Home. It's a nice word for here. Uncomplicated. Bevelle, Luca, Besaid, Zanarkand: those are names that imply a history, something specific. Thousands of years of history that anyone with just a little schooling can recite to you if you ask. I'm sure there are histories like that for the names Bikanel and Sanobia, too, but I prefer to just think of here as Home.
Because it is home. My home, with her. My sand-sprite, my savior, my home: Rikku.
A smile touches my lips as I think of her, and I must have paused in my work, because after a moment Brother gives me a friendly shove. "Kad dryd kneh uvv ouin vyla, yht cdub drehgehk uv so cecdan," he says feigning disgust. Get that grin off your face, and stop thinking of my sister. Okay, and I'll get the sun to stop shining, too. I adjust my Al Bhed goggles on my face and resume digging.
I did not expect to be here. Actually, I did not expect to "be" at all. I was told I wouldn't anymore, once the Fayth stopped dreaming. They were dreaming of me. Of me and my Zanarkand — the one from a thousand years ago, not the one that's a pile of rubble filled with pyreflies. They told me they were tired of dreaming, and asked me to help them stop. So I did, even though it should have meant my "demise". But I guess a dream can't die after all, not if someone keeps it alive.
Brother puts a hand on my shoulder and I stop again. We're on the last day of a deep salvage, and it's a good idea to pace yourself, since you never know when you'll need to turn your attention and energy to fighting off a fiend or two. Brother and I have dug a nice trench while Berrik keeps a watchful eye out in the buggy, guiding us from time to time with the sonar unit. I lean back against the sandy wall and pull a bottle from my belt, then let the warm water within moisten my tongue. Better than nothing, and you get used to it after a while. "Crufan duhekrd, ar Brother?" Shower tonight, eh Brother?
"Ed'c ypuid desa!" he replies, in his usual boisterous way. It's about time!
I can't agree more. Nearly a week out here in the desert is much too long. No more sleeping on a padded mat under a canvas tent and shaking out your boots for scorpions in the morning. I look over towards the buggy and the flatbed behind it, covered with recovered machina. It's a good haul, and Cid will be pleased, but it's too long to be away.
Away from her.
I certainly didn't expect the one I woke up to to be Rikku. Now I can't imagine waking up to anyone else.
The last thing I remember after leaping off the ship was swimming. I've been doing that my entire life, I think. So it's strange that I've taken to the desert so well, I guess. I swam through the crystal blue water, and things became lighter and lighter and it felt like things were just fading away. Like when you wake from a dream. Except I was the dream, of course, that Spira was waking up from. And my old man was the nightmare. Guess that makes sense, at least to me. Of course, Spira thought of him as "Sir Jecht". Figures. For some reason I don't think anyone would call me "Sir Tidus" if I left Home and went traveling back to those other places I visited, back in my past life. My second life.
So Spira awoke, and I guess I dreamed. Didn't seem like very long — or maybe it seemed like forever, it's tough to know in dreams, after all — but she tells me it was five years. I joke that it makes her my "old" lady, since now I'm apparently younger than she is. She calls me a meanie, and I smile.
Five years. A long time. In the old days it would have been halfway between re-appearances of Sin. But turns out our big plan worked. We brought not just the Calm, but the Eternal Calm. So five years isn't just the time to pause and think that you're halfway back to disaster anymore. It's just five years.
But it's still a long time. Time enough for Wakka and Lulu to have not just one but two kids. Time for Kimahri to become leader of the Ronso and bring them back from the brink of extinction to the beginnings of prosperity.
Time for Yuna to become a sphere hunter to look for me, have some fun, save the world again... and then move on. Become a leader in something called New Yevon. Bigger, brighter, new and improved.
And marry some guy named Baralai.
Funny thing is, I'm happy for her. Okay, maybe it's not funny... funny strange I mean. After all, this is what I wanted for her. For all the meaningless death to end, both of all Spirans and of the Summoners in particular. The spiral of death, finally done. For Yuna to have a life, not a death. So I'm happy for her.
