever tell you how awesome you are?"

"Hmm, not lately," she said airily as he set her down, trying and failing to look unaffected by the compliment. "But it's not me you have to thank, or Lulu either. We just helped dress her all pretty. Gippal was the one who found her for you."

That did surprise him. "Gippal?"

"That's right." The Al-Bhed girl looked as proud as punch. "He got all his eyes-and-ears on it. He was the one who tracked her down."

Tidus sighed. Guess I've got another apology to make tonight. He suspected that this one might be even more complicated than the last. "Do me a favour," he told Rikku. "Go keep Yuna company while I talk to him."

Since the Blitz Ball provided an open bar, Gippal didn't take long to find. Baralai and Isaaru looked to be sharing a pitcher of Mi'hen'ii wine with him, but the New Yevon members disbanded when they saw Tidus coming.

That left him alone with Gippal and the awkwardness that inevitably infiltrated the air after their stretching absence from one another. Yet when Tidus finally opened his mouth in an attempt to express his gratitude, he found Gippal had pre-empted him.

"Don't," he snapped. "I didn't do it for you or her or Rikku or anything. I just did it 'cause I couldn't stand seeing your sissy face on the Blitz screens anymore. I wasn't about to let Zanarkand lose the whole tournament over some lost princess."

It was all a wasted effort - he should have known his best friend could see straight through him. "Thanks, anyway," Tidus told him knowingly.

Gippal looked faintly embarrassed at that. He never had learned to take a compliment. "Just hurry up and make a move on her, will you?" the Al-Bhed said, trying his best to look irritable. "We're all sick to Sin of you two dancin' around each other."

For once, Tidus only found himself smiling at the jibe, unspeakably thankful that, as easily as that, they were friends again.


Yuna


She passed the remainder of the Ball in a joyous blur, bearing little resemblance to the whisper of a girl she had become these past scared and lonely months. The pull of the music was too tempting, wrapping around her like a whirlwind; it had been so long since she had truly danced. Wakka was the first to invite her to the floor, and Yuna welcomed the first chance they'd really had to talk since long before the Sending. She was so much smaller than the large Blitzer that her feet rarely touched the ground. Dancing with Tidus was even more fun; he wasn't afraid to get close, and he dipped her at all the wrong moments to make her giggle. Her cheeks aching with laugher and dizzy on champagne, Yuna threw her Sender's grace to the wind and let herself be spun around by him, dagged sleeves sailing behind her.

When her feet were too sore to support her any longer, Tidus half-carried, half-waltzed her to the edge of the room where she could rest alongside Lulu and Rikku and at last reclaim her breath. While Tidus went to fill her glass ("Just water this time!" she had protested. She felt lightheaded enough without the champagne!), she sat with the two girls as the remaining dancers twirled and swayed before them like candlelit shadows.

She found herself almost afraid to tear her eyes from the Zanarkander boy incase she woke to find this night had all been a longing dream. Yet there he was still, waiting at the bar across the room, deep in conversation with Gippal. They look like they're having fun, she observed gratefully. They must have a lot to catch up on. Tidus glanced back at her often, as though to make sure she hadn't run off.

Presently Lulu sighed, considered her glass of wine. "Well, Yuna," she said, "we have missed you."

Rikku gave her a sideways hug to cement the point. Yuna slipped an arm around her and rested her head on top of Rikku's, brown hair and gold meeting and mingling.

Lulu glanced at them together. "You don't value yourself enough."

"I have never had friends like you before," Yuna whispered, overcome with emotion. Rikku held her tighter, her uncharacteristic silence saying all that needed to be said.

"Then, we'll forgive you on this occasion. Things have turned out for the best, I think."

Rikku could not be appealed upon to release Yuna until a comely Al Bhed boy boldly asked her to dance. That made the young girl hop off her chair quickly enough, giggling as she joined the dancefloor, holding hands with her new partner. Lulu disappeared soon after, swept into a formal Bevellian-style court dance by her husband after some insistence from Yuna.

Yuna herself was not neglected for long.

"Would you care to dance, Yuna?"

