I wrote this after reading 'Pas de Trois' by Tenshi (I don't remember what it is on FF.Net, sorry), and feeling the need to offer one of my versions of Elena a little solace the year after Tseng is 'killed' at the Temple of the Ancients. This story goes along with my story 'To Be a Guardian Angel'.
Standard disclaimers apply: I don't own anyone in the story except Aka, who is based from my Ancient Betta 'Aka Chang'. (He's almost 3 years old now, he should have been dead long ago, I'm sure.) While I'd love to own the characters, I don't, Square does.
Song lyrics are 'Angel' by Sarah McLaughlin, the song she sang the day she got the piano, I imagined 'Winter' by Tori Amos. I was listening to Trans Siberian Orchestra music as I wrote, so the melodies are probably some kind of a medly of what I was listening to. ... I'm done now.

Return

Her hands swept over the keys gently, coaxing a soft melody from them. The house echoed with the sound of the piano, the echoes sounding as if they wept in the melody's wake.

The grand piano was a gift of the other Tarx to her two Christmases ago. She had wondered why they kept her out of the den all day. When they sat her down on the velvet padded bench she was curious. When Tseng took her hands and laid them over the keys, she trembled. When they told her to open her eyes, she stared at the creation of ebony and ivory, taking in every curve of the polished black wood, letting her fingers feel the ivory and ebony keys.

Rude told her, softly, to play something, and Reno rested a hand on her shoulder encouragingly for a moment.

Softly, her hands splayed over the keys and picked out a few chords before her foot pressed the polished brass sustain pedal, and her hands began playing the first thing that came to her mind that fit the season.

Her voice joined the piano, softly, and she closed her eyes. Tseng smiled proudly as he let his voice join her on the chorus, delicately harmonizing her soft alto with his gentle tenor.

Rude and Reno stood in awe as they listened, and watched. Instead of using electric lights, candles were lit everywhere, including the beautiful candelabra sitting on the piano, lighting the keys from her front. Behind them, Tseng and Elena were lit by the falling snowflakes that caught and reflected the light of the city.

As Elena played the final notes of the song, she lifted her hands from the keys and sighed softly, looking up at Reno and Rude, then looking at Tseng, the thanks written clearly in her eyes and in the words that wouldn't come past the lump in her throat.

Her voice now carried the tune alone, her voice wavering but clear. Behind her, the snow reflected the moonlight instead of city lights, as the house in Kalm was similar in design to the one in Midgar, and Elena had insisted the piano go in the place where Reno, Rude and Tseng put it two years ago. Her eyes were closed, just as they had been the first night. When she opened them, they opened on almost complete darkness. The only light was the light from the window behind her. Tears of remembrance slid down her cheeks as the silence crept in to embrace her. Tseng wasn't there to touch her cheek and tell her to keep playing.

She stood up from the velvet bench and slowly walked around. Reeve had warned the Tarx in time for them to manage packing everything they had and getting out of Midgar before Meteor hit. Tseng had picked out a place in Kalm, but didn't tell Elena. When everything began to fall apart, Rude and Reno helped her move into the house that was so alike the one they left in Sector Three. She complained that it was far too much space for her, but there was no use in arguing. Tseng had completed the purchase long ago.

Rude and Reno had managed to get to the Western Continent, where Rude had a place built outside of Nibelheim that was much like the home he and Reno had shared in Sector One. But the only problem was they were so far away now.

Elena walked slowly down the hallway into the room full of aquariums that Tseng had cared for. The room was still half empty, and she vowed that she would replace every fish that had died in the move. She wound her way through the maze of aquariums and tables to sink into Tseng's favorite chair. Beside it was a medium sized tank containing several neon tetra fish and one Betta – Tseng's pride and joy, Aka.

Aka had taken a liking to Elena the first time she visited Tseng's apartment in Sector Two. As she settled, he flared his fins at her, and danced a bit in a circle.

"Konbanha, Aka-san," she greeted him as she lifted a finger to the side of the tank. Aka was old now, older than most Betta fish lived, but he had managed to hold on this long, as if determined to wait for his master to return home. That was his chair, the girl-human sat in after all. That chair and the girl-human belonged to his human. His human was not home. He had not been home in many many light times.

Elena sighed, then stood and fed the fish. The room was too full of memories of Tseng for her to be able to stand long periods in it still.

She went back out to try to find solace in the piano again. She walked over to the window behind the piano, and opened it, letting the frigid, but fresh, air in. The town of Kalm lived up to its name that night. Somewhere, probably in the town square, there was a group Christmas Caroling. She smiled and listened for a few moments before sitting down at the piano again. Her fingers brushed over the keys before finally beginning to play again, a soft melody that drifted into another, and then another, as if they couldn't decide what they wanted.

