Hello everyone. I know it's been awhile, but this chapter has left me with a lingering feeling of uncertainty as to its quality. As such, I've spent several weeks ponering it to make sure that it's okay, but it looks like this is as good as its going to get. I really hope it's okay, and doesn't affect the quality of the rest of the story.

This new system for replying to reviews makes my job a helluva lot easier, and I'm grateful for that. This way, you won't have to filter through a lot of useless jargon that doesn't peratin to you, and you only have to listen to me babble. A little bit more bearable, isn't it? Anyway, this chapter is a little shorter than the last few, at 9 1/4 pages. It's still pretty decent, though.

Once again, I hope this chapter isn't too bad. Forge through and read it now.

> > > > > > > > > >

Chapter 6: Forward to the Past

Nobody could move, least of all Yuna. The first thought that crossed her mind was that she was seeing a stress-induced fantasy, a final indicator that she had, in fact, lost her mind. But she knew that what she saw was real. Auron was looking at Tidus with a look of utter scrutiny and uneasiness. Wakka had jumped to his feet, mouth agape in shock. Lulu's eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open as well. Even Rikku was immobile; she was craned to get a good look at the boy, as though she didn't believe it was really him.

Whispers were circulating around the room, uneasy and curious whispers both among the delegates and the reporters. Some cameras had even trained in on Tidus, capturing his uneasy and resolved face. Cameras began to flash. Yuna was told to continue her speech without interruption, but she couldn't. Not when her one wish to the God she knew didn't exist had finally become a reality. The whispers subsided. The cameras stopped flashing. There was total silence.

A pin dropped.

Auron suddenly stood up, wasting no time in taking charge of this interruption. "Yuna, finish the speech," he said. "The ceremony must conclude as quickly as possible. Everything must proceed as planned. Now."

"Yuna!" Tidus cried, turning away from the chair and starting toward her.

"Grab him!" the girl standing in the doorway shouted.

Faster than anybody could blink, Auron had pulled him back in a headlock, restraining him tightly. Despite Tidus's shouts and cries of surprise and protest, Auron nodded at the black-clad girl and jerked his head toward the door from which Tidus came. Yuna started toward Tidus, but Auron stopped her mid-step with a harsh, commanding glare. He wrestled with the boy, dragging him toward the doorway on the far side of the room. The silver-haired girl followed suit. All Yuna could do was watch as she walked slowly backward, back to the podium. Soon, he disappeared from her sight.

He was there. But now, he's gone again.

> > > > >

They were walking, or rather, stumbling, down a curvy hallway. Tidus couldn't believe what was going on. His guardian, mentor and friend now had him in a choking headlock and his arms were locked together in Auron's surprisingly firm grip. The girl, who he had never seen before, was walking stoically next to them, her hand gripping the hilt of a large knife that was strapped to her belt. It was almost half the size of the large sword strapped to her back. She appeared to be vastly skilled in the Way of the Warrior and the Swordsman. What was going on here? Was this one of the fayth's sick games? Was Bahamut going to have him killed?

Horror ran through Tidus's mind and he stopped struggling. Nevertheless, Auron still kept him moving at a pace so fast that he had to side-jog. The hallway was pink and red, not hot-pink, but rather girly for a place of such importance. The ceiling had crystal lights hanging from it, and the walls had the same crystal fixtures attached as well. Flowers were delicately placed in vases that lined the halls every twenty feet or so on either side. All were winking at him invitingly, but their friendly and vibrant light did nothing to calm Tidus's rampant nerves.

Fear finally caused him to speak. "It's me, Auron! It's Tidus! What are you doing? Lemme go!" "Shut up," the girl hissed at him.

"Hey!" Tidus protested. "Don't tell me what to do. I walk right into this room, with no intention but–"

The girl quickly commanded Auron to stop, which he did. She drew her knife and held the tip of it to Tidus's Adams apple. Tidus gulped nervously, and as his Adams apple bobbed, it ran against the blade's tip. A small pinprick of blood appeared on his neck. He felt it begin to trickle uncomfortably down his neck and into his jersey. Auron wouldn't free his arms so that he could wipe the blood away, and the tickling sensation was going to drive him crazy.

