Set post-game. Spoilers. Related to Lucid Gods. According to AIDA international, the men's record for Static Apnea is 8'58" but Dynamic Apnea (without fins) is only 175m.
Tidus didn't come back quite right. The day they found out he couldn't even hold his breath for the length of a blitzball game--for-ever, as Tidus had put it, rolling his eyes--was also the day Wakka dug up the old hourglass he stubbornly kept around. The battered timepiece had a long scratch across the glass, double-bellied, and was stamped with a dolphin pattern around the brim. The crafter's mark on the brass-caps pointed to an artisan in Kilika. It was a legacy from a father he'd never known, and Wakka put faith in it much the same way, trusting its calibrations to be exact. Or close enough.
Yuna watched the dolphins jump each time Wakka flipped the hourglass over. Her toes were buried deep in the warm sands, arms folded around her skirted legs, and the ocean breeze kept showing candy-flashes of her thighs. Wakka kept declaring the glass's accuracy to be far superior over machina timepieces; Tidus argued the matter fiercely, snorting salt-water out of his nose. It was impossible for those numbers to be true. He'd arrived in Spira the first time intact, so why would there be a difference now?
But the verdict was a cold sixty seconds, tops. Most of Tidus's attempts averaged at scarcely forty, no matter what clock they used. The hourglass cycled; the thin lines around Wakka's sunbaked mouth deepened as he frowned, and Tidus kept on trying with each metal-dolphin flip.
Zanarkand's Abes had explained it all once, when Tidus was a kid. The best blitzball players were those lucky enough to have lungs that filtered the naturally oxygen-rich waters of Spira. Those were the naturals. Others could train rigorously to hold their breath, but most constitutions failed at three minutes, well short of the five-minimum required with heavy exertion involved.
No one was entirely certain where thegift began. The Aurochs liked to claim an old Spiran superstition, that when you breathed water, you really inhaled pyreflies. Those were what kept you alive. In Zanarkand, the Abes had shrugged and never questioned, just as they had not wondered why the sea never ended and the calendar was eternity.
Jecht was a natural. Tidus used to be. The first time the blonde dove back into the Besaid ocean after his return, he surfaced spitting, doubling up in the unfamiliar spasms of a drowning man. Eventually, he pushed himself so hard that he began to choke, and Wakka had to haul him out one-armed, confident muscles pulling them both towards the shore. As if Tidus were a novice toddler who'd wandered too far, thinking he could master the ocean like a wading pool.
As if Tidus were a beginner.
It was Lulu who first dared to bring up the resemblance. When she sat down with Tidus and spoke in careful harmonics about the blitzer known as Shuyin, Tidus didn't believe her at first. She showed him spheres. Notes from Maechen's tales stored in the Celsius's records, testimonies from the crew who had fought Vegnagun. There was an army of data to back her words, and like the best of her black magics, Lulu didn't flinch from using it with ruthless precision.
After the bombardment of information, the blonde threw up his hands and went swimming at the far beaches of Besaid with only a blitzball for company, and a ragged towel.
Yuna gave him two days.
She found him sprawled out belly-down in the surf, her bare feet making small volcanic craters in the noon-scorched beach as she padded over. He'd darkened some, from being exposed so long. The other villagers had brought over meals, and there was a neat stack of plates shoved to the side of the blanket, gritty with sauce and sand.
"Do you think there's something wrong with me?" was his first question, before she'd even said hello.
Yuna's clothing sense might have changed, but she hadn't lost her gift for empathy. "No," she began quietly, squatting down and pursing her lips. Her bangs were growing long again, lapping at her eyes. "You may look like Shuyin, but that doesn't mean you are him. Even just seeing you now, there are so many things that distinguish you both." As she pointed her face down, her throat looked clamped, tense. "We've been thinking about what might have happened. Lulu said that... the Aeons might have seen it differently. That the two of you might have been too close, if you came back exactly as you were before. That it might make something might go wrong with Shuyin's rest."
A bark of scorn from Tidus's direction. "How could I do something like that?"
"Memory controlled the Aeons before." Yuna's mismatched eyes darted to the side, tickling over the past. "They were forced to attack the innocent. I don't think I can blame them for worrying that his memory might end up affecting you too."