Finally, her hands lifted from the keys, and began playing anew, and with the chords, she began to sing, a song she sang two Christmases ago, without Tseng's accompaniment.

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there's always one reason
to feel not good enough
and it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memory seeps from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

Her eyes closed again as she struck the chorus intro, and her voice reached to echo upstairs.

in the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you're in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there

Tears slowly made their way down her cheeks as she pressed on, her voice surprisingly clear.

so tired of the straight line
and everywhere you turn
there's vultures and thieves at your back
and the storm keeps on twisting
you keep on building the lies
that you make up for all that you lack
it don't make no difference

A soft green light shone behind her, though she didn't see it. It began to take the shape of a human as it 'stepped' down from the sill to stand behind her as she sang.

escaping one last time
it's easier to believe
in this sweet madness
oh this glorious sadness
that brings me to my knees

She broke a little, starting to cry in truth as she drew breath to finish. The shape behind her solidified, the clothing materializing first: a black formal kimono wrapped around the still green human form. Black slippers appeared on its feet, and then flesh began to form, silently.

in the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you're in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there

Tseng's voice, softly, joined Elena's from behind her.

you're in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

Elena sighed as she thought she could still hear him, a ghostly voice, as she played the last few notes of the song, then lifted her hands from the keys to bury her face into them.

She didn't hear the whisper of silk and satin as Tseng sat beside her. She wasn't aware as he pulled her against him, but she turned and wrapped her arms around whoever it was. She wasn't afraid anymore. It was probably Reeve, or Reno or Rude, making sure she didn't spend Christmas alone.

"Elena?"

She jumped back. ~That was /Tseng's/ voice!~ She looked up slowly, and shook her head in disbelief. "No... no, this can't be," she breathed, "you're dead.. I was there when we found you..."

"They gave me another chance, Elena. The Cetra, Aerith; they gave me another chance because I had turned before I was murdered," Tseng said, quietly.

"No.. that's not possible. Once you're gone, you can't come back..." Elena sobbed. "I'm just dreaming."

Tseng leaned forward, and brushed his lips against hers. "Does that feel like a dream?"

Elena stopped breathing, staring at the solid apparition before her. "Tseng..? Are you real? Are you sure I'm not dreaming... or dead?"

Tseng smiled. "I'm quite certain. Your wish for fresh air was read by the Cetra."

Elena blinked. "My... You mean by opening the window?" Tseng nodded. "I felt... something... that told me I should when I left..." she stopped. "Aka.."

"Aka?"

"He's still alive," Elena explained. "He... kept waiting. I had the feeling that he waited for you to come home. When I came back out here from talking to him, I felt I should open the window."

"Aka has to be gone, Elena.. it's been almost four years since I got him.." Tseng said gently.

Elena shook her head. "No.. If you're real, he has to have been real all this time."

Tseng stood, and offered her his hands. She took them, carefully, as if she expected them to vanish once her hands closed on them. When she realized they were as warm as she was, and that they weren't going to vanish, she stood with him.

Elena led the way down the hallway to the room that was lit by the aquariums in the room. She went to Tseng's chair, and looked into the aquarium where Aka had been earlier that night. The bright red fantail Betta was still there.

Tseng shook his head, then touched the glass. "I don't bel-" he stopped.

Aka slowly turned a circle, flared at them both, and then slowly vanished without a trace.

/Now that you are back, I can go Home. You can look after your girl-human now./

Tseng stared at the tank for a moment. "Elena...?"

"I heard it too."

".... I don't know which of us was the Angel, Elena. ... Aka.. stayed in my stead...? Was he sent to watch you, to give me a reason to come back?"

"I don't know, Tseng."

/Someone had to watch over the girl-human, Tseng-sama. Why not a fish who could not tell either of you until now that during your testing at Home, someone was making sure you had a reason to return?/ A chuckle followed the words, and then silence descended upon them both again.

"A reason to return?"

"I almost gave up a few times. I came in here to talk to Aka often." Elena gasped. "And he kept me here, knowing you would come back. He /knew/, Tseng."

"Elena, I have to wonder about this world, and its Lifestream. Either way, I'm glad I had you to come home to. I wasn't /home/ there, Elena, despite what Reno says. I couldn't be Home without you."

Bells began to ring in the distance, marking Midnight, and the beginning of Christmas Day.

"Merry Christmas, Tseng."

"Merry Christmas, Elena. I'm sorry I didn't have time to go shopping..."

"Tseng?" Elena looked up at Tseng.

"Hm?" Tseng looked back at Elena, who shook her head.

"Could I ask for more?" She wrapped her arms around him tightly, and Tseng returned the embrace. "I have what I've wanted for more than one lifetime right here. And nothing can separate us again."

Tseng kissed Elena's forehead. "Not even Death, I promise you."

~Owari~