Chapter 27: New Horizons

That evening after the bonfire was lit on the beach, Tidus was blindfolded for his surprise and led to the village by Wakka. "Don't you think this is a little unnecessary?" The smaller blitzball player kept his hands before him as he walked, but he bumped into a fence post and stubbed a toe anyway. "Atch-ch! Stop steering me into stuff on purpose, man," he complained with a laugh. "That's the third time, so I know you're doing it on purpose."

Wakka gave a devious chuckle. "You did that one on your own, and pushing you under the waterfall doesn't count like walking you into that tree." Grabbing Tidus's shoulders to make him halt, he turned him to face the hut. "Okay, let's see this grand opening, ya?"

Tidus was finally allowed to remove the blindfold, and as he lifted it, he grinned to see that the whole village had turned out to celebrate with him. "Okay, am I supposed to act surprised now?" he asked over their cheers.

"Welcome back, ... again." Lulu answered with a smile, giving his cheek a kiss. "I hear you might be able to stick around this time, hm?" Setting Vidina on the ground in a standing position, she held onto his chubby fists. He squealed with delight because that's what everyone else seemed to be doing.

"I think I've kicked the pyrefly habit for good. I don't feel any different than before, but … Shuyin's gone and I'm still here – really here." He grinned and crouched in front of Vidina. "I gotta stick around long enough to get you into the leagues this time, right, little man? Your dad will end up walking you into trees if your training is left up to him. Gimme five."

Vidina squealed and reached for him but fell forward to his hands and knees instead.

"Okay, that's close enough. We'll work on that coordination thing." Tidus helped him stand and walk a few steps.

"'Tisu wants to show you something before we show you the hut," Yuna informed him and gestured to the aeon at her side.

"As long as she's not asking any more questions about what happened in the tower." Tidus gave her a playful wink, then cautiously released Vidina's hands to let him stand and take short, wobbly steps back to his mother on his own. Facing the remaining dragon aeon and folded his arms. "Okay, let's see what you got."

Arantisu concentrated really hard and did her own special brand of magic to become kitten-sized - all at once this time, instead of limb-by-limb.

Tidus laughed and clapped. "Alright! You did it!" He scooped her up in his hand and gave her a congratulatory kiss on the snout. Arantisu's eyes bugged out, her claws clamped down over the spot that he kissed, and she fell backwards, so that he had to catch her to keep from dropping her. "Oh my gosh! Is she okay?"

Yuna chuckled, along with everyone else, and slipped her hands under the tiny dragon to gently waken her. "She'll be okay. I think I felt like that the first time you kissed me, too," she admitted with mild embarrassment. Setting the dreamy-eyed little dragon on her own shoulder, she laced her fingers between his and walked with him to the door of the hut, where she pushed aside the heavy curtain.

"Oh. Thought for sure I killed her." He laughed lightly as he followed Yuna inside. Pale blue ocean-colored drapes hung from the bamboo ceiling and walls. Straw mats and colorful Besaid rugs covered the floor and giving the interior a sweet, rustic scent. Some basic furniture that she had picked out was in place, but there was room for more in spite of the hut's small size. He turned to face her and saw that she was wincing in anticipation of his judgment. "I like it," he grinned.

She winced with uncertainty. "Are you sure it's not too girly for you?"

"Well, that depends on whether a girl comes with the package or not." He gave her a mischievous smirk.

Yuna laughed lightly. "Well, that depends on what kind of girl you have in mind."

"One in a short little maid costume would be nice."

Yuna folded her arms and quirked an accusing brow at his teasing.

"Okay, how about you in one of those short little maid costumes."

Yuna placed her hands on her hips, waiting for him to try again.

Tidus snickered at her offended expression. "Okay, how about just you."

"Just me?" She gave him another look of mock warning.

"Okay, how about only you?"

"Good answer," she approved with a smile.

"Seriously, I really like this," he assured her. "But ..." He looked at the traditional Besaid-style interior and was puzzled. "I don't see anything that looks like Shinra tinkered with it."

Invited to attend the evening festivities along with all their other friends, Shinra stepped forward from the doorway where the crowd was chuckling and chatting. "It's not necessarily the hut that I wired. Go behind it." He handed Tidus a pair of keys.