"But that doesn't explain why I can't swim anymore," Tidus blurted. His fingers spread, comical sunbeams in the air. "Are they assuming I'm just a copy of this Shuyin guy? That I need to get fixed just in case I flip out the same way?"
Yuna shook her head, the braided tassel of her hair drawing snake-lines on the beach. "You are your own person, Tidus. Shuyin... Shuyin was angry. As an Unsent, he was only composed of negative emotions. But even then, he was still capable of remembering love. His heart was strong enough to save him in the end."
"That doesn't change the fact that he was such a moron to you," Tidus scowled. Rolling over, he poked a wrathful finger at the ripples of tide-scrawled sand. "Check this out, Yuna. For all I know, the trouble I had with my old man could've been because Shuyin's dad was a jerk too. Who knows? When I found out that the Zanarkand I came from was just a dream, it was okay because I was still me. But now, it sounds like even my life was just an illusion. All the choices I thought I had were already made by someone else."
"Tidus," Yuna sighed, gently attempting to restrain the argument as it thrashed back and forth off-topic. "Even if the Aeons... even if you were born from a memory of Shuyin, that doesn't mean you're just a copy. What you've become--it's your own self now. It's okay."
"Then why did they have to change me?" Thwarted, Tidus wrinked up his nose. The skin crinkled, sunburnt. "So now there's this Shuyin person, right. And me. And maybe what I thought I was born with isn't really mine, but dead history. When I think about it like that," he tossed his chin, scattering salt-crusted bangs, "it just gives me a headache."
Fabric whispered sunshine giggles to itself as Yuna sat down fully, stretching out her legs and keeping her toes hovering just above the waveline. "I don't understand it either, Tidus," she confessed. "The Aeons did say that they couldn't guarantee anything. Lulu says that after what Shuyin twisted them into... they could have been afraid."
"But it doesn't mean I'd do the same thing!" The outburst spattered like seafoam. Tidus flopped on his back, voice softening as he watched the ocean flirt with Yuna's feet. "Though maybe we're more alike than I want to believe. When she was talking to me, Lulu said that way back during the war, there was this girl who looked a lot like you. Shuyin chased her to the ends of the earth. Even tried to fight Bevelle for her. Sounds familiar, huh?"
There was a smile hiding in the corner of Yuna's mouth when she glanced up. "What do you think?"
"About the girl?" Tidus's grin was ruthlessly unabashed. "I think he had good taste. But everything else... it kind of worries me. Just a bit. But you shouldn't let it bother you, Yuna. Like you said, I'm still me, right? Which means I've got a lot to look forward to now."
Relief spread like warm steam over Yuna's face. "Mm," she nodded. Then, "What… are you going to do now, then?"
"I don't know." Tidus sighed. Sand inched into his shirt as he lay sprawled, individual grains smuggling themselves against his neck. "I could... I don't know."
They were silent then, as the shouts of the afternoon fishermen drifted towards them, buoyed on the velvet-cream of the afternoon clouds.
"Where were you, these past two years?"
Dinner was a flaky pink fish that smelled of peppercorn and salt. Tidus had stolen two plates and Yuna with them, hooking his arm around her hips and laughing into her hair every step of the way. They'd stumbled down the path a ways from the village bonfire and its tangy smoke, the glow that colored faces bright and merry.
"Mmf?" Tidus swallowed his mouthful fast. "Zanarkand." The answer was prompt. "Playing with my dad. My entire team was there like nothing had happened," he continued, setting aside his plate and lacing his fingers over one scarred knee. "No one even remembered my old man had disappeared. My mom was there too. You should have seen her, just the same as I remember, all caught up in chasing him around. Like those years without her never happened. Or my old man had never gone."
"It sounds," Yuna paused, dancing over adjectives and settling on tact, "nice. Are you unhappy that you left it?"
"Nahhhh." Tidus gave a lanky shrug, and prodded his dinner with the fork tongs. "It wasn't like everything was exactly the same. I went back to Zanarkand, and I realized... I couldn't ever really go back, not after coming to Spira. It was okay for my old man--he had everything he wanted there, the Abes and Auron and your dad. But there was stuff here I missed."
