Disclaimer: This story is a work of fanfiction. Final Fantasy and everything related is property of Square Enix, Inc.
Tidus opened his eyes. The environment was somewhat cool, but not uncomfortable. The pressure on his chest instinctively kept him from taking a breath.
All around him was crystal clear water. A few fish floated by him, momentarily curious, but then swimming on to join the rest of their school.
His instincts directed his face upward. He could see the sun easily through the clean water, and it made him smile widely. I'm home. He thought it should have sounded strange, but it actually felt as natural as anything he'd ever said to himself. I'm home. I'm in Spira. It's my home.
With a glee barely contained, Tidus shot toward the surface. Once his head broke into the air, he looked around and instantly recognized his surroundings. He was in Besaid, just off the ocean shore. It almost felt surreal to him, considering all he had experienced in the past weeks (or, if the fayth had been correct, the past years). Yet, he'd been away from reality for so long that he couldn't even be sure he knew what surrealism was.
He then remembered what Yuna had told him what seemed like a lifetime ago: "If we should get separated, just whistle. I'll come running. I promise." She'd been reciprocating a similar promise he'd earlier made to her, but at the time, he feared that a simple whistle wouldn't be enough to call her to where he would be. Now, though, he felt so giddy that he let his self-consciousness and doubt fly into the wind. After all, maybe Yuna really would hear him and come to meet him here. He stuck his index finger and thumb into his mouth and whistled in one long shrill report.
His deep breath expelled, he lay back and allowed his body to float lazily on the water. He never remembered the sky looking so blue, or his heart feeling so warm. This is no dream, he thought. He couldn't put his finger on why he was so sure, but he just knew this was real. And he knew he wouldn't find Yuna by floating in the water all day.
Rolling over, he immediately started swimming toward the all-too-familiar beach. Unlike in his earlier visions, the beach was empty. No Blitzball players, just calm mid-afternoon waves lapping against the soft sand. Once he reached the shore, he jumped to his feet and stood at the water's edge, drinking in the scenery, the reality around him. Man, I wouldn't leave this behind for all the money in Zanarkand, he thought. He thanked his lucky blitzball that he had been able to return, seemingly no worse for wear (aside from some none-too-pleasant memories).
As he had that thought, he heard a rumbling from behind him. He spun around toward the ocean and looked up in the sky to see a large airship on approach. It had some vague similarities to the one on which he'd traveled to fight Sin, but with its sleek, swept appearance and cherry-red paint, it looked much more like some type of giant flying hot rod. He especially marveled at the twin rotating steering arms at its front.
Although he had no idea what the airship's purpose was, nor of its crew, he felt no urge to run or hide. Even when it stopped directly overhead and began to descend, he stood his ground. He knew…deep down he knew…that he'd be all right.
Then he saw her. He'd dreamt of her so many times over the past weeks that part of him feared this was another hallucination brought on by his lonely heart. Her clothes and hair were different from his recollection, but there was no mistaking her face. The perfect curves of her cheeks. Those mesmerizing eyes…
Without warning, she jumped off the deck of the ship and landed in the soft sand. Despite what should have been a dangerous fall, she stood before him, her boots ankle-deep in the wet sand. She then took off in a run, straight toward him. Prepared for nothing else, he opened his arms and waited for her to fill them. She leapt onto him, grasping him tightly. He eagerly returned the embrace, finding a million words that his throat refused to release.
What can I say to her? It's been only a few weeks for me, but it's been two years for her. What…what can close that gap?
She'd spoken first, and the sound of her voice sent chills through his entire body. He chided himself for ever being tempted by a dream world; this world held the true rewards.
"I think so," he replied, trying to shake off his shock. "Do I pass?" His voice shook, but he made no attempt to control it.
Yuna nodded emphatically. "You're back."
"I am back," he said flatly, as if realizing it for the first time. Yuna pulled away from him and gazed deeply into his eyes. An uncontrollable smile crept across Tidus' face. "I'm home!" he cried, picking Yuna up and spinning her around with joy.
Tears flowing from her eyes, Yuna said, "Welcome home." Tidus let her back down onto the ground, and they immediately pulled each other into a desperate, passionate kiss. Tidus knew at this moment that Yuna had been waiting every second of her two long years for this, and that it must have been even more difficult for her than it had for him.
"Hey! Get a room you two!"
They released their kiss and turned their attention toward the new voice, which came from the inland path. Wakka strode toward them in his normal, cocky, big-brotherly manner, and shouted "Whassup!" Next to him was Lulu, holding something in her arms. Tidus mouth fell open when he realized that she was holding a baby! Lulu, a mother? Tidus felt a twinge in the back of his brain. This situation brought a strong sense of déjà vu, but he tried to suppress it. He had no desire to dwell on old nightmares.
Not too far behind the new parents were the people of Besaid, all waving and shouting their welcomes to him. Tidus smiled. Now this is the kind of reception I like!
He heard a whump behind him, and saw that Rikku had jumped out of the airship herself. "Hiya!" He was briefly shocked by the younger girl's clothes (or lack thereof) but waved with a smile, and then turned his full attention back to Yuna and his welcoming committee.
The newly-reunited couple took off toward the crowd, both laughing like gleeful children. "You know, you've changed," Tidus said to her as they jogged across the wet sand. He couldn't help but look over Yuna's new, revealing costume and twin holstered pistols. His eyes followed her legs, very visible through her feathered half-skirt. He marveled at the new curves that had apparently come from two years of maturing, and the muscles that had been tightened and toned through what he guessed were two years of adventuring. He realized that she was now two years older than he, but he had no complaints.
"Well, you've missed a few things!" Yuna replied, squeezing his hand with a strong grip. She was blushing slightly; Tidus guessed that she'd caught him gawking at her.
