“And he was gone just like that? In a cloud of smoke and laughter?”
Cloud nodded his head and knocked back the bottle of Besaid fruit wine. With a soft “ah”, he said, “Yep.”
“Wow…” Tidus said the word in a drag. After a beat, he tacked on, “That’s messed up.”
Cloud laughed at his friend’s eloquence or lack thereof. “Right?”
“So, wait.” Tidus rolled over onto his side and propped his head up with a hand. He didn’t give a single care that he had sand all over him. Maybe because he was used to it. “The guy’s like a scientist, right? How’s he managing to just… fling himself around like that?”
“He’s done a lot of crazy things.” Cloud set the bottle in the sand between them. Regardless of how Besaidians classified ‘wine’, this was something far stronger than that. Between the two of them, they split the bottle, and it still felt like too much. “He and that whole organisation are responsible for a lot of things that went wrong back home.”
“What a dick,” Tidus said plainly. “Well, just gimme a call, and I’ll Warp right over there.”
Cloud gave a simple smile. “Thanks, Tidus.”
“No problem, buddy.”
Tidus stretched out his fist, and Cloud gently bumped it. They lowered their hands. Just as Tidus was about to launch into another topic of conversation, Yuna walked up behind them with a tray of food. She still had on her beach attire. The long white-pink-orange fabric around her waist dragged through the sand as she approached.
“Lulu figured you two would have wanted something to eat.”
“Thanks, Yuna!” Tidus sat up quickly as Yuna knelt down. She handed the tray over to him. “Where’re you headed off to?”
“The girls wanted to head to Moonflow for a bit. There’s supposedly this huge market.” Yuna gestured out her hands as she said ‘huge.’ “I wasn’t sure if you two wanted to come.”
Tidus looked at Cloud, who gave the slightest shake of his head. Tidus gave a wide grin and said, “Nah, we’ll kick it out here for a bit. But thanks. You girls have fun!”
“We will. We’ll bring you something back.”
Yuna leaned in to kiss Tidus on the forehead before standing up. Cloud and Tidus watched her go in silence, but with a jolt, Tidus remembered that he was holding a tray of food. It was something simple—mostly finger foods. Lulu had prepared them something basic to settle their stomachs while they drank. Cloud took a triangular cut sandwich with a low thanks. Tidus set the tray between them.
“You should come over more,” Tidus offered. “Bring a couple of your friends. It sounds so dreary over there.”
Cloud shrugged. “It’s not all bad.” He circled a finger near his head as he looked around. “We have a place like this called Costa del Sol.”
“Yeah? You go swimming?”
“Not really. Can’t say I’ve been in a while either,” Cloud admitted.
“Well, that settles it then. I’ll come over, and you and I and whoever else’ll head down to the Sol. And just relax.”
Cloud snorted. “‘The Sol?’”
“Getting mighty comfortable, aren’t ya?”
“Well, yeah,” Tidus said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“You haven’t even seen the place. It’s near Mt. Corel, which is pretty bad with monsters.”
Tidus scoffed. “Then we’ll beat ‘em up. Get that sweet gil. An all expense paid trip to the beach!”
“Yeah? And who’s paying?” Cloud took a bite of his sandwich.
“Ah, uh, well.” Tidus needed a moment before snapping his fingers. “We’ll go to this Mt. Corel place, right? Find someone who needs us to take care of their monster business, and then basically, the trip is on them.”
Cloud couldn’t stop himself from smiling as he chewed. He pressed his mouth against the back of his hand. “Isn’t the whole point to go to ‘the Sol’ and relax?” he prodded.
Tidus placed his hands behind his head and flopped back into the sand. “Gotta sacrifice a little to gain a lot, man!”
Did that even apply here? Cloud laughed regardless and shook his head in disbelief. Tidus was good company once one got used to his energy. “Right.”
He handed the conversational reins over to Tidus for a while who told him a bit about life in Besaid. From the little Cloud knew of Zanarkand, he could tell that Tidus had adjusted to the fun and bustling seaside life. “It’s a bit more religious here than Zanarkand,” Tidus said. He made a movement with his hand. “Or it was.” And that launched him into a story about how, basically, they destroyed god. Cloud’s brows went up, but he managed to stay silent the entire time.
In the middle of regaling the tale of how they were trying to wrangle this… spirit? — aeon, that was the word — known as Yojimbo, Tidus stopped suddenly. “Oh, wait!” He brought a hand up over his eyes and looked towards the sky. “Shouldn’t we go find you a Crystal by now?”