Yuna turned over the skin of her fish with her fork, peeling it in a greasy slide from its bones. "Oh?"
"Like, I'm glad I didn't have to wait seventy years to see you again."
The sleepy moon turned Yuna's face silver as she broke into a smile, glossing her cheeks with light.
Tidus couldn't help but laugh at the sight, warmth settling through his chest. Leaning back against the ruined stone pillar that served as his chair, the blitzer took in a deep breath; the ocean answered him, whispering as the waves rolled in and out from the shore. "I'm glad to be back," he admitted, feeling the stubbled grass under his legs, the hint of a breeze on his arms. "I guess I just have to figure out what's different."
The next thing Tidus discovered was the fact that he couldn't fight anymore.
After dutifully describing the pyrefly-sword Rikku had swung around, commenting on its similarity to Auron's old weaponry, Yuna unwrapped the real Brotherhood and presented it to Tidus. He'd marveled at the weapon, dancing his fingers along the crystallized blade with a familiarity as keen as a musician, knowing the balancing of the instrument through simple touch. The sword took easily to his grasp. It fit into his palm as if it had never been gone.
"My father," Yuna began, taking a step away from the blitzer to give him practice space, "he had an old robe once, that he used to wear whenever he would patch up anyone wounded from Sin's attacks. That's why I think it appears, whenever I use the dresspheres to call upon healing magic. And whenever I think of fighting, I think of..."
"Me." The opportunity to state the obvious brought a wide grin to Tidus's face, neat white pearls of teeth shining in a tanned bed. "So the sword that the pyreflies make for you, it's like my sword."
"Like the one Wakka gave you," she reminded him gently, stepping forward once more and tracing her fingers along the hilt, spiderwalking them up to his arm. "But now, I think it belongs to just you," she added. "No one else. Go on," came the smile, tentatively encouraging. "Give it a try."
Brotherhood sat comfortably in Tidus's fingers as he lifted the blade, mimicking the start to a lunge. But when the teenager darted forward, lowering the weapon in a preliminary twist that would pivot its weight around in a lethal thrust, the swing went wild. Mass coupled with gravity and tore the sword from Tidus's grip, sending it tumbling in a waterfall slash on the beach.
Sliding to a halt with a puff, Tidus regarded the mistake with arched eyebrows. "Uh," he coughed. "Let me give that another try."
One hour did not summon Tidus's coordination. Two only brought him closer to failure, flailings of the weapon that were as sloppy as a blind child. After wasting an entire afternoon on the beach, the blonde was forced to halt, unable to even bat a blitzball back at Wakka when the redhead offered easy targets.
"This is crazy." Dropping Brotherhood on the sand where it glittered sleepily, Tidus braced his hands on his knees and tried to recover his breath. "Even if I can't blitz, at least I should be able to fight. There are still some Fiends around. I'd be useful hunting them, except that I can't even defend myself like this."
"You're just rusty," Wakka shrugged, sweat-beads clustered in jewels on his brow from the island heat. "Spent all that time sleeping, ya?"
Tidus shook his head, a jerky, dogged action that left his hair in a stubborn dandelion puff. "I was playing," he replied simply. "I had some of the best games of my career."
Wakka regarded him for a long minute, and then gave a firm nod of his chin. "It's important for an athlete to stay in shape," he announced, brushing all uncertainty aside with a mastiff's charm. "You're just not used to being in a real body again. It'll pass. You'll get better again, you'll see."
But Tidus didn't.
For two weeks, the blonde met the dawn with a sword in hand. Wooden, steel, crystal--the weight didn't matter, the shape didn't make a difference, and each time Tidus failed at any attempts of coordination.
When Wakka came to practice with him again, Tidus was staring at his own fingers, the digits that had subtly betrayed him: unfamiliar with the weapon given to him so long ago, unable to perform the sport twists he'd grown up knowing in his blood.
"I can see the motions," the teenager began. "I know what to do. But it's like my body just doesn't understand."