She lifted her head to find Baralai casting a long shadow over her. She had barely spoken to the young Praetor beyond the odd Blitzball match and Dona's Sending. Ordinarily she might have felt shy, but Yuna had been walking among the Aeons ever since she had stepped into Tidus' arms; there was no fear left in her. She stretched out her legs like a child on a swing, showing him the scuffed toes of her ball slippers. "I've worn myself out I'm afraid," she said with an apologetic smile.

"Ah." He returned the smile and claimed the seat beside her instead. They fell into their natural routine of polite formality, Baralai expressing his pleasure at seeing her again after so long while Yuna queried him about the developments of New Yevon.

Half way through their conversation a thought occurred to her. "Does New Yevon keep old records of the Yevonite warriors?"

Baralai smiled courteously. "Is there any reason in particular that you ask?"

"No," she lied, thinking of her father. She had never imagined that Auron's secrets might be open to her in another way. The possibilities…

"Yes, we do have historical spheres of many of the warrior monks. Infact, there are some very complete records of their profiles and training in some of the grander temples - Zanarkand, Luca, Bevelle, for example."

The last placename was a great encouragement to Yuna. "And can anyone see them?"

"That depends on the content. Some spheres are not yet suitable to be shared with Spira. There are many who find it difficult to keep up with the great change the Eternal Calm has wrought. New Yevon wishes to help those who feel lost in the winds of that change."

No, thought Yuna, feeling 'lost' plays no part in it. The Praetor's speech held an appealing romanticism, to be sure, but… in the end, it is for your group to decide which truths you want Spira to know. Tidus had once told her New Yevon were bad news. She did not know if his reasons were the same as hers, but she thought she might agree with him after all. My father too has decided my truths for me. It is not right.

"Are you thinking of joining our ranks, Yuna?" the Praetor asked, misreading her thoughtfulness. "You would make a welcome addition."

Yuna ducked her head, embarrassed. "I'm honoured, but I'm not really in a position to-"

"-Your Sender duties, of course. How could I have forgotten? It is-"

"Sorry to interrupt."

Tidus was smiling down on them with a glass of water in one hand… yet Yuna could read the stiffness in his shoulders, almost resembling a Blitzball stance.

"I'm afraid I'll have to borrow her for a while," he told the Praetor. Something like a warning flickered behind his blue eyes.

Baralai rose to leave. "If you change your mind, Yuna, please don't hesitate to speak to me, or Isaaru." He bowed to her handsomely in Yevonite fashion, then did the same for Tidus.

When the Praetor was out of earshot, Tidus arched an eyebrow in her direction. "Tell me you're not-"

"I'm not," she reassured him swiftly. "We were just talking."

The Blitzer relaxed his shoulders. "I leave you alone for one second…" he teased, pressing the glass into her hands. "Finish up, Yuna. I persuaded Lulu to let me steal you for a couple hours."

Yuna sipped the cool water and regarded him suspiciously from over the rim of the glass. "What's all this about?"

"I want to show you something."

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Yuna had never forgotten the story Tidus told her about the sphere garden he had visited in his boyhood. How he had been bewitched by the waters, how his father had found him stretched out on the bank. Even months later his words had left cloudy, almost haunting impressions in her mind, indelible images of a place she had never seen. Until now.

"How strange to be visiting your garden at last," she said wistfully as they strolled an ornate pathway of Kilikan poplar trees.

"I've visited yours often enough." Tidus dug his hands into his pockets - he had forsaken his Ball attire for casual Blitzer shorts. As for herself, Yuna had not had the foresight to bring a change of clothing, but she had unpinned her hair and left the beautiful dagged sleeves in Lulu's care.

"And it's not really mine," he was explaining. "It's a private garden. We used to be residents here, before we got the houseboat."

They walked side by side, so close that their bare arms brushed tenderly and often. Everytime Yuna felt his skin graze her own it sent an arrow of electricity through her. Tidus' easy proximity heightened her senses to a painful degree, making her acutely aware of the fabric of her dress whispering coldly between her legs.

When they came to the lake, dappled in moonlight, Yuna fell instantly in love. A scattering of ancient-looking trees bowed over the water like mothers bending over a cradle, their boughs dripping with crystals and miniature blue blossoms. Each gnarled, twisted trunk seemed pregnant with an inner light. Yuna felt half a child, wanting to run and touch everything, sink her hands into the magic of this place.