"You're in no position to play the hero," she said dangerously. "Until we get to the room, I suggest you keep your mouth shut if you want to retain the ability to speak." Tidus nodded vigorously.

Though the wait seemed infinitesimally long to Tidus, it was actually a very short period of time in which they reached the "room" where they were going. Tidus noticed that it was similar to the room in which he appeared on Spira with Bahamut, only this room was much more inviting. Two rose-colored couches faced each other in the center of the room. A decorative purple rug, laced with gold and blue fringe and patterned to look like a stained-glass window, had been placed in between the couches. A fire was going in the room; it was considerably warmer in here than it was in the central chamber where Yuna had been giving her speech. The walls and floor of this room were made of decorative stone. Plants were hung above the fireplace and placed in all four corners of the room.

Auron roughly shoved Tidus onto the couch on the left. Tidus bounced a little before coming to sit still, hands clasped nervously in his lap. The girl sat down on the couch across from him, and Auron sat down next to her. Tidus looked at her, looked into her eyes and abruptly turned away. They were ablaze, coldfire as Tidus had never seen them. There was cold fury in her ruby-red eyes as she stared Tidus down. Her lips were pursed. She leaned back in the couch, crossed her right leg over her left and folded her arms, studying him.

"What did I do?" Tidus asked.

"I told you to leave the questions to me!" The girl snapped. "Now, who the hell are you?" she asked, spitting out the words as though they tasted of an acrid poison.

"I'm Tidus! From Zanarkand!" He said earnestly, nodding his head vigorously.

"Tidus is dead," Auron interjected cooly. "We saw him jump off the airship right after we defeated Yu Yevon."

"I know you did, but I'm back," he said. "The fayth, Bahamut, brought me back to life."

"This is ludicrous," the girl said, snorting. "Nobody comes back from the dead. Not even Yevon could do that."

"Yeah, because Yevon was a fake!" Tidus protested.

"So I've heard," the girl said without missing a beat. "Do you realize what you've done?"

"What did I do?" Tidus said.

"For all we know, you're a mad bomber; you could blow this tower of the face of Spira at any minute now," she said curtly. "Based on this suspicion, we are very quick to act when an unidentified kid waltzes straight into the Conference Hall. You started walking straight at Yuna, what the Hell am I supposed to think? You were going to give her a big hug and a kiss?"

"Uh . . . that's exactly what I was going to do, actually," Tidus said.

"Shut up," she repeated. "I'm not a psychic, and I have to take Yuna's safety into consideration. If I don't know someone that charges into the Conference Hall, I'll usually kill them. You're lucky Auron was there to choke you before I could do it myself."

Tidus stared right back at the girl, trying to match her stony gaze. However, that was like trying to compare his body weight to that of Sin's. She was a giant, and Tidus was no match for fazing her like she was him. Her stony cold gaze was like staring into a black hole, willing him to be sucked into never-ending darkness and despair. Tidus was, once again, forced to break eye contact.

"Threats do us no good, you should know that Paine," Auron said, leaning forward. "Here's what we'll do. Let the man prove himself," he said slowly. "We should hear his side of the story before we pass judgment. If he is the real Tidus, he has a lot of catching up to do as far as current events go."

"And if he's not . . ." the girl said, leaning in so that hers and Tidus's noses almost touched and pressing the knife to Tidus's throat, "then I am the last thing he is ever going to see." She slowly withdrew the knife.

Tidus gulped. Though he had only known this girl for all of ten minutes, the girl's body language told him that she meant every word she said. Tidus cast a pleading look at Auron, who looked thoughtful and stern and did not meet Tidus's gaze. There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence settling itself over the three. The girl's comment hung in the air like a poisonous cloud, choking Tidus from the outside in. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth several times, attempting to move words through his throat. After a few attempts, he was able to speak again.

"What do you want me to say? This girl's made it pretty clear she'll have my head if I say something wrong," Tidus said.

Auron was silent for a minute before coming up with a solution. "I'll ask you a question."

Tidus looked puzzled. "How's that different from what you've been doing?" Auron silenced him with a look. "What kind of question?" Tidus corrected himself.

"A question Tidus would remember," Auron said curtly, gaze hardening as he further scrutinized the boy.