Wakka's patience was a rolling sigh in his throat, casual dismissal. "You're just out of practice--"
"It's not like that," Tidus retorted. "When Auron first gave me a sword, I was still able to fight even though I'd never held one before." Then a wince, the blonde gritting his teeth at the memory. "Okay, so it took a few tries. But I got the hang of it fast. It was just like blitzing. You see what you need to hit. Then you do it. It's that simple."
The other blitzer shrugged, bouncing a practice ball from hand to hand. "Then just follow what you know, ya?"
"I can't." Tidus dropped his eyes, feeling the words unhatch themselves from his mouth. "I can't."
Yuna was equally confused. "I don't understand," she confessed when Tidus blurted out his dilemma over lunch, camping in the shade of Lulu's hut to escape the sun. "Bahamut wouldn't have done something so cruel."
Tidus had long given up on his food, fussing instead over his boots. At Yuna's statement, he gave a fierce yank on the laces, hard enough to make them squeak. "Can we ask him?"
"No." Metal clattered as Yuna pushed fruit chunks around her bowl with a spoon. "The Farplane is still unstable, and the Fayth can't talk to us anymore here on Spira. The only people who might know what Bahamut intended would be the priests at Bevelle."
"So we go there."
"We can't do that!" Yuna's protest spiraled higher into concern. "We can't just... send them a hello and demand Bahamut's life story."
"You're a High Summoner," Tidus pointed out, his fingers trapped within the webbing of his bootlaces, tight enough that the skin was beginning to whiten. "I think this once, we can get away with it."
They found the leader of New Yevon in an office on the higher floors, tucked back between halls that doubled back in butterfly waves upon themselves. Acolytes bustled around them, parting waves of ornate uniforms. Many priests still paused in their work to deliver low bows in Yuna's direction; for all that Bevelle had regained a life of its own, tradition reigned like an impassive patriarch. By the time the pair of them had struggled through the respectful crowds, Tidus was already wrinkling his nose in impatience.
Baralai was sorting through stacked reports at a desk covered with lost books and an empty teacup. Folders shuffled in his hands; text hissed in his fingers as he pushed one fistful of pages aside, discarding them in favor of other data. The door was open. Yuna touched her knuckles to it by way of knocking, but when Baralai looked up, his face turned from pleased to pale.
"Shu--" he began, a shadow pulling over his eyes, curtaining his cheekbones. Then he exhaled, recovering slowly. "No. Not Shuyin. Sorry."
"This is the one I spoke about in my message to you, Praetor," Yuna interjected gracefully. Her hands clasped together, she performed a careful bow of her head. "His name is Tidus."
"Of course," Baralai replied, his eyes fixed on the blonde, lips slightly parted as if tasting the air for threat. "Tidus. It's good to meet you. Yuna had said that you two were similar, but I had no idea just how close. It's like looking at his twin."
Shifting his weight in muffled discomfort, Tidus gave a roll of a shrug for reply. "I guess. So, um, hey, sorry to come in on you like this, but--"
"She said that you'd wanted some information on Bahamut." Turning, hands laid flat in front of him like careful weapons, Baralai eased back towards his desk and dropped into the chair. "I can't claim that I know everything about that Fayth--some of that information is difficult even for me to obtain--but I owe the Lady Yuna a great deal. I would be... glad to help her."
Taking a few steps forward, Yuna nodded. Placing herself between the praetor and Tidus, the girl touched her fingertips to the smooth wood of Baralai's desk, careful not to come in contact with the documents scattered there as if her proximity alone would break confidential reports. "Would Bahamut be the type to interfere with someone's life?" she began. "To... to require them to be different, even if that person wasn't causing any trouble at all?"
Riddles bloomed and died in the silence that followed. The praetor did not address any of them. Remnants of Yuna's voice sunk into the rich carpets and heavy stone of the Temple, until the air was pregnant with implications of her questioning, and doubt beat like a drum.
Tidus moved his fingers restlessly before finally shoving them into his pockets to keep them still.
"There is a reason Bahamut was Bevelle's Aeon," Baralai offered at last, looking politely interested and indifferent all at once, classically Yevonite. "He was one of the most terrifying of all the Fayth. He never had a chance for adult maturation; he grew up as an Aeon, and some of the priests say he was the most inhuman out of all of them. Cruelty--as you and I would consider it, Lady Yuna--might be something entirely different to him. You must recall," the Praetor continued, mercilessly patient, "that any Aeon may be called upon from both sides of a clash between Summoners. Chances are that they have each killed at least one person with whom they have bonded. If you think about the effects of that on a young child, and how they might seek to prevent a recurrence..."