"You like it, Yuna?" Tidus asked, watching her. There was something different in the way he said her name now, something soft and careful and far too perilous for her to consider very closely.

"It's beautiful…" she exclaimed as they walked towards the water. "They must have taken saplings from Macalania and nurtured them here in Zanarkand."

"How do you know that?" Macalania was legendary among Spirans, but few had ever been fortunate enough to see it.

"Awake Shiva, your icy spring, your crystals clear, awake and sing! The roots around your light shall twine, in Macalania of thine," Yuna recited. "Have you never heard that song?"

"It's not one of Lenne's, is it?" he joked.

Upon reaching the bank, Yuna knelt to comb her fingers through the steely water, fascinated by the texture, the density of it. She cupped some in her palm then poured it back into the lake. "It's spherewater," she realised with awe.

"Yeah, my old man comes here all the time to collect it. He has some obsession with recording stuff, recording the past."

All of a sudden Tidus planted himself down on the grass and began to unlace his sneakers. "Coming in?"

Yuna laughed. "Be serious!"

"You think I'm not?" Tidus grinned wickedly then threw his sneakers theatrically behind him in such a way that it would take a miracle to ever recover them. That only made Yuna laugh harder. Yet for all his tomfoolery the blitzer took a running jump and dived into the water as gracefully as some lithe sea creature.

He let her fret a bit before he finally came up for air, as she had already known he would.

Tidus treaded the water from the heart of the lake, half-submerged. "Take your shoes off!" he called to her. "Maybe you could walk along the water, show me?"

Yuna smiled at him fondly. "I can't just do it for kicks, you know." Yet she knelt to take the slippers off all the same. She placed them together carefully side by side, as carefully as a little girl had once arranged a flower on a gravestone. Then, turning, she stood barefoot on the bank for a lingering moment, a little vulnerable.

Here I am again, she thought. Just as the first time she had climbed the garden gates, Yuna knew that to go forwards now would be a choice. What Lulu had said to her at their meeting in D-West had stayed with her. You had made your choice. Now I have made things more difficult for you. The mage had known as well as she that there would be no turning back after she had taken that first step. Yuna knew now with a crystal certainty that this boy would be a part of her future. In what way was still unclear, yet she hoped. She dreamed.

When Tidus saw her hesitating at the water's edge, he returned for her, wordlessly offering his hand.

Cautiously she went, his fingers folding easily around hers. The spherewater parted against her ankles like silk, Tidus drawing her silently deeper until the folds of her opera dress rippled and grew heavy, trailing behind her like the tail plumage of some winged aeon. Downwards and deep they waded until Yuna was almost floating, her toes barely touching the shifting foundation of the lake.

When Tidus saw that she had reached a comfortable depth, he released her unexpectedly and pushed himself into the deeper water with an easy smile. Strangely, it reminded her of their very first meeting, so long ago in the alleys of A-East. He found me and led me from the labyrinth, she remembered. And he had released her and smiled at her in the very same way. How strange and foreign he seemed back then.

Her eyes followed him in captivation as he pulled through the water, his quicksilver motions like liquid made flesh. She realised that the difference between what he was to her then and what he meant to her now was as vast as that between light and dark.

Yuna dipped low in the water and tilted her head back just enough to wet the ends of her hair, drinking in the wonder around her. The stars were white and soft and sputtering like dying pyreflies. The silence was so exquisite that it startled her when he began to talk again.

"About the Sending-"

"Please, you don't have to say anything," Yuna interrupted. The night had been so lovely, part of her did not want to revisit the event that might have ended it all. But Tidus was insistent.

"Yes, I do," he said. "I was angry at myself. I wondered, what was it, that when you smiled sometimes, it was with sad eyes. I thought it was your old man. Or maybe your Mom, since you never told me…"

"She died when I was very young," Yuna finished for him.

When she said that, Tidus stopped swimming in mid-stroke. He made his way to the shallower waters when she waited, watching him.

He met her eyes with such quiet force that it sent a tremor through her heart. "When I realised it was the Sending that was hurting you so much… I guess I wasn't ready for that. I didn't know how to help you, Yuna."

Then, you were never afraid of me, she wanted to rejoice. You only wanted to protect me. She felt foolish for ever having read him so poorly.