"I know everything about him. He's me!" Tidus couldn't help himself from blurting this out, quite indignantly.

"Then let's have it," the girl cut in, sounding interested. "Go on."

Auron was silent for a minute, his eye darting around as though looking for a suitable question to appear in front of him. It had to be a difficult question. A question that an impersonator who researched the boy could not know. It had to be a personal experience. It had to have meaning to him. And it had to be something that only the real Tidus would know.

"What did Yuna teach Tidus to do on the pilgrimage in Luca?"

Of all the questions Auron could have asked, this was one Tidus did not expect. It was so unexpected and random that Tidus suddenly drew a blank. Luca. He couldn't remember a thing about the city, other than the Blitzball game. He certainly couldn't remember an instance where Yuna taught him anything. There was silence. He racked his memory, trying his hardest to remember the answer to Auron's question. A minute passed, maybe two. Tidus didn't know. His mind was blank, casting in the murky waters of his thoughts, trying to find that one solution.

"We're wasting time, Auron," the girl said impatiently. "We place him under arrest, right now. Tidus, you have the right–"

"She taught me how to laugh," Tidus suddenly said. He seemed to have fallen into a sort of trance, as if he was dreaming. "She told me something. She said, 'I want my journey to be full of laughter.' We laughed for what seemed like hours. I remember feeling really happy and free-spirited. And then I remember how my face turned red when I saw you, Lulu and the others watching me." He stopped, and looked at Auron. His facial expression had not changed, though his eye twitched. He continued. "I remember feeling like there was nothing to stop me from laughing. Even if it was fake, my heart was telling me that the underlying feelings were real. If . . . only for a moment. I could see joy radiating from Yuna's eyes too, like she was a little kid. It was then that I knew we both didn't care who was watching. We just . . . laughed it off."

Auron continued to stare. The girl stood frozen in the middle of getting up off the couch. Slowly she sat back down again as Auron reached out his hand to halt the girl. Slowly Auron rose and walked over to where Tidus sat. He looked at Tidus's face again. Tidus had, by now, snapped out of his reverie, and was he was looking up at Auron with apprehension. Auron gripped Tidus's shoulder and lifted him from the couch.

Then, he held out his right hand.

Tidus sighed with relief and shook Auron's hand with as much gusto as was appropriate. When he was finished, he looked over at the girl, who was still sitting on the couch, nodding. Then, she rose and held out her right hand as well. Tidus, certainly not one to hold a grudge, shook it obligingly.

"Let him go, Paine," Auron said. "This is my old friend. Let him go right now."

Paine nodded and released her hand from Tidus's. "Welcome back."

"Jeez, you guys didn't have to be so rough!" Tidus protested, sitting back down again.

"Yes we did," Paine interjected. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. The name's Paine."

"Tidus, from Zanarkand," Tidus replied, nodding.

"So you told me," Paine said.

"Will somebody please tell me what's going on?" Tidus said, throwing up his hands. "Why all the scare tactics?"

Auron sighed, and spoke. "This may be difficult for you to understand at first . . ." he started. "But through time, you'll see what we mean."

"What?" Tidus persisted.

"We live in a different world now, Tidus," Auron replied. "The Church is gone, and with it Spira's only form of government. Action had to be taken before renegades seized control of Spira's financial and military assets. So, a new government has been created in Yevon's stead, with Yuna as its president."

"Plenty of people are going to want to take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty," Paine cut in, "and we don't want that to happen. We thought you might have been one of those people."

"Sounds like paranoia to me," Tidus said, slightly amazed.

"Call it what you want," Paine said curtly. "The measures we take are completely necessary. Perhaps, someday, you'll understand."

"Yuna will be able to fill you in with all the finer details about the system," Auron said. "Right now, she should be outlining her plan for the reconstruction of New Bhed and Zanarkand."

"What!" Tidus shouted, half in shock, half in excitement. "Yuna plans to rebuild Zanarkand? After more than a thousand years with the city in ruins?"

"Only if the two Circles of Representatives passes it," Paine said.

"Two Circles? I only saw the One," Tidus remarked, thinking.