"Behind the hut ..." Tidus smirked at this new mystery and made his way through the gathering, back outside, to walk around his hut to walk to the jungle behind it. He saw nothing, but everyone was giggling quietly at his inability to figure out something, so he looked back to his only clue - the keys. There was a button on the holder. When he pressed it, small pyrefly-like lights embedded in the ground illuminated a path of illusionary stones with a soft glow. He giggled once, glanced over his shoulder, and then followed the trail through the trees down the hill to a small inlet. On the water was a houseboat - his houseboat - the one that he once lived in from Zanarkand. He turned back around and looked at Shinra, speechless. "How ..."

"I wanted to wire your hut with a lot of really neat Zanarkand-type things like com spheres and stereos, so you could watch Luca broadcasts like movies or live stadium games. But when I talked to Yuna about it, she said not to ruin the hut with electronics because you appreciated Besaid's simplicity."

"She said what?" He looked to Yuna like a child who just had his birthday presents revoked. Everyone laughed. "You turned down a live Luca stadium connection!" he complained to her.

Yuna laughed. "You said you liked how simple life is here compared to Zanarkand."

"Yeah, but I didn't really mean it!"

Shinra chuckled along with everyone else. "Anyway, after talking about it some more, she suggested this. She said you would probably appreciate a place that could make you feel totally at home with where you came from. So, we air-lifted the shell out of the Zanarkand bay and took it to the Djose temple, where the Machine Faction refurbished it. We were able to use the big Zanarkand sphere at the library in the Dream Room to see how to remake the outside, and Yuna was able to pull enough memories out of Bahamut, Lenne, and Shuyin to figure out how to redo the inside. My little imaging window into the past helped a lot, but it was a lot to do in a short time. So, everyone pitched in to help. It's not exactly the way it used to be, of course, ... but then again neither are you." Shinra gave a short smile.

Tidus couldn't believe they had gone to such lengths to do such an incredible thing. Slowly, he approached the short dock and crossed the deck of his childhood home.

Yuna followed, checking his expression, afraid that their surprise had backfired. "Did we go too far?" she quietly asked. "Should we have left it in the past? I-I just thought ..."

"No, it's … I just ..." Opening the door, he entered the high-tech environment he had lived in as a child, or at least as close as the Al-Bhed technicians could come to it. The interior island colors and styles were similar to the ones in his hut, but the basic, original design of the room definitely had a nostalgic feel to it. Weights and mats were placed in the same corner where he, Shuyin, and his dad had once done morning workouts. Trophy shelves lined the low wall near the entrance ramp into the sunken living room, and some of Jecht's and Shuyin's awards had been recovered and placed there. Stacked crates and chests decorated the stair-step baseboard near the front door to make up for low storage space, just as before. A two-part, semi-circular sofa took up most of the living room while a double-sided flat-screen com sphere monitor hung from the ceiling above it.

He passed through to the kitchen and saw that party foods and drinks were set out on the counter along with fresh-cut flowers. Walking into his old bedroom, he saw that the keyboard Yuna had given him as a gift a year ago had been moved there from the Celsius. Above it, a restored holographic image of the Zanarkand Abes hung on the wall. Shuyin was among them. Below that was a restored image of a younger team - a high school team with Shuyin and Koji beside each other in the front center. He touched their smiling faces, then turned and went down the stairs to peek at his parents' room and the bathroom, where he found a restored holographic image of them, which he lifted for a closer look.

"It's more of a guest room now," Yuna explained, "but that was in here when the boat was air-lifted for repairs, so … I thought it should stay here to honor them. We were using the past as a blueprint, but it doesn't have to stay this way, if it bothers you. You could easily move your things into the master bedroom, and turn your old room into the guest room instead, if you prefer. Or, we could change everything to look like something else if this is too -"

"No," he set the holograph down and faced her. "No, it's … perfect. My whole childhood was nothing but a blur of select memories from Shuyin's life and gaps that felt beyond my grasp. Even my home was nothing but an illusion, but this … This is real." After a moment, he grabbed her hand and jogged back up the stairs to face his friends, as they squeezed one-by-one into the houseboat's living room. "I ... I don't know what to say." The way they filled the small space, made him feel like the richest man in the world. "Thank you, ... all of you."

Yuna moved to stand before him. "But … do you like it?" she asked with doubt.

"I love it." Tidus slipped his fingers beneath her hair and drew her close to thank her with a kiss.