Happy for me too.
My shovel strikes metal, and I sigh in relief. "Brother, ujan rana," I call, and he makes his way back from the buggy where he was arguing with Berrik. Over here. He rubs a hand across his mohawk and then leaps down into the trench. I squat down and search with my fingers for an edge. Sonar said this was a probably a power supply, and we can always use those at Home. But my fingers find a cable off one end, and when I follow it it leads to a blocky contraption with a recess on one end. I lift a puzzled brow at Brother and he examines it with me.
"Y cbrana bnuzaldun," he grunts. A sphere projector. "Bufan cibbmo ec ehdyld," he informs me. Power supply is intact. A good find for the last stop. He disconnects the cable and I help him muscle the power unit out of the trench while Berrik scrambles to make room for it on the flatbed.
After it's aboard, I turn around just to get hit in the face with a splash of water from Brother's stash. I should have expected it; he's been doing that to me at the end of every dig since I came aboard, and will continue until we bring a newer guy onto the team, when I'll get to do it to them. Brother leans his head back and laughs, like always. I sigh and shrug. Warm or not, it's still soothing, and the fact that he can waste a little is a statement that our salvage is over. He climbs into the buggy.
I hesitate for a moment. "Lyh E pnehk dra cbrana bnuzaldun?" I ask. "E drehg Rikku fuimt mega ed." Can I bring the sphere projector? I think Rikku would like it.
Even through the goggles I can tell he's rolling his eyes. "Oui'na tekkehk ed uid!" he says. I knew that was coming... I have to dig it out myself. But I don't mind. I even get a bonus, as right underneath the projector I find a case full of spheres. I hope they're still good. Rikku loves this stuff.
I guess it's somewhat fitting that the person I woke up to was the first person I ever met in Spira. Not counting Auron, of course, since he was actually dead. But the first real, live person I met... well, ever... is the one I end up loving like, in a forever way.
I don't know why I didn't see it before. I did, a little, when the Al Bhed first rescued me, and she was the only one I could talk to. But I was definitely not in a place to really notice that kind of thing. Then I got knocked off the ship, ended up in Besaid, and got caught up in Yuna's pilgrimage.
And in Yuna.
Don't get me wrong, I loved Yuna, really and truly. I can't say it didn't hurt to find out that in a blink of an eye she'd gotten over me. Yeah, I know, five years and all, but to me it was no time at all. Literally. But coming back, coming here, with time to think, time not spent fighting for my life and the lives of my friends, I've gotten some perspective. Life in Home is not easy, by any means, but it's life, not a journey, not a pilgrimage, not a mile-a-minute race to some monumental and deadly finish line.
And for that, I don't think I could be happier than I am with Rikku.
Yuna is a Great Summoner. The daughter of a Great Summoner. All of Spira looks to her for guidance, and that's what she's lived her life for. Me, I'm the son of a Great Blitzball player. He may have thought he was something big and important, but it was only blitzball. He was more important as a Guardian, except for that whole ending up as a planet-wide mass murderer thing.
I suppose that if — or maybe when — I get back into blitz, I might have a bit of celebrity, but that's nothing like what Yuna's living her life for. Might she be happy with me by her side? Maybe. But would I? And I don't mean that to sound selfish. It's just, what do I have to contribute to her life, or her mission, exactly? This Baralai character, though I'd like to meet him, this is what his life is about too. I think I'd be miserable out of sheer frustration, not being able to help Yuna, and that couldn't be good for her.
It's better this way.
The blazing desert sun was halfway to the horizon when the buggy crossed the last dunes blocking the open Bikanel from Home. It was much closer by the time we and a few helpers had finished unloading the flatbed. Dugget, the salvage-master on duty, set to cataloging our finds. Berrik and I each had rights to keep one item ourselves as team members, and I took the sphere projector. As leader, Brother had rights to two, and in trade for a week's worth of blitz lessons he snagged the box of spheres for me, though Dugget gave him a hard time over it, given how valuable they might be. Despite his gruff nature, Brother is a softy when it comes to his sister's happiness.