"Each city has one primary delegate," Paine explained. "Most have secondary delegates, the exceptions being Zanarkand, Luca and Guadosalam. The primary delegates make up the first Circle of Representatives, as one vote, and the secondary delegates make up the second Circle of Representatives as one vote. Then Yuna, as President, casts one vote. This creates a three-point system, with Yuna, the First Circle, and the Second Circle's votes each equaling one. . . . It's rather complicated. As Auron said, Yuna could explain it better than either of us could. I'm not a Representative, as it is."

"Who are you, then, if you're not a Representative?" Tidus inquired, slightly haughtily.

"I'm the head of security," Paine said shortly, nodding curtly. "She picked me because I was efficient."

"I'll say," Tidus agreed, scratching the pinprick made by Paine's sword earlier.

"Your turn," Auron said shortly. "We gave you our explanation. Let's hear yours."

For the next ten minutes, Tidus explained his story. The fact that he and Bahamut were conversing in an unknown place (both Paine and Auron agreed with Tidus's speculations that this was the Farplane), and had begun negotiations for his life. He explained how Bahamut made him prove that he was worthy to bring back. Recalling the way he felt, he delved into his emotions, frustrations, and desires as he had explained to the Fayth. Both Auron and Paine listened, motionless, neither nodding nor asking questions. There was silence for a minute when Tidus finished recalling everything.

"I suppose this is a day of wide and sweeping change," Auron said at last. "It is hard for me to believe. But there's no explanation for why you're here, so that must be the accepted truth."

"I want to go see Yuna," Tidus said, almost whined. "I haven't seen her in such a long time."

"Certainly, eight days is too long," Paine said dryly. Tidus scowled.

"The ceremony is probably complete," Auron said. "Even though you're not a delegate yet, since Yuna nor the Table has voted to accept you . . . I think it's acceptable for you to be present in the Conference Hall. Paine?" He turned to her.

"Sure, whatever," Paine said dismissively, looking away.

Tidus didn't wait for an answer. He walked to the door and exited, retracing his steps down

the hallway that Auron had previously escorted him. The hallway seemed much more festive and inviting on this go-around. He could hear the padded footsteps of Auron and Paine, who were following wordlessly about fifteen feet behind him. Clapping sounded in front of him. In another minute or so, Tidus reached the hand-carved wooden door that led into the central chamber. He reached his hand for the doorknob, but before he could turn it, it swung open violently, almost hitting him in the head.

Yuna stood there, in all her beautiful glory. The blue and white dress flowed over her thin

frame like a gentle stream, swaying with the effect of her sudden movement. Her soft face had a look of shock etched into it, as though she was not expecting Tidus to be standing there. Almost instantly, however, her shock melted into a soft smile. It was not a grin; it didn't have to be. The eyes told the story. Disbelief, happiness, hope. She looked at Paine, who did nothing for a few seconds. Slowly, though, she nodded her head.

Everybody who was watching was expecting Yuna to cry with joy and leap into Tidus's arms,

showering him with fiery and passionate kisses as was cliche with lovers who had been apart from each other for too long. This was not the case, however. The emotions that Yuna and Tidus felt were well beyond words and actions. Only expressions could carry the weight. After Yuna stood motionless for what had to be at least a minute, she slowly snaked her arms around Tidus's neck and linked her hands behind it.

They kissed; not hard, not noisily, and with no displayed feelings of pent-up passion. It was a hesitant kiss, an uncertain yet hopeful kiss with feelings of predetermined joy and ecstasy lying underneath the skepticism. The delicacy with which they kissed each other was a moment engraved into anybody's mind who was present, kisser or witness. It conveyed emotions not known to even Tidus or Yuna. They only knew that this was the only way to understand the grief of being apart for the time that they were, even though it was a rather short period.

"Tidus . . . is it really you?" Yuna finally whispered, after breaking the kiss and resting her head gently against Tidus's.

"Yeah, it is," he said equally quietly. "You don't have to be alone anymore Yuna. I'm here. I always was here."

"I guess . . . I guess you were," Yuna said.

They kissed again. They didn't even hear the clapping in the background.