"I just… I still don't even understand why you have to do it. I mean…" He shrugged helplessly. "You're… seventeen."

She wasn't sure what to tell him. "You know… ever since I was young, I never questioned it. But now that you ask me why…" Her eyebrows drew together. "I'm not sure I know myself. Everyone except my father said it was a dark thing for a girl my age. But I always knew I would take up the Staff, always. Belgemine said it was in my blood."

"What can I do?" Tidus asked desperately. "What can I do to make it better?"

For a moment Yuna could only stare at him uncomprehendingly. "B-but… you already make it better." She swallowed hard, trembling. "You make my life happier." The last word was choked.

When Tidus did not answer, she did not know what to wish for; to take the words back. Afraid, she closed her eyes against the hammering of her heart, against who she was, wishing she could simply dissolve into the lake. The confession had stolen the last remnants of her courage. So then, she thought, it's done.

When she opened her eyes, Tidus was standing a mere featherbreath away from her. At first she was dismayed and frightened, feeling with a sudden intensity the promise of change that thickened the air around them, like the silence before snow. But he was smiling at her, eyes painfully blue.

"Yuna," he said, soft and serious, "I'm really glad you came to Zanarkand."

His voice soaked into her skin and into her bones. In a loving gesture, he tucked a few tendrils of dark hair behind her ear and closed the remaining distance between them.

When he kissed her, the world softened. At first the sensations were as fleeting as pyreflies – his thumb grazing her cheekbone, his knuckle sweeping the flesh of her throat. Then his hand on her shoulderblade was coaxing her, guiding her, and past the wild thrumming of her pulse Yuna clung to him like he was the only thing holding her to Spira.

His skin was warm gold beneath her palms; she imagined summer running through his veins. Breathlessly their mouths met and tangled, her jaw lifting to meet him like following the swells of the sea, her fingers stealing deep into his golden hair.

When their momentum carried them deep enough that Yuna lost her footing, Tidus fisted his hand almost bruisingly hard around the fabric at the small of her back and held her there afloat.

Cocooned in his arms, the last of Yuna's fears dissolved as effortlessly as shadows. She kissed him back deep and demanding, surrendering at last every aching drop of her being that she had ever held back from him, an hibiscus unribboning in the dark of a walled garden.


Tidus


Some time later they lay stretched side by side on the grassy bank, heads close. The Zanarkand evening gently deepened around them, bathing them both in its safe powdery darkness.

Tidus found he could barely tear his eyes away from her, not since that moment when she had stared up at him as though she was drowning and he hadn't waited a second longer to be the one to save her, to breathe life back into her. He knew that the time they had lost was a scar that was still healing. Despite that, he couldn't help but feel that they had gained something from their separation too.

"I feel older since I last saw you," he told her. "Like I was some little kid before. Even though nothing seemed to happen while you were gone. Everything just… passed me by. But, at the same time, it changed everything. I feel like I can take care of you better now."

A little smile blossomed on her mouth. "I feel it too. I think maybe that's part of it," she mused of love. "It's like a sort of... new consciousness of things, isn't it? It weighs on you a little. Not like duty but..." She paused in thoughtful silence. "Like… when you throw a fresh sheet over a mattress and it sort of floats down-" She performed the motion with a precious little gesture, letting her hand flutter from the air to rest upon his chest. "That kind of weight. That's the part that makes you feel older, I think."

He took the hand and kissed it, indescribably happy just to listen to the music of her voice again. That peaceful feeling was returning to him at last, that quiet truthfulness that Yuna carried so effortlessly. It almost made him want to laugh. Give me a garden, give me Yuna. Could happiness be so simple?

"There's another part to it, too," she was saying. "I understand why they call it falling. It's like the feeling of spherewater, isn't it? Or the song from the music box." Suddenly her laughter echoed silvery around the private garden. "Oh, I don't know what I mean."

"I know what you mean." The words he had once given to her their first night together at the Zanarkand stadium came to him all too naturally. "It's like being asleep and awake at the same time."

When she smiled, he knew that she remembered too. "So then, it's like Blitzball?" she teased.

"Sure. With Blitz, always keep your eye on the ball, or it disappears fast. With Yuna, always keep your eye on your girl, or she disappears fast." He glanced at her mischievously from the corner of his eye.