Gippal nudged Paine. "Hey, that looks like fun. We should try it some time."

Paine leaned on his shoulder and set her chin in her hand. "I don't know. Do I have to get knocked out this time?"

"Nah, I think I prefer a little interaction. That first kiss didn't hold a candle to the second one."

Beside them, Rikku gawked and stepped back in shock. "What? Did you kiss her? Did he kiss you? Or did you kiss him? Are we talking about a friendly kiss or a tongue kiss? When did this happen? Was this before or after the world fell apart? Why didn't you tell me?"

Paine looked at Gippal with a smirk. "Want to make her crazy? Ignore her."

"Details, people! I want details!" Rikku demanded.

"Let's just hope Tidus isn't going to be thanking everyone like that." Wakka quipped, making the group laugh. Snickering to himself, he left Lulu's side to approach his little buddy. "Hey, you can come up for air now, ya?" When Tidus ignored him, Wakka leaned close to Yuna's ear, instead. "You know, if you need to take him downstairs or something, you can just point us to the food and turn on the Luca broadcast. We'll pretend we don't hear a thing. How 'bout that?"

Yuna finally became unable to keep a straight face and broke away to laugh.

Tidus laughed, too, but gave his best friend's shoulder a strong shove for his teasing. "What are you doing, man? Get out of my face. Worse than Auron ..."

Laughing with satisfaction at having successfully annoyed him, Wakka walked to the kitchen to help himself to the food. "Auron chaperoning your dates ... Now that would have been funny."

"Wakka." Rikku followed him into the kitchen to get a plate, as well. "You're lucky Yunie's a nice person, you know. If someone was kissing me like that, and you got in my face to interrupt -"

"Nobody wants to kiss you like that," Brother inserted, as he stepped around them to grab a drink. "You are too noisy and intimidating."

Rikku's lower lip protruded as she held her plate to her chest instead of putting food on it. "No I'm not." She turned to her friends. "Am I?"

Tidus laughed and grabbed a drink from the ice chest as Arantisu's aeon fluttered to his shoulder to oggle the table overflowing with food. "Let's see ... You dressed me in your stupid nightshirt and bunny slippers, set your psychotic demon monkey on me, and you're always looking at my butt. Yeah, I'd say that's intimidating to most guys."

Rikku's jaw dropped and she cuffed his arm for the remark. "I am not always looking at your butt. You're the one that dropped the blanket."

Yuna quirked a brow at him, wondering when this happened and why she missed it.

"She pulled it off of me," Tidus defended himself.

"I did not!" Rikku stamped a foot. "I pulled it down to here," she pointed to her back. "But then you moved, and it fell down to here," she bent over and pointed to her backside.

Baralai had been quietly loading his plate with food beside them, but when Rikku bent over in front of him, his distraction resulted in his serving of potatoes slipping off of the spoon onto the floor.

"That's good food you're sharing with the roaches," Nooj complained behind him.

Baralai looked down and saw his mistake. "Oh, um, ..." He looked across the table for something to clean it up with. "Sorry."

"It's okay." Yuna chuckled and moved to get a cloth. "I'll get it." As soon as she said it, though, Arantisu buzzed from Tidus's shoulders to lick up the spill. "Or maybe not." Yuna set the cloth back down. "I guess the good thing about being small is that your food portions are larger, right, 'Tisu?"

Gippal gave Nooj's arm a nudge and snickered. "Did you see that?"

"Yes, I did," Nooj agreed. "He's guilty."

Beside Nooj, Leblanc fanned herself and rolled her eyes. "Rikku, listen love, you really need to stop wearing such skimpy clothing. The poor praetor can't even spoon food onto his plate with you bending over in short-shorts like that."

Baralai's face flushed. "I beg your pardon. What are you accusing me of?"

"Ehhh?" Rikku made a face at Leblanc and her open-to-the-navel dress. "That's really funny coming from someone who has to use glue to get dressed."

"I think that insult deserves the Moogle mascot treatment," Tidus suggested to the small thief. "With a dash of psychotic monkey," he added, happy to fan the flames.

"Oohoohooh," Rikku giggled like an evil chipmunk and nodded eagerly before scampering back to Paine and Lulu to begin plotting.

"Hey, when are you going to take this thing for a ride?" Wakka asked Tidus, munching his food.

