Chapter 15: Adventure Ends, Eternity Begins

Disclaimer: … … …I don't own the rights to FF7.

To my reviewers: Well, this is it. I've had several more requests for a sequel since I finished this long ago, and it may bet that I'll change my mind and write one after all, but that is only if I can come up with a suitable plot. Writing sequels is risky business when one's predecessor was so succesful. However, I will never, I repeat never, write a lemon; I do not write them and that is final.

Now for the grand finale!

I stifled a yawn before the hot blaze of the bonfire and rested my head on a folded blanket. Every inch of me was howeling with sores, from muscles to bruised bones and broken skin, but nothing cried as loud as the inner thrill of victory. It was a silent celebration on the outside. No one had energy to speak much. Most had their thoughts on the long, and for once undisturbed, night's rest ahead of them; it was time to catch up on lost sleep, and more sleep, and -

"Ouch!" I winced in wide eyed surprise as a foot caught my tender side. A lithe body went flailing to the ground beside me, howling in despair amidst a rain of pillows. She landed with a muffled "oof".

"Yuffie…" I groaned. Where did she get all those pillows?

A giggling 'oops' resounded from the mound she had collapsed into.

I poked her in the side and rolled over onto my back to look up at the sky with a satisfied sigh.. "Isn't it wonderful knowing for once that you can sleep in?"

"Goddamn right it is." Cid offered nonchallanly as he wrestled with a log for a comfortable sleeping position, a battle he was evidently losing. "I'm aimin' for at least ten hours. Any one who gets it in their head to wake me a minute sooner is gonna find themselves on the pointy end of ol' Gospel here."

"Aw shit, with da smell ya been putten off, ain't nobody gonna come near ya for a week." Barret muttered.

Cid jerked his head at his burly companion and snickered, "Yer not exactly smellin like roses either, old timer."

"Who you callin old?" Barret retorted, sitting up sharply.

"What? Yer hearin' goin' too?" Cid grinned.

"Why you son of a-"

A stick whistled through the air, knocking Barret square in the forehead as he was rearing from the ground, bounced off and grazed Cid's nose, before disappearing into the shrubbery. Sephiroth's voice purred from his distant place at the edge of the firelight, "If our two senior citizens would kindly shut up, the rest of us might actually get some sleep - a foriegn concept perhaps to some present."

Barret and Cid shared a look as their combined attention averted hostily to Sephiroth. The 'senior citizens' put their heads together in an urgent exchange of whisperings and incongruous hand signals that eventually excellerated into an apparent arguement over whose plan of disposal was better.

Sephiroth smilred wryly where he lay, his back propped against a tree and eyes closed unperturbed; the masamune rest at his right within arm's reach.

Yuffie's unladylike snoring broke the extended silence a short time later until someone, possibly myself, surreptitiously stuffed a blanket in her face. This, of course, woke her in an irritable mood that escalated into a preposterous accusation regarding my recent behavior. At my denying of the charges I was unjustly attacked, and as a result we both went tumbling across the ground perilously close to the bonfire. The mentioned obstruction forced the skirmish to end prematurely in a temporary stalement to be addressed at a later date. We returned to our respective bedrolls thereafter.

Over time the quiet rustling and stir of unrest around camp releaxed and only the gentle crackling of flames remained, and possibly the indistinct whisperings of two old timers plotting Sephiroth's demise. My brow furrowed indecisively at the harsh sounds emanating from their vacinity and I strained my ears further to hear;

"Damn it, Barret...bullshit...I'm tellin' you it's..."

"don't know where...pulled that shit out of...head up yo ass...can't even see..."

I smirked and shook my head lightly. Or, maybe they're just arguing.

I gazed over the various forms strewn about within the light of the fire and took a silent role call. Nanaki was rolled over on his side and had fallen asleep long before anyone else. Yuffie was next to me, obviously. Then there was Barret and Cid, still engrossed in their debate of what I couldn't possibly imagine across the way. Cait Sith was sitting motionlessly beneath a tree to her left. Vincent and Lucrecia, like Nanaki, had fallen asleep long ago and were entwined in each other's arms to the right. My brow darted upwards at that and I sighed dreamily.