With the projector tucked under one arm and the sphere case in my other, I walk through the halls of the rebuilt Home. After the endless sun of the salvage, just being in the shadowed corridors is soothing. My fellow Al Bhed nod greetings to me as I pass; yeah, they pretty much consider me Al Bhed now, blue eyes and all. Which is comforting, because I've had enough of being an outsider in Spira. I wear the traditional Al Bhed clothing these days, if for no other reason than they are made for the desert, and my old clothes weren't. Right now I only want them off, though, as both they and I are getting pretty ripe after that long away.
For a few minutes after I reach my smallish room I tinker with the projector after setting it on my coffee table. My years in Zanarkand give me a leg up on the typical Spiran when it comes to machina, as I grew up with stuff like this around all the time. Though my mind was usually on blitz practice in school, I had some passing mechanical abilities. I decide it's going to take a little bit more than just tinkering, however, as this unit has been in the sand for quite a while. I strip off my clothes and head for that long awaited shower.
I can hold my breath a long time. That goes without saying for a blitz player, I guess. The first real skill you need to master in blitz is suppressing that impulse to breathe. But as I swam up into the light, with the world fading away around me, and my heart breaking, I had the deepest urge to just stop, open my mouth, and let it end. No reason at all to think that; I was already, in essence, dying.
Then I thought of Rikku.
When I was Yuna's Guardian, everyone had just accepted her death. We were pall bearers, early for the funeral. Protecting the Summoner only so she wouldn't die too soon, but there to guarantee her death nonetheless.
Everyone but Rikku. The tiny blonde Al Bhed joined from a desperate desire to keep her cousin alive, either by talking her out of the Pilgrimage, or by changing the rules so Yuna didn't die from it. She was willing to sacrifice her own life to keep Yuna alive. When I finally realized, after far too long, just what awaited Summoners in Zanarkand, and how callous I must have sounded to Yuna all the while, I was pretty devastated. And it was Rikku that saved me. She gave me hope, just as Yuna was giving all of Spira hope. Her will was what I clung to as we continued the Pilgrimage, what I believed in when we attacked Sin and defeated it for good.
It was the second time Rikku had saved me, after that time in the abandoned temple when I first arrived in Spira. The rest of the Al Bhed — even Brother, now my best friend — had considered me a fiend. Little wonder, with how most Spirans regarded the Al Bhed. But Rikku saw me as a man. Treated me like someone worth knowing. Even with all the rest I fell into in Besaid, with Wakka, Lulu, Kimahri, Auron, and Yuna, all that time I missed Rikku, regretted being unable to thank her for rescuing me.
And then she was just there. A little blonde miracle in a wetsuit on the shores of the Moonflow. Yuna's cousin, of all things! There when I needed her, again.
She's always been that.
So when I was floating, despairing, fading in the water, and thoughts of Rikku brought me back, why should I be surprised that when I saw surface above me, swam up and broke through, she'd be there for me again? Waiting. For me.
The water feels good, as it always does. In most places, hot water is the luxury; in Home it's cold water. A nice cool shower is just what I needed to refresh me as I soap off the sand and sweat. It'll be a few days before I need to work again; you get a break after deep salvage. Then I think I'll be on a build crew for the new wing of Home Cid designed when the Al Bhed rebuilt a couple of years ago. We don't need to live in the desert anymore, really, since the Al Bhed's situation has improved in Spira since the Eternal Calm began, but it's where we've gotten used to. Gippal and the Machine Faction are more interspersed, helping bring the wonders of machina back to the old followers of Yevon, but most of us still live here.
I don't mind at all. Here is where she is.