> > > > >

The hours passed, but the people of Bevelle paid no mind to the passing of time as they celebrated the New Age. Fireworks were lit in such numbers that Cid was forced to delay their flight back to Besaid for tomorrow morning. Loud music was played all over the city. Lights were flashing, and there were people singing, dancing and shouting in celebration. City guards were dispatched to keep an eye on the party animals to make sure that nobody got out of hand.

Not everybody celebrates with music and fireworks, however.

On a small public beach on the outskirts of Bevelle, two young people strolled along the shoreline, hands lightly intertwined. They had tread the same path down the sands several times, and were wearing a rut into the beach. The moon was almost full, its light reflecting off the ocean and the ground, lighting up the beach as though there was a light source underground. Shallow waves cascaded forward, the foamy water tickling their bare feet as they slowly padded across the white sands.

Their words blended in with the sounds of the ocean, producing a soothing and melodious tone. They had been talking for the last two hours, and by now had just about tapped their wells of conversation to its parch point. It didn't matter though. Their joy had been overly contained at the Central Chamber, but here, where there were no cameras, no reporters, and no delegates, they were uninhibited. Dancing, shouting, screaming, laughing, crying, talking, hollering, kissing, nobody saw it. But it meant the world to Tidus and Yuna.

"I . . . don't know if now is the right time to say this but . . . I didn't know what to do after you were gone," Yuna said quietly.

Tidus looked at her, shocked at this abrupt change in tone and atmosphere. "Huh?" He questioned, tilting his head quizzically.

"The memory of you . . . the memories of the times we had together were miraculous, and yet . . . the memories themselves haunted me, kind of . . . at the same time, you know? I wrestled with your death every waking minute of every hour, trying to bury the past out there with the remnants of Sin, in order to let you go. But unlike Sin, you couldn't be driven away. It's a lesson I learned at some great cost– physical giants are much easier to vanquish than those that cause turmoil within the heart. I wasted away until the memories I shared of you became poison in my veins. And at one point, I found myself wishing that . . . you had never existed." Yuna bowed her head that this point. "Is . . . is that so wrong?"

Tidus was silent a minute, letting Yuna's words sink into his mind. "I guess I can see that," he said slowly. "But you don't have to feel guilty. It was nothing that you did. It's not like you never wanted to see me again, right?" Yuna shook her head. "Yeah. Well . . . don't worry about the past. We're here, now." They stopped, and Tidus rested his hands on Yuna's shoulders, drawing her close. "Let's enjoy this time together."

They stopped walking, the first time they did so in over two hours. Yuna was now dressed in a simple shirt and skirt, and they lay down together on the sandy beach. Tidus wore his usual getup, except his necklace was absent from around his neck. Instead, it hung around Yuna's. The stars that were visible through the glow of the moon studied the two carefully. They would wink occasionally, pleased with what they saw, perhaps.

Tidus and Yuna stopped treading the beach and sat down, facing the waters. "Look at this ocean," Yuna said dreamily. "You want to know what it reminds me of?"

Tidus gazed into Yuna's bicolored eyes. "Hm?"

"The future," she replied. "You and I sit on this shore and gaze out into its infinite depths, where we cannot see across to its other side. And when we sail the sea, sometimes we get blown off course." She paused. "It . . . reminds me of how we can't plan too far off into the future, because we don't know when we'll get detoured. When life will throw us something new and our direction in life just . . . might be totally changed."

"And since we can't see across to the other side, what we don't see is a total mystery," Tidus said, picking up on her train of thought. "We can only see what we can see, just as we can only plan for the immediate future. It's all we can grasp, all we can know. And at the same time, it makes life . . . fun. In Zanarkand, I remember . . . I was a star player on a really good sports team. My father hated everything I did. You can imagine how . . . much I wanted to be as good a player as he did, and since I wanted it, he did everything he could to prevent me from being good."

"That's why he ridiculed and belittled you as he did," Yuna said, resting her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his neck. "I'm so sorry."

"I know . . . me too," Tidus said. "Everyone always said I was so fortunate to have that talent, but nobody but Auron knew how I got there, and what was sacrificed along the way. All I had was a blitzball and a fan club. Money never mattered to me, what happiness could it bring me that I don't already have?" Yuna smiled. "To make a long story short . . . I guess I was just emphasizing your point. I could have never known how famous I would be. Look at me now . . . I thought I was going to go back home on the pilgrimage. I thought . . . I thought I was real. Just as you said, we can never see too far into the distance, or plot too great a course on the sea of life."