"Well, I could do it now. It's part of the party, right?" Tidus held up the keys, giving them a jingle. "Let's go see what this baby can do."

He ran outside to removed the ropes from the dock and check the anchor position. Then, he waved to the people still standing on the shore to let them know he was taking it for a test spin. Heading back inside, he went down the stairs into the guest room and turned back behind them toward the captain's cabin.

Wakka and Yuna followed. "Captain of your own boat now. Who would have thought," he said as Tidus inserted the key in the ignition and cranked the engines. "Scary. You sure you know how to drive this thing?" the big man asked, skeptical.

"Of course. It's just like the one I grew up on, right?" Grinning eagerly about his new toy, Tidus sipped his drink and steered the boat away from the alcove. But as he kicked up the speed a notch and headed toward toward the open ocean, he felt Yuna hook a finger in the back of his shirt to pull it open and peer down between his shoulder blades. Apparently, the black mark was visible through the thin, white material of his shirt.

"When did you get an Abes tattoo?" she asked, noticing it for the first time.

"Huh? Oh, that. I don't know." His mood dampened into self-consciousness, but he tilted his head forward and down as Wakka also drew near to peer down the neck of his shirt and see the Zanarkand insignia branded into his skin. "Paine spotted it earlier, or I wouldn't have even known it was there. Everyone else thinks it might have been a tattoo that Shuyin had, and that it kinda transferred to me after we were turned into that aeon. But based on Shuyin's memories, I don't think he ever got a tattoo. It did come up in conversation after Mom blew a gasket about him getting his ear pierced, but that was because he was underage and didn't have parental consent. I don't have any memories of getting my own ear pierced, though. It was just there one day, … kinda like this tattoo."

"Maybe Rikku spiked your fruit punch a little, and you wandered into Brother's engine room in a weird mood, ya?" Wakka suggested.

"Or maybe it's just the mark of your Final Aeon," Yuna added.

Tidus glanced over his shoulder at her, slightly troubled, but then faced forward again as he continued driving the boat toward the open horizon. "I was meant to be the final Final Aeon, wasn't I?" There was no denying that. "I mean, … the only reason they made me was to be the silver bullet to end Sin. So, I guess it would make sense that my aeon would bear his mark. And since I wasn't supposed to find a way around that transformation, maybe it's been locked inside me all this time, only showing up now because it finally happened," he guessed. "I used to dream about it without knowing what it meant, you know? Turning into some kind of sea serpent to hunt down my old man ..."

Yuna drew near. "Before we lost the Farplane, when I was talking to the spirits who knew the interior of this boat, Bahamut introduced me to your other creator – Koji's sister, Kaila. She said your ability to have dreams was their first clue that you had become something more than a memory wrapped in an illusion."

"Kaila ..." Tidus was stunned. "Kaila created me? I thought it was Bahamut."

"Bahamut told me how he took a small piece of Shuyin's soul from the cavern of despair where he was entombed, but Kaila is the one who donated her first memories of Shuyin to give that old soul a new form," she explained. "Bahamut also said he's the one who gave you Yevon's magic, but Kaila is the one who protected your heart. They worked together to guide you past Shuyin's most damaging heartaches, so you could develop your own better experiences while retaining his courage and determination, … and his relationship with Sir Jecht. They're the ones who sent you to me," she told him with a smile of gratitude. "And, yes, it was to help me destroy Sin, but they also gave you the freedom to walk away. You chose to stay. And you challenged me to find another way to solve the problem. If you hadn't done that, we might have continued to feed Sin's cycle, rather than destroying it. Kaila said … she knew you were your own person because of how different your choices were from Shuyin's. She seemed to feel very proud of how you turned out."

Tidus smiled as he remembered his borrowed and unique memories of Kaila. "Koji didn't exist in my past the way he did for Shuyin, so I didn't know I had any previous connections to Kaila when I met her. She ran into me after school one day – literally. Knocked everything out of her arms. But after she offered to tutor me in one of my subjects that I was failing, I ended up asking her to the dance. We went on one date, which she said was perfect, … but then she dumped me before the night was over." He snorted in amusement about it now. "She said someone else needed me more." He shook his head at the overwhelming clarity and sighed. "I guess it all makes sense now, … kinda. She was making sure I was ready for all this – making sure I wouldn't make his mistakes. Even he said something about me being the second chance he never had." Pausing in uncertainty, he looked over his shoulder to Yuna. "Do I still look like me? I mean, I haven't turned into him, … have I?"