"I wanna hear everything!" Tidus said just as they reached Wakka and Lulu.
As Wakka took Tidus up in a big bear hug, Yuna replied, "Well…it all began when I saw this sphere of you…"
Tidus and Yuna had managed to get away from everyone else, and were alone for the first time in two years (according to Spira's time, Tidus had to keep reminding himself). They'd even left Brother behind in the airship, although he had seemed less than thrilled to see that Tidus had returned, and had been trying to draw Yuna away from him during the whole trip. Still, considering the fact that the energetic Al Bhed had nearly slit Tidus' throat at their first meeting, the chilly reception by Rikku's brother gave him little concern. They had managed to convince him to drop them off near the Zanarkand ruins, and to let them make the final trek alone, on foot.
While Yuna hadn't understood why, Tidus had told her that he needed to see it one more time. He needed to remind himself of the emotions he'd felt when he first saw the ruins, before they'd fought Yunalesca. At the time, although he'd been told several times that Zanarkand was gone, seeing the remains of it truly made it real for him. It had almost been as traumatic as when he'd learned that Yuna's pilgrimage was to ultimately end with her death by the hand of her own Final Aeon.
When he met Yuna's motley group of new friends, and then learned that they were part of an organized sphere hunting group, he understood why Yuna had changed so much since he'd left. They seemed to be quite a crew, from the cold Paine to the laid-back but brilliant Buddy. They even had a child on the crew! While he had only heard about a fraction of their adventures together, Tidus was envious that he hadn't been there to join them.
It was those times in particular when he began reflecting on what he'd experienced while they had those adventures. Such a short time for him, but years for them. While those experiences would always haunt his dreams, he was sure that returning to Zanarkand one more time would help put the ghosts to rest, if only for a little while.
Now, on the outskirts of the destroyed metropolis, the two sat silently together. As the sun sank below the horizon, Tidus stood and walked absently toward the city. There was so much he had to tell her. And yet, there was so much that he wasn't sure he wanted to tell her. Did he want to relive the pain he'd experienced in his own little world, a world where he held the ultimate power, but a world without the woman he loved? Did he want to foist that on Yuna, who had been through so many extremely trying ordeals herself?
Maybe someday, but not today, he thought with a little self-comfort. Yuna had originally been searching for answers to what happened to him, and now she was concerned with how he had managed to return. While had an explanation, one he wasn't even sure he fully believed, Tidus had decided that Yuna didn't need the fayth's story. It would help if he came up with a premise solid enough to allay Yuna's concerns, but vague enough to not be a lie. At least it would help his conscience a little, until the time was right to give her the whole story.
"I got a theory," he broke into the silence, without turning from the sunset. Yuna, her eyes on him, listened intently. It was all he could do to avoid looking back at her, because if he did, he was afraid that he might not be able to continue with his flimsy explanation. "I…think the fayth gathered up my thoughts and put 'em together to bring me back." Not necessarily a lie, he thought. That could be how it looked from the fayths' end. "Maybe. Something like that."
He looked down at his hands. They felt so real, but then again, so had they in the dream. Could he be sure this wasn't yet another twisted figment of his imagination? "Or maybe…I'm still a dream." He caught himself from pondering anything more, afraid he'd already said too much.
"Wait!" Yuna said, and he heard her jumping to her feet. "So…you'll disappear?"
Tidus squeezed his hands shut. As a quick experiment, he concentrated on his hands, willing a flower to appear. If he were dreaming, then he could at least give the imaginary Yuna a gift.
Nothing happened. He gave a slight smile. If this is a dream, then I want to stay asleep forever. "Cherish me, Yuna. And I'll cherish you. All right? We gotta stay together. That's what we have to do." That's the only way we'll know for sure it stays real.
His heartbeat quickened when he felt her arms come around him from behind. Her warmth soothed any doubts his soul may have held. Still, goosebumps scampered up his arms and down his back. Although the air was balmy, he trembled in her embrace.
"Is that what the fayth told you?"
Tidus smiled wider. Sounds like something he'd say, doesn't it? "Nah. But I like it."
Yuna let out a laugh, and Tidus quickly followed, his nervous energy flowing out from his chest. It had been so long since he really felt like laughing, he had a hard time remembering…
Suddenly, he felt himself being shoved from behind. Caught off-guard, he lost his balance and tumbled into the water before him.
As he extricated himself from the cool ocean, he retorted, "That's not cherishing!"
Yuna smiled slyly at him. "You didn't disappear."
Tidus couldn't help but smile back, and raised his hands in glee. Yuna certainly had changed. Much less demure than he had known, more self-confident and able to joke around. And yet, she was still his Yuna, and he loved her all the more. He would be hers, and she his, now and forever. He would never let her go again.
After he crawled out of the water, he stood beside her and they both watched the sun finally finish its daily travel across the sky. He wrapped his arm around her waist, squeezing her hip lightly. The bright red sky just barely illuminated them like a giant bonfire miles away.
Tidus turned to Yuna again, and without warning, used his leverage to fling her into the water.
Yuna yelped in surprise as she toppled over into the cool sea. When she righted herself, she cried, "You!" She was soaked from the waist down, shaking her fists at him.
Tidus leaned over with a sickeningly innocent smile and replied, "You didn't disappear either."
With a growl of fake anger, Yuna splashed Tidus hard; he suspected she'd snuck a quick Water spell into her splash, in order to throw that much more of the liquid at him. Laughing, he jumped into the water and chased after her, each splashing the other as the daylight continued to vanish. As they played, Tidus knew that everything would be all right. All his worries washed away into the salty sea and dissipated.
The dream had ended. He was alive and with Yuna. The real Yuna. Wherever he could be with her, he would be home.