I hear a sound back in my cabin as I turn off the water. I barely take the time to dry off properly before half-stumbling back out into the main room. Smooth, Tidus. She looks up from where she is examining the projector — I knew I should have locked the door, but she probably would have just picked it — and giggles at me.
"Is that your new desert-wear? Might be a little trouble in a sandstorm."
I look down at the towel hanging crookedly around my waist. "Oh, uhm..." I try to straighten the garment while maintaining my modesty. "Hey, with what you're wearing this is positively formal," I indicate her usual yellow bikini top and barely-there skirt.
"I always keep a dress-sphere handy for special occasions," Rikku answers.
"Well, uhm, let me just grab some clothes," I mumble, and pull open a drawer to the cabinet near my bed. "I thought I'd have time to clean up before you landed on me."
"But I heard you were back from Nimrook, and I couldn't wait!" she tells me as I slip back into bathroom and pull shut the door. "You've been gone a week!"
I pull on the pair of pants and shirt I grabbed, which don't exactly match but will have to do. "Really? Has it been a week? Didn't seem that long," I lie with a grin.
Her 'harumph' is audible from just beyond the entrance. "You know, you haven't even said hi to me yet, you big meanie!"
Finally dressed, I open the door and step through to where she stands, hands on slender hips. I put my hands on her shoulders and look down into those spiraled green eyes I dream of every night. Her tongue wets her lips in anticipation. "Hi," I tell her, "I missed you. It's good to be back." I dip my head and our lips come together.
Her mouth is as sweet as the first time we kissed.
She sighs as we pull apart. "I missed you too. What did you bring me?" she grins, and turns back to the device on the table.
I raise my eyebrows at her. "Nothing. That's just some junk I found. I need to fix it for the salvage collection."
Rikku swats at me and I duck back. "No presents? Darnit!" She looks the device over again. "What is it?"
I squat down on my heels by the table. "Brother said it's a sphere projector. But I can't get it working."
Taking that as a challenge immediately, she kneels down and starts fiddling with it, and after a second her thumbs have found a hidden latch and a panel pops open. I look at her. "What'cha think?"
Her hands are busily working. "What's a sphere projector?"
I don't know if she's kidding or not, since she's already pulling and replugging wires like a mad scientist. "I think it's like that thing that Seymour Guado had—"
"Oh!" she exclaims. "The one that put us inside the sphere?"
"That's what I'm guessing," I reply. She's getting sand all over my floor, but that's nothing new. "It had an external power—"
Before I finish, she starts disassembling my desk lamp.
"I hope the current phase is the same," she says. "This thing looks old!" She fits the power cable to where Brother detached the previous one. "Here goes nothing!" she says, and flips something on the box. I half-expect it to explode, but instead it hums to life without incident.
"Huh," is all I say.
Rikku stands and turns to me expectantly. "Do you have any spheres?"
I lean down and pull the box I found with the projector from beneath the table where I shoved it earlier, on my way into the cabin. "As a matter of fact..."
"Whoa!" she exclaims, and pulls the box over to her. "Where did these come from?"
"From our salvage. They were with the projector."
Eyes wide, she picks up one and then another. "These look ancient!"
"Maybe as old as you, old lady," I grin.
"Meanie!" she swats me again. "Maybe as old as you, Zanarkand boy."
"Let's see," I reply, and move to sit on the bed. "Put one in."
Rikku picks a sphere from the box and, holding her breath, sets it into the recess. She leaps to her feet as the room is filled with white light. It turns to static, and then fades almost to black, but not quite. It's night, in Zanarkand.
My heart almost stops when I recognize the buildings of my city. Just as it was in the home of Seymour. Well, maybe not quite as clear, but there is no mistaking Zanarkand.
"This is so neat!" Rikku exclaims, flopping down beside me on the bed.
"It's in pretty good shape," I reply.
She senses something in my voice and looks over at me. Looking back at the scene, she cocks her head and it hits her. "Is this... where you came from?"
