Cloud yawned and gently tugged at the fishing rod, making the line grow tight momentarily. The sun was shining, making the early morning pleasantly warm. But even the sun didn't warm him as much as the knowledge that his wait was almost over.
Sephiroth, Meteor, Jenova... it all seemed so long ago, even if time seemed to move quite strangely in this land of blue skies and green grass. He'd kept something of a count of the days, months and years that had passed, but had not let the counting become the purpose of his dubious existence. That was, he supposed, one of the perks of being dead. He was aware of the time, but it didn't matter. He had all of it in the world. Not like he was going anywhere. Well, anywhere far, at least.
The sun was almost at its peak when he started to hear whistling. Cloud grinned and let the line grow slacker, the stream trying to tug the rod from his lazy grip.
The whistling became louder, and he knew that the source of it was already climbing up the hill at his back.
"Don't scare the fishes!" He called out, smiling, and the whistling stopped. Ignoring the rod in his hands, Cloud turned around and squinted against the bright rays of the sun. He looked up to the tall man behind him and cocked his head. "Took you long enough."
Zax smiled and ruffled his hair, sitting down next to the blond one. "Yeah, sorry. You know how it is, bumped into a few old friends, had things to take care of, the usual. Planet to save." The ex-Soldier winked, his violet eyes as bright as ever. The smile on his tanned face was pure and wide.
"Yeah, I figured as much." Cloud said and turned to the stream again, humming quietly. Zax followed his gaze.
"How are the fish biting?"
"Heh, no wonder, in you just sit here quietly and all by yourself. You gotta catch their attention."
"I've had company, every now and then."
"Good." Zax smirked when the blond turned to look at him momentarily, smiling. "So how long exactly have you sat here, waiting?"
"Hmm, some sixty years. But who's counting, yeah?" Cloud answered matter-of-factly, shrugging his thin shoulders gently. Zax burst into laughter.
"Well you've certainly become more patient since we last met!"
Cloud chuckled at the words and shook his head. "Trust me, I haven't."
They sat in comfortable silence for a long while, gazing at the stream and the lush meadows on its other side. Cloud was almost disappointed when Zax broke the silence.
"Cloud... I've had a looong time to think about this, and I want to apologize. For the last few days."
"You don't have to. I mean, I wish things could have been different, but there's no changing the past. I did some horrible things."
"But it was them, Hojo and Jenova, who made you do them. I understood it a bit too late."
"You were mad then, and you had right to be. I'm not proud. But I wasn't happy about the way you treated me either. But I understood it. And forgave it. Can you forgive me?"
Zax nodded. "Already did, years back."
"And... you know that I had to die, right?" Cloud said more quietly, holding the rod tight.
"Yeah... missed you, tho."
"So... are we cool now?"
Cloud actually giggled, and shook his head. "We're cool."
"Sweet." Zax said and grinned mischievously.
"So, tell me about the Planet. How's everything?" Cloud asked.
"Well, pretty good. Reactors are gone, and everything's so green! Yuffie's still the head of Wutai, and doing a good job at it, too. Her kids have pretty much settled down already, but the grandkids... ouch. Now that they're old enough to travel on their own, no nation is safe. Nanaki's taking care of business at the Canyon, and now that everything that the Meteor caused is pretty much healing, him and the Elders are looking out to the sea. They're saying that there's gotta be more continents over there. I mean, Cid even saw some on his later trips to space. Maybe he even landed on one eventually, since no one heard of him after the Highwind 7 disappeared."
Cloud shook his head, smiling a bit sadly. "Nah, there was a critical malfunction deep in space. They all got to join the stars. He came by here over forty years ago, but soon went across. Swearing because Shera was too busy with Reeve and all the presidential business to check his rockets."
Zax laughed. "Good to know some things never change."
"Yeah... so how about the others?"
"Ah, well. Marlene is staying at Mideel now, still doin' fine. Barret raised her well with Tifa's help. I mean, they never married, but it was obvious they considered each other family. Oh, but you should SEE the latest addition to the Valentine-Gainsborough clan! She looks JUST like Sephy, it's uncanny!"
Cloud shook his head, smirking. "Vincent and Aeris? I mean, I'd heard about it, but that one I'd like to see myself."
"Yeah, well they eventually became very happy. And they're still out there, spoiling grandkids rotten. Even named one after yours truly." Zax stuck his chest out, making Cloud laugh.
"Don't tell me the poor kid takes after you?"
"Nah, just a bit. Let's see, did I miss anyone. Well Reeve and Shera, they made a good couple too. Helped build Midgar into something better for everyone. Like a frickin' fairy tale. Their kid is doing ok, but a hell of a workaholic. I've never seen anyone as bad as he is. Well, kid and kid, he's over fifty already. I feel so old..." he looked down at his young body, hair dark brown and spiky again. "It got a bit lonely towards the end, with only Yuffie and Nanaki out there of those who knew everything. Vinnie and Aeris live far up at Icicle Inn, I didn't go there often. And Marlene, of course. She wrote a book about it all, and mostly Barret, but never published it. Let us read it, though. She said it was done for her kids, and for the others, too, so that they'd know what their parents lived through. I mean, most things were kept a secret from the larger audience."
"Would have just made things more complicated." Cloud commented and yawned. The sun had moved to the west, and was starting to shine into their eyes.
Zax laid down on the tall grass, staring at the bright blue sky. "All's well that ends well."
"Yeah..." Cloud muttered and chuckled. "Nice end, don't you think? 'And they all found their Promised Lands.'"
"Has a nice ring to it. Us, too?" Zax turned to his stomach and plucked a long piece of hay, tickling Cloud's cheek with it. The blond tried to get away from the teasing, but not too seriously.
"Well it's just over this stream, you know? Didn't want to go alone."
"Thanks for waiting."
"Yeah. I feel ready now."
"Ah, give us just a few more moments at staring at the sun, ok?" The ex-Soldier turned to his back again and started to chew on the hay. Cloud nodded.
"So what are you using for bait, anyway?" Zax asked when the clear blue sky stopped entertaining him after just a few short minutes.
"What, just an empty hook?" He sat up and tried to reach for the thin line, but Cloud turned the rod away from him.
"Not even that. I tied a small rock to the line."
The answer baffled Zax completely. "... why?"
"Well, no sense wasting hooks and bait when there are no fish in the stream..."
"Cloudy, you're... weird."
"I love you too." Cloud smirked and carefully put the rod between a few fist-sized rocks he'd collected over the years, to rest his hands. He stood up then and stretched, joints popping loudly. Zax looked up to him, smiling with pure love in his eyes as the smaller man reached a hand out to him. "You coming?"
"Wouldn't miss this for the world, baby."