"If you're saying he did it because of some kid's impulse, there's nothing like that about Bahamut that I remember," Tidus interrupted, throwing his voice like a rock at the silken flow of Baralai's words. Then he tilted his head, rewinding the denial in his mind, and sighed. "Okay. He was strange. They all were, kinda. I saw Bahamut a couple of times when I first came to Spira. Even though he looked like a kid, he didn't seem... human."
"Then that is your answer." Mahogany skin denied any form of concern; Baralai could have been discussing the trade prices of the local fish market for all the slowness of his blinks, the casualness of his tongue. "They may be powerful. But we have all seen that power does not automatically go hand in hand with fairness. If they played a part in your being here today," he continued, dark eyes once more skimming over Tidus like a butcher's thinnest knife gracing a fresh haunch, "then there is nothing any of us can do to change that. Unfortunately."
Bells groaned deep within the Temple. As the echoes folded themselves into fading notes, a fresh burst of activity filled the halls; students in green robes popped into the corridors and began to scatter to new rooms, clutching papers to their chests. Older priests strode at a more leisurely pace, nodding occasionally to Baralai as they passed in front of the opened door. Baralai's attention flickered to them; then back to Yuna, and past her to Tidus once more.
"I truly regret to cut this short," he announced suddenly, smooth as butter-cream, "but I am afraid that I have a meeting with the council in but a few minutes. They become quite balky if they are made to wait for too long."
"They couldn't be worse than that Yu Yevon guy," Tidus laughed, waving his hand. Then his laughter dropped, cut dead in its infancy. "Sorry."
Baralai's face was impassive, as cool and neutral as the wood of the bookshelves around them. Only after several seconds passed did he turn away from the blitzer, and allow life to return to his features. "Did you have any other questions, High Summoner?"
"No. Thank you, Praetor," Yuna added, giving another nod of her head, for which she received a faint smile. "We're very grateful for the help."
"Yeah," Tidus broke in, "thanks."
Baralai looked back at Tidus in silence for a long while, his hands folded in his sleeves, pulse imperceptible behind the high collar of his robes. "I'm sorry," he said eventually. "You came here for reassurance, didn't you? Then I'll tell you not to worry about any of it. Good day."
Their trip back to Besaid was subdued. The sailors who manned the ferry all did so with laughter on their mouths; many lowered their heads respect to Yuna still, giving homage to the Summoner who had helped end the greatest ocean danger of all. For her part, Yuna answered each call for attention, taking a seat near the prow and tolerating the crew's superstitions, the way one asked for the touch of her hand to a net for good luck, and another, her autograph. Her cheeks were touched from blushing; praise for the High Summoner lasted the entire trip home, even when she reminded the sailors that it was no longer possible to conjure Aeons for them to marvel at.
When they disembarked from the ferry-boat, Tidus offered to carry their luggage back to the village, and then vanished after borrowing a fishing pole.
Yuna tracked the blonde to the docks, a tin of bait propped up against his knee and threatening to spill over while he tied a fresh hook on the line. One lone fish swam in circles in the metal bucket beside him, endlessly looking for the way back to its school.
"Nice catch," she offered, kneeling down to peer at the hapless creature.
"That's not mine." Pausing with the hook pinched between two fingers and the fishing pole slipping off his foot, Tidus tried to steady the rod by pinning it under an elbow. "One of the other villagers kind of took pity on me when they saw how bad I was doing."
Yuna's laugh was soft. She let it fade quickly, lost beneath the salty reek of the bait-tin. "Are you okay?"
Tidus waited until he could recast the line before he answered. "I guess I just took it for granted all this time." He tilted his head up, eyes fixed on the candy-striped bobber in the water. The smile on his lips was pressed thin in the middle, crookedly upturned. "Being me. Everything I taught myself how to do when I was a kid, or what I just was naturally good at. All the way to Bevelle I thought, even if I couldn't blitz anymore, if at least I could do something with sports... " his voice drifted away, wavered, and keeled lost. "Or anything at all."