Cloud brought a hand to his chest and focused inward. His shard sang but faintly. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“Wouldn’t want you to disappear unexpectedly.” Tidus hopped up into a squatting position and hastily dusted himself off. “Let’s get this back to Lulu, and we’ll go looking, alright?”
Cloud popped the last of his food into his mouth before dusting his hands off. He stood up straight and wiped as much sand as he could off his body. Being here in Besaid — in Tidus’ realm — meant that Cloud couldn’t sport his usual black ensemble. He had learned very quickly that that was the perfect recipe for an overheating disaster.
When in Besaid, Cloud had on a long white shirt that he usually left unbuttoned, a tight black U-neck undershirt, deep-almost-black blue denim shorts that fell to his knees, and fold over boots. He kept the red ribbon tied around his left bicep, and he also had a bandana tied on his other arm, just in case. It was a simple look to be sure, but it fit. He also knew that Tidus was steadily trying to get him to embrace more colour choices. Maybe he would overtime. The fashion of this realm was far beyond him. He just wanted to take things nice and steady.
“Hey, Lulu. Thanks for the feast,” Tidus joked as he entered Lulu and Wakka’s home. He set the tray on their round table.
Lulu moved with grace as she turned to face the two blonds. Her red eyes focused on Cloud, and he felt she could Petrify him with just a glance. “Heading out?”
“Staying a little longer actually,” he said. “Just going to track down a Crystal first.”
“Do you need my help?”
“If you don’t mind,” Tidus chimed in.
Lulu nodded and extended out her left hand. She flicked her wrist and fanned out her fingers. A small spring of magic lifted up from her palm, and there was the projected image of a waterfall. Tidus stepped closer to examine it.
“Got it! Thanks, Lu!”
“Come back for dinner. Wakka’s making something,” she said with a drop of her hand.
“We will.” Spinning to Cloud, Tidus patted his friend on the arm excitedly. “Let’s go.”
Cloud gave a hum of acknowledgement, but he refocused on Lulu. He nodded, and she returned the gesture just as quietly. She turned away from them both. Cloud felt her withdraw. He had never known a presence like hers. Even Sephiroth felt lacking. He followed Tidus out into the world, but when they were outside of the village, Tidus began running. Cloud sighed and took after him.
Besaid was beautiful. Of that, there was no doubt. Cloud had a hard time trying to think of many places back home that could even compare. A number of places came to his mind, but they weren’t as scenic, he felt. Many of them were touched with bad memories, and that’s probably what took the beauty out of them. A shame though. The others would probably love to see this.
They ran over a bridge that had a waterfall to their left. “Is this it?” Cloud called out.
Tidus shook his head. “Just a little further!”
Cloud could only trust his friend’s judgement. They split off the path eventually and headed down. The side road was all grass with rocks jutting up here and there. Tidus jumped between each rock face expertly, and while Cloud was unfamiliar with this terrain, he followed easily and without complaint. They continued forward and walked between the slope and a narrow river. The sound of the waterfall behind them drifted away. They hooked around a bend, followed the left path when the river split, slid down a smaller pathway, and when the rushing water returned, it was nearly deafening.
“Besaid’s got ton of little secret hideouts,” Tidus said with a grin. He turned back to look at Cloud with his hands on his hips.
“I bet you found every single one of them.”
Cloud smiled a bit and sighed a laugh through his nose. He stepped off the mud bank and into the water. It was freezing cold, and his boots were flooded. He tried not to mind. The Crystal was just in front of the waterfall. It was a shimmering materia-green; its usual ethereal whisper and song was drowned out by the waterfall. Cloud reached out to touch it as he brought his other hand to his chest.
He concentrated on staying for now, and both Crystals synchronised under his touch. The one in front of him diminished in size before scattering. The one inside of him brightened, and in its cheerful glow, Cloud felt more grounded, more present. His clothes and hair fluttered in the conjured winds, but when it settled, he finally opened his eyes. The glow of the Crystal made his eyes much more radiant, but that soon faded. Cloud turned around to face Tidus.
“Alright!” Tidus held his hands behind his head. “So, we've got some time to kill? What d'ya wanna do?”
Cloud walked closer and thought about it. “Why don't you show me some of those blitzball tricks.”
“Oh yeah?” Tidus brightened up more and dropped his hands. “How long can you hold your breath?”
“Probably not as long as you.” Cloud chuckled and motioned for Tidus to take the lead again.
“Meh, we can work on it, but c'mon! I'll show you the basics.”
Cloud followed after Tidus and was glad for his friend's enthusiasm. It was nice to get away for a bit, but when he left, he could only hope to take the warmth of the sun, the beauty of this place, and the ineffable peace with him.