"You are real," Yuna said earnestly. "The Fayth brought you back."

"Yeah, he did," Tidus sighed. "Didn't count on that one either. But hey, I'm not complaining," he sighed. Then, he grinned. "So, Madame President . . ."

Yuna blushed, laughing. "Only in the Chamber, Tidus," she laughed. "And only in the Chamber do I call you Ambassador to Zanarkand."

"What was my vote count?" he asked, referring to the vote that swore him in as the secondary ambassador to Zanarkand.

"It doesn't matter," Yuna said with a pat on Tidus's shoulder. "And this is where I'm going to look far into the Spiran future."

"How so?" Tidus asked.

"While I am president, I'm going to unite our people," Yuna said. "The Al Bhed and the Guado and everyone in between. We will rebuild Home, and we will rebuild Zanarkand."

Tidus's eyebrows rose. "Rebuild Zanarkand? Wow . . . and disturb a Holy Site visited by only the worthy for hundreds of years? That's gonna raise a lot of eyebrows," he said.

"It will," Yuna agreed. "But the old ways of Yevon didn't work, now did they? Humanity is always doomed to make massive and catastrophic mistakes. However, it is also destined to learn from them. We will rebuild Zanarkand and use Machina, but not to the extremes of the old days."

"It sounds like you've got this all planned out," Tidus said, nodding.

They were silent for a moment, going over the conversation they had just had. It was an ambitious plan. Yuna knew that this government was skeletal at best; full of flaws, weaknesses and loopholes. However, considering the very little span of time with which the people had to create a system of government, it was actually rather impressive. The rest would have to be discovered and modified as the days and months progressed. Learning through experience, she was told, was the only way to modify mistakes in this situation. It would draw public outcry, for sure. But that was one of the downsides of being President.

"You know, Auron asked me a really interesting question when he was questioning me," Tidus said.

"Really?" Yuna said, tossing her head and grinning at Tidus. "And what was that?" she playfully inquired.

Tidus smiled before continuing. "He wanted me to remember our laughing exercise in Luca," he replied. "It took me a minute, but I could remember everything. The birds, the balmy winds, your scent, the way I felt stupid, yet happy at the same time . . . I couldn't put it into words," he finished. "It convinced Auron that I was me, that's for sure."

Yuna laughed. "Often, I find myself thinking that the best memories of my life are the ones I can't describe to anyone else," Yuna remarked, staring at the night sky. "It was as if life meant for them to only be fully understood by me. Don't you think . . . that that's possible?"

"Yeah," Tidus agreed. There was silence for a minute or so before Tidus spoke up again. "I can't wait to be watching the stars with you if– no, when we settle in Zanarkand," he said. "Isn't it ironic?" he said, chuckling. "All this time, I said I was going to go back and show you my Zanarkand. But, you're going to show me yours."

"I am," Yuna said, smiling. "You'll love it. You can help me build it. Just like you remember!"

"Just like I remember!" Tidus shouted, getting excited. "The roads, the Blitzball stadium, the houses, the docks, everything!"

By this time, both were laughing hysterically on the beach. It sounded so ridiculous when each said it, but underneath, they knew that it was true. Both meant what they said. Tidus wanted Zanarkand to be built just like he remembered. The nostalgia was creeping up in him again, despite how happy he was on Spira. He would enjoy seeing a touch of his old world on Spira.

Yuna shook her head. "I know that it's much easier said than done," she replied. "The risks and steps involved would take too long to name. But . . . we'll get through it. Auron said it best on Sin, didn't he?"

"Uh . . . refresh my memory," Tidus said apologetically.

Yuna giggled and kissed the tip of his nose before responding.

"This is our world now."

> > > > > > > > > >

How about that? No cliffhanger this time!

Anyway, I sincerely hope that you enjoyed it once again. I'll see you sometime in the near-future with chapter seven, once I get a better idea of where I want this story to go. Drop me a review please! They're always appreciated. Until the next time, I'll see you around.