Down the beach, a whistle trilled; the Aurochs were assembling for their daily practice. Groans drifted through the air, complaints of sore muscles and bruises, game statistics with upcoming matches.
Tidus didn't look in their direction.
"I don't know if you know what it's like, Yuna. Water, sports--this stuff used to be nothing to me. I used to be able to relax," a flick of his hand and the fishing bobber skipped across the waves, jerked out of place, "and just breathe. Now it's closed off. Surviving underwater used to be something I could always do... but it's gone now. Completely. It'll kill me, if I'm under too long. Do you know what that's like?" The question, repeated, incredulous. "How messed up it is?"
"Tidus..." Now it was Yuna whose gaze was fixed on the ocean, staring at it and past it, her face detached and careful. "Do you really think you're the only one who's lost something that used to be natural to them all their lives?"
Getting to her feet, the girl swept sand-grains out of her skirt and walked away.
He found her the next day at the island's Temple. The workers had claimed a rest-break for their labors, passing around water flasks and complaining whimsically about the amount of time it would take to clean up the building from Fiend-damage. Yuna was seated on one of the stone platforms, knees crossed, the whip of her hair-braid coiled in her lap. When Tidus approached, she didn't look up.
"Listen Yuna," he began.
"It's okay." Fingers danced over the braid, absorbed in each millimeter. "Blitzball is important to you. If I lost everything... " she paused, and then turned the cord over, running her thumbs along the length, "not like Wakka and Lulu when they found out about Yevon, or... or when the Aeons left me--but if my friends disappeared, then I think I wouldn't know what to do either. I looked for you for two years," came suddenly, an abrupt lumping-on of words. The braid jumped in her hands, Yuna skipping over several inches and picking another section at random. "Even though I only met you during my Pilgrimage, I wanted you to come back. So you're not the only one who's been... silly."
The hitch of her breath cut her off there. Sidestepping like a crab, Tidus carefully circled the girl, studying the angles of her face underneath its shroud of bangs. Finally he reached out a hand, tempting fate by brushing aside her hair to search for her eyes.
"You're not crying," he breathed, amazed.
Yuna lifted her head and flared a smile in his direction. "Did you think that I would?"
"She really has gotten stronger," he said to Wakka later, over a half-stripped tree trunk. "Two years made such a change."
The other man stretched his arms, flexing the ache out of them. While carpentry was not a task either blitzer was trained in, Besaid's village was small enough that responsibilities overlapped, and tools found their way to the strangest of hands. Wakka had already earned three splinters since being recruited for manual labor. "She's gotten a lot more revealing since the whole thing with Sin happened," he agreed, sticking his thumb in his mouth to try and suck one out. "Maybe not in such a good way. I mean, you'd think she'd get cold like that sometimes without a shirt, ya?"
Tidus blinked. "I guess."
"She's still a little sister to me." Grunting with the effort, the man braced the new log against the growing pile and adjusted the rope-tack to keep it secure. "And to Lu. And you still remind me of Chappu." Another few strokes of the flat-plane blade, and Wakka shook it off to clear the edge of wood dust. "Lu says I'm crazy like that. But it's okay."
They worked in silence for a time, commenting only enough to state when the lumber needed to be turned, or when it was time for a fresh log. Wakka was clumsy with the gnarled, stringy trees that populated Besaid; he swore often under his breath, switching blades often in the hopes that one would miraculously overcome all his difficulties. Tidus watched him; sweat found them both over the course of such simple work, until the pile of raw wood finally dwindled, and emptied itself to mere twigs.
Wakka barked a laugh when he saw that they were finished, dropping his tools to the side and sprawling on the ground with them. "Hey," he announced. "In case you've still been worrying. Remember a long time ago, Lu told me that no one came back from Sin. No one returned once they were taken." A shrug, and then Wakka leaned forward and gave Tidus a hard poke in the skin. "But you did. Not like my brother... if there's any big reason you're not like Chappu, it's because you came back. I think I prefer that, ya?"
Caught by surprise at the parallel that had inverted itself, Tidus just nodded.