"Excuse me, are you comparing me to a Blitzball?"

"Hey, why not?" he said, shifting languorously on the bank as his eyelids slid closed. "I'll tuck you under my arm and carry you around with me."

"And sign your name on my face?"

"That's a great idea," he said without opening his eyes. "Then everyone will know who you belong to. Maybe it'll stop other guys from flirting with you."

She laughed. "No one does that with me."

Tidus sighed noisily. "Yuna, half the population Rikku and I talked to remembered you. Especially that jackass at the B-North library – by the way, next time you go there, I'm going with you for sure. And Rikku's brother, gods. In his head the two of you are probably married with kids already. Don't even get me started on Baralai." He glanced below his shoulder to find her gaping at him. "The fact that you don't realise any of this just makes the whole thing scarier. No, we are definitely doing the signature thing."

They continued to play with the idea until naturally they fell onto other matters. From time to time he would move his arm a little or she would walk her fingers along his chest playfully. They talked and shifted as spontaneously as passing clouds in summer skies, plucking conversations from the air, so insensible with love they hardly knew silence from speech.

"I came into Zanarkand once," Yuna said at one moment.

"What? When? Where?"

"Three weeks or so ago. Up the D-West path."

"You were at Valefor's Crossing?" Tidus cursed. "That's only two blocks from the houseboat. If I'd know you were there, I would have run like lightening to get to you."

"I'd like to see it."

For a moment he didn't understand. "Huh? You mean V's Crossing?"

"The houseboat. Would you take me to your home one day?"

Tidus pushed himself up on one elbow to look at her. Some of her hair had fallen over her eyes, and a small smile played on her lips like a secret waiting to be released. He traced the secret with a fingertip, traced it down to the hollow of her shoulder and the steady heartbeat just beneath her collarbone. Then he bent his face to hers, and kissed her until she was sure of his answer.

When he finally pulled away, Yuna's gaze was slightly unfocused beneath her dark lashes, as though she was half dreaming. In the darkness her eyes were like jewels.

"When did you know?" she whispered, her voice sounding thick and charmed.

He considered her, tracing the curve of her cheekbone with his thumb. "When I went to the garden," he told her truthfully. "And you weren't in it. When did you know, Yuna?"

"I don't think I can name a moment," she answered. "Every day you visited me I was so happy, you know? I would wait all day just to see you."

"You liked me that long?"

This time her smile hid nothing. Tidus bent to press a kiss into her dark shining hair. "I'm sorry," he told her.

"What are you sorry for?"

"I guess I was a late bloomer."

She laughed, touching her necklace fondly. "I keep hibiscus, remember? I'm used to late flora."

Gods, Yuna. What did I do to deserve you? When Tidus lay back down on the grass, she curled up against him like a child seeking warmth, toes brushing his ankles. He settled her more closely against his chest and watched the sky glittering darkly, questions turning in his heart.

"I'll be there, Yuna," he said after a long silence.

"Hmm?" she murmured, almost sleeping.

"I'll be there to cheer you up, okay? Every Sending, every Dance. Every death. Everytime you get sad, I'll make you smile."

Maybe it wasn't much. But when Yuna wordlessly tightened her hand around his, he thought that even if that was all he could do for her, it would be enough. He held her just as tightly, and swore to himself that the next time those iron gates threatened to rise up between them, he would be ready.


Author's Notes


So originally I wrote their reunion as this great big crashing-into-each-other hollywood hug thing. Years later I found myself writing something more complicated. Does that mean I've gotten more cynical as I've gotten older? : /

Part of me feels like it was a cop-out using more or less the same 'love scene' scenario as the game. I tried a couple of different things but kept returning to the 'lake' setting; to this day I adore that scene in the game and really wanted to try my own version.

Next chapter – reactions.

To babygirlalexis – since I couldn't reply to your review via your account, I wanted to thank you for your kind words – and more than that, I am so happy and grateful to hear you say that you have been with me almost since the beginning. Sometimes I wonder how many readers I have lost over the years and it's really heartening to know that I haven't put everyone off yet!

If I can quote Yuna here - stay with me, until the end, please! (I promise it won't be ten years XD)