My eyes fixed on the view all around us, I feel her fingers wrap around my arm, and I pull her close. "It looks like an old news sphere."
The image pans across the city. "Can you see your house?"
I laugh. "Well, I don't know if this is from a time my house was built, but it would be over..." I point, "there."
"That one on the water?" she asks.
"Hey, what d'ya know. It is there."
"Wow!" my girl says. "That's really wild." She looks around, and I watch her face, absorbing, surveying, wonder in her eyes. "This projector is so cool."
"It's for you."
Rikku gets that sparkling, childlike glee in her face that I love so much. "R-Really? Oh, Tidus... thank you thankyouthankyou!" She thows her arms around my neck and practically leaps into my lap where I sit. She covers my face with kisses and I try to hold my balance under the assault but can't, and fall backwards on the bed, my little sprite astride me.
I put my hands on either side of her face as her flaxen locks fall about me. "You didn't really think I wouldn't bring you something, did you?"
"Maybe. Meanie." She giggles and I pull her down to kiss her.
There is a burst of static and a scratchy soundtrack to the sphere finally kicks in, but it's low and indistinct and easy to ignore when I have Rikku on my lips. Then I hear the announcer mention "A-East" and my ears perk up.
"Wait," I reluctantly pull away from Rikku to look up at the projection, "is this a blitz broadcast?"
Sure enough, the camera has finally panned enough to bring the stadium into view. I can hear the sounds of the crowd within.
Rikku points out the flashing marquee out front: Semi-final match: Abes vs. Argents
"Wow, I wonder what year this is," I ponder. "Maybe my old man was playing."
She pokes my ribs teasingly. "Maybe you were playing. That's your team too, right?"
I nod, but don't reply. A sight incredibly familiar and deeply nostalgic has appeared: the inside out growing of the Blitz sphere, the giant floating raindrop the teams will soon be playing in. I can almost feel the water on my skin.
The water had gone from light and brightening to dark and sparkling in only a moment as I headed to the surface. It took about the same time to recognize the place as I broke free to fresh air: the sparkles were pyreflies, the darkness the shadows of countless trees, one vast and overhanging and surrounded by the pool I had surfaced in. A clearing in the Macalania forest. How I got there from where I'd jumped into the water, I hadn't a clue.
But as I turned from the tree and looked around, I got an idea. Standing there, waist deep in the water, was Rikku, looking more beautiful than I'd ever seen her before. She held an old sphere in her hands, and as I swam towards her and stood up, I could see what looked like tears on her cheeks.
"I was just thinking of you," I said.
"I knew you would come," she said back.
I cocked my head. "You did?"
"I told Paine you weren't dead. I told her you were just waiting for someone to start dreaming of you again."
"Who's Paine?" I asked.
"Long story," she replied.
"You'll have to tell me about it."
She slipped the sphere into a pouch, and moved closer to me. "I'd be happy to." Rikku lifted her hands tentatively, then touched my face. "You're really real."
I lifted my own hands to touch hers. "Real as ever. Whatever that means," I smiled.
She half-laughed. "Real enough." Her thumbs ran along my cheekbones, and as unusual as such an intimate touch was from the Al Bhed girl, I didn't mind. "So you were thinking of me?" she asked.
I nodded. "I think you saved my life."
"You'll have to tell me about it," she smiled. She leaned up and kissed my cheek, and as she started to pull away, I resisted, and instead on impulse I moved my lips over her own, and pressed them to hers. I only intended a quick peck, a chaste kiss of friendship, but suddenly I couldn't pull away. I hadn't realized how long I had wanted to do this. Guilt and confusion flooded my mind, but her mouth was so sweet, her kiss so willing, even eager. We finally broke apart, breathless.
"Tidus, I'm so sorry!" she blushed, and turned away, ripples from her movement spreading outward in the pool. "It's just... I've been searching for you for so long..."
So many things went through my head. How long did she mean? She said "I"; wasn't Yuna searching for me? And mostly, just what was I feeling for Rikku, and how long had I been hiding it from myself?