With a groan at the exertion, Wakka reached over to the sawpile and fished through the shavings until he found a chip as big as his thumb. The wood's innards were pale as river-briars. "Go bring a sample of this to Yuna," he ordered the blonde. "We're thinking about using this stuff for your beds. Maybe for your chairs, if you want. Go on. Shoo."
He found her at one of the inland waterfalls, kneeling at the side of a riverbank that bubbled fresh and clean on its way to the sea. It had taken him most of the afternoon to work his way along the unfamiliar paths, following weathered signs that had fallen into disrepair; the natives of Besaid were familiar with their own realm, and did not need directions. As a stranger, Tidus was forced to wander through overgrown foot-trails until he finally crested a hill and discovered Yuna kneeling on a small wooden bridge, tending to the village's water pitchers.
She was in a long skirt again, something that might have been violet many years ago. The hem was ragged, and it looked like Yuna had taken scissors to one side, slitting it high to allow for freedom of movement. Faded splotches of white danced along the fabric; Tidus, watching the way it settled around Yuna's legs, realized that he had seen the skirt before. A Summoner's uniform. Just clothing, now.
Yuna caught sight of him mulling there, lingering on the fringes like a stray animal. She set down a half-full pitcher and waved. "You look troubled." Her voice was a soft note against the bubble of the waterfall. "Have you been thinking again?"
"Yeah," Tidus admitted, sheepish and laughing. "I know I'm not the best at it." Spreading his arms as he picked his way down the ridge, the blonde pretended to wobble his balance on the small-pebbled path. "See, Shuyin was never in the Zanarkand that I come from. And we're way too alike for it to be a coincidence. So I guess Lulu's got to be right--it's because of him that I can't do the same things now that I used to, because I must have been his replacement. That's bad, but," he shrugged, finally reaching the wooden bridge and brushing salt out of the ocean-baked canvas of his shorts, "it kind of reminded me of something. From home."
The waterfall gurgled. "My old man used to drop me overboard when he'd get mad. He wouldn't hit me or anything, he'd just grab me and toss me over the rail and say there 'wasn't any use for crying in a salt water ocean.' I guess it was his way of trying to get me to swim more." A short laugh, and Tidus squatted down to dabble his fingers in the river. The water parted around his skin, tickling him with chill. "I bet he'd say the same thing right now, if he saw me."
He felt rather than heard Yuna's approach, the clunk of a filled urn as she set it down, and the bridge's subtle flexing at the new weight. "Maybe... there's a reason that Shuyin wasn't a part of the Zanarkand that the Fayth made," she offered, coming to a halt beside him. Her face shimmered next to Tidus's submerged hand. "Maybe it means you're not condemned to the same road, but a second chance. To do it right."
"Or just mess up in a new way."
This caused her reflection to smile lopsidedly before she toed him hard in the ribs. "And are you still going to disappear if I don't think of you every instant?"
"I can't blitz," he warned her. Straightening up with exaggerated resignation, the blonde shook his head mournfully. "And I can't fight like this to defend you. If Fiends come, then Wakka and Lulu have got to save the day."
"I can fight for us both then." Her palm was as light as a butterfly on his head, a muted reassurance tinged with humor. "I can be the Guardian this time, and you can be the Summoner."
"Just as long as I don't have to wear a dress like your father."
"It's a deal."
Tidus stretched his legs, leaning back on his wrists while he dunked his feet in the river. Liquid claimed his ankles; the power of the waterfall churned and battered at his shins. "I can't say I know what's left of me, or what Shuyin meant at all. You know? But I'll find something." A spasm of his toes, skimming them through the water and launching a flurry of drops that glistened sunset rainbows. "Since I'm here, I'll find something to help me figure it out."
"I know you will." Her smile was honey on the air, sweet enough to drown in. "That's why I love you."
Fingers slid against his neck, and Tidus turned his head enough to discover Yuna's hair tickling his nose. Her waist founditself into his hands, a perfect weight that cradled itself in his arms; the smell of her skin mixed with the waterfall's perpetual mist.
Then her mouth touched his, and Tidus forgot to breathe for sixty seconds.
And then a little more.