Yuna smiled at his silly worry and kissed his cheek. "You're you. I can tell."

Tidus felt more at ease hearing that from her. Only then, did he relax and allow himself to find the humor in it. "Are you sure? Maybe you should check other places, too." He wriggled his brows.

Yuna smiled at his flirtation. "Maybe I should." She slipped a hand underneath the shirt to draw her fingertips down his back.

"Woah!" Tidus jumped back to shake off the sensation, while one hand held the wheel and the other still held his drink.

"Tickle?" She grinned.

"Not exactly."

Wakka leaned close to Yuna, but didn't bother to whisper. "Luca broadcast - drowns out anything, I'm tellin' ya."

Tidus chuckled and stepped back from the helm. "Hey, take the wheel for minute. I want to show Yuna the view from the top deck."

Wakka eagerly set aside his plate of munchies, grasped the wheel, and grinned. "Now that's what I'm talking about, ya? Hey, you like speed?"

"You have to ask?" Tidus folded his hand over Yuna's, locking his fingers between hers as he led her out of the cabin.

He led her through the crowded interior of the houseboat to the deck, and then further up the steps to the transparent, partially-covered upper deck. "You gotta see this. My old man used to come up here in the evenings to talk to my mom." With a big grin, he pushed the large window aside and leaned his forearms on the sill with his face into the wind. "The view was spectacular because you could see clear across the ocean from up here, but I used to get so mad at them - at how much she seemed to care for him in spite of everything. Now, ... I can see why it's a pretty cool place to be." He looked out over the rise and fall of the cresting waves as the boat cut smoothly through them toward an unknown destination. Then, he turned his cheek against the wind and squinted through the strands of golden hair that stung his eyes. "Thank you, Yuna. I know it hasn't been easy, but ... thank you for believing in me, ... in spite of everything."

Yuna tried to sweep her own hair from her face, but the effort was futile in that kind of wind. She lowered her eyes to the shell ring that she still wore on her finger - the sweet cracker prize he had searched for a year ago just because she said she wanted one of the silly, insignificant things. She twisted it lightly and then smiled to herself. "Dreams can't come true unless we believe in them."

He leaned his head against hers, forehead to forehead. The wind continued to whip their hair about their faces in wild disarray, but their faces were warm and shielded for the moment. "I love you."

"I love you, too. ... Always."

He smiled hearing his promise come back to him and noticed her attention on the shell ring. "You know, if you want, I'm willing to replace that with the real thing."

"Don't you dare." She protectively covered her ring with her other hand. "This is the real thing."

Tidus laughed at her continued stubbornness over the item. Maybe she'd change her mind if he offered to replace the thing in a public ceremony. Maybe not. With Yuna, there was no limit to her sense of sentiment. But it was her depth of sentiment that had made him feel so real, even when he was not. Tidus turned his face back into the wind, and stared out to where endless sea met endless sky. He could consider his possibilities for the future now - a real future. "I'll bet we could take this boat beyond Spira to the other ocean as well," he spoke some of those thoughts aloud. "We could look for spheres out there in that other place that looks like Zanarkand. After blitz season, of course," he added with a wry smirk and slipped an arm around her waist as he sipped his drink again.

Yuna leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder, folding her hands over his arm. She squinted into the strong wind. "I'm just as curious as you are to see what's beyond Spira, but I'm perfectly content to stay here, as well." Only time would tell what lay in store for them beyond the new horizon.

The End

))((

Author's Note:

Okay, fluffy ending, I know. ;)

Thanks so much to all who read and took the time to leave reviews and share their feedback! This is the last work in this series for me (for now anyway, but I have learned never to say never). I'm not tiring of it, but as the characters age and the dynamics of their relationships change, and with Spira having gone through such drastic changes, it will be more difficult to stick to the feel of the original game, which was very important to me in these stories.

For this story, I was inspired to draw a lot of references from other Final Fantasy works - mainly FFVII and Spirits Within. So, I would like to extend credits there, and I hope those of you who are fans of those works enjoyed catching a few familiar references.

Thank you for allowing me to entertain you! I hope you enjoyed it. ^_^

M'jai