"No, Rikku, I did that," I explained, and wrapped my arms around her from behind. My chin in her mane of soft hair, I watched the ripples turn to waves as they reached the shore. "And I wanted to."
She tilted her head to look at me. "You did?"
"I guess we have some things to figure out," I nodded, "both of us." I knew something monumental had happened, was happening, would happen. "We'll figure 'em out together."
She turned around to face me, still inside my arms. "So this is our story?" she asked.
I smiled softly at her, suddenly lost in those green eyes. "I guess it is."
I'm mesmerized as I watched the teams file out of the locker rooms. One after another I recognize my teammates, until finally there I am, projected into the air, the star player of the Zanarkand Abes. A little static-y after a millennium, but there, big as life.
"Wow," Rikku exclaims, "that is you!"
"I know," I respond, "what are the odds?"
She watches as my Abes wave to the crowds. "Oh, I don't know. I bet they sold spheres of blitzball all the time, like they do now, and especially the semi-finals of a championship playoff, you know Brother has the entire collection of championship tournaments in Luca going back to before the Sin that Lord Braska defeated although it's kinda boring since the Luca Goers won so many in a row but it was neat when the Aurochs won that one when you came, you know? Anyway, I don't think it's too odd, but just a little, since that you've been hidden in the desert for a long time just to have you uncover, uhm, yourself, now."
I don't think she took a breath in there. Is it wrong that I find that adorable?
We watch the match in silence for a little bit. Then she says, "I feel like I should have a hot dog or something," and I have to laugh. She's kicked off her boots and is sitting on the bed, legs folded beneath her. "Man, that was a great shot! You really were a great blitz player."
"What, you thought I was lying?" I raise an eyebrow at her.
"No, no! It's just there's a difference hearing about it and seeing it in action."
I look at the game once more. "There's a difference between watching and playing it, too."
She must have heard something in my voice, because she slides over to me and runs her fingers along my arm. "Do you miss it?" she asks, "playing blitzball?"
"Yeah," I reply, not looking at her. "But we've had this discussion before."
"No, you've had this discussion before," Rikku chides me a little. "Yes, if you started playing in the league, you'd get recognized, and yes, you'd run into players you knew, and yes, word would get back to Wakka and Lulu and Kimahri," she tactfully leaves a name out, "but I don't think that's a bad thing now. I miss my friends, Tidus, and I hate lying when I see them about something I'm so happy about!"
Hidden in the desert. Yep, that sounds familiar now that I think about it. That's what I've been. What I am.
I lay back on the bed and pull her down to me. "Happy, huh?"
She giggles as I hold her tightly. "Very. Aren't you?"
Suddenly the room around us is filled with explosions of color. Rikku rolls off me and sits up on the bed, eyes wide. Fireworks illuminate the night above the stadium. It's part of the halftime show, which I missed at the time. This game was a squeaker, and I was recouping in the locker room. At the time I'd wished I could see it, but now I'm content to simply watch it wash across Rikku's delighted face.
"Very happy," I tell her, my voice inaudible among the static-filled booms.
"Wow!" she exclaims. "Isn't it wonderful, Tidus?"
Wonderful indeed, I think.
She's right. I suppose it's time to venture out, remeet the world, remeet my friends. They're my friends; they'll understand how things have turned out. I've been more worried about Rikku's relationship with Yuna, but Yuna's married now. And they're family. I know a little from that.
So tomorrow I'll start showing Brother some blitz pointers, and drop word to Nimrook that I might want to try out for the Psyches. He's been bugging me on and off for the entire two years I've been back. But that's tomorrow.
I sit up and scoot over behind my girl, and slip my arms around her waist. She puts her arms over mine as I rest my chin on her shoulder, kissing her neck just once to hear her giggle.
Yep, I'm happy all right. It's at moments like these that I can't imagine my life any other way.
Because I'm home.