How romantic...

An owl hooted obnoxiously from the darkness, breaking my delightful daze, and I discovered that I was grinning widely. Vincent was happy! For the first time since I'd known him he strode with a glow of pride and joy. The shadows that had once concealed him from the world had been banished away by a stunning brightness in the form of Lucrecia, and beautiful she certainly was. What had begun as a tragedy had ended in triumph. Some things turned out right after all.

Which brought to mind my own predicament, though not in as brighta light. Somehow I'd ended up with Yuffie as a sleeping companion instead of Sephiroth, which seemed wrong on many levels, but I had too much pride to go chasing his coat tails.

I glanced his way, frowning. He was gazing at the sky, lost in his own little world apparently, of which I had not part. I wasn't about to embarrass myself by crawling to him for comfort; what did I need him for anyway?

I looked up too, as if I might catch a glimpse of what had captured his attention so fully. The night was cool and crisp, and the stars clear and sharp above. They were twinkling merrily as my eyelids, unbidden, began to droop. Exhaustion had crept up on me in unnatural haste and I was asleep in mere seconds.

Mist…white mist as far as I could see. I looked down at my feet and the white, cottony air beneath, and I stood on a cloud. I was dreaming obviously. People didn't stand on clouds, so why were my thoughts so coherent and real like? Almost too real. It was humid here, the air thick with moisture - moisture that I could feel against my skin…I could hear the distant murmur of voices.

Barret and Cid maybe?

Perhaps in some reality it was, but what I was hearing was not the whispering of the living, but that of ghosts; the sound was haunting. I felt the piercing weight of eyes watching me. They were talking about me, whoever they were. Their presence was everywhere, yet I couldn't see them.

"Hello?" I called out. My voice echoed back with startling alacrity, as if I were standing in a canyon.

A veil of silence draped itself eerily upon the dream. The beat of my heart reverberated loudly in my ears.


That voice I knew. I spun around hastily, seeking out the source, but I was still alone that I could tell. "Aeris?"I called hesitantly.

"I'm waiting for you." She spoke musically through the haze, and I could feel the energy of her smile. "Come to the city. We have much to talk about. Don't bring him though," she giggled, "he'll just be a nuisance."

The words repeated themselves inside my head again and again until they were so faint that I could barely make them out.

A soft whiteness wrapped around me and I felt myself rising.

My eyes snapped open and I sat up alert. The words last spoken were still in my mind as my eyes adjusted to the dimness of night. The fire had been reduced to glowing embers in the passage of time, which could've been anywhere from two to five hours for all I knew. I was not apt at guessing time from gauging the sun's position.

I sat a moment, pondering the elements of the dream and what they might entail; I was farily certain of that already though. My mind was not hard to come to decision on whether to stay or go. The Cetra city was not far from here and the others were fast asleep. It would be nothing to slip away unnoticed and return before they ever knew I was gone.

I threw aside the blanket and felt an unpleasant rush of cold air against my exposed skin as I stood. Goosebumps materialized on my flesh and I sucked in a sharp breath, biting back a curse. My lower lip caught between my teeth as I glanced about, searching for some means of clothing to keep the chill at bay.

After spending a breathless minute navigating the perilous lay of unconscious bodie, always at the verge of breaking my cover, I found a coat - Sephiroth's ironically. I almost didn't take it, knowing how attached to it he tended to be, and that if he were to discover it missing whilst I was away he would likely come in immediate pursuit. However, impatience, and the lack of desire in making the dangerous dance through camp again, won me over and I accepted the coat. It was long on me, brushing the ground at my feet as I walked.

Relief was just beginning to set in as I approached the edge of the trees, and evidently I was careless, thinking the worst was over. It may have been, but I wasn't out of the water yet, and in my haste to get away unseen I tripped up on a tree root. A strangled sound gurgled up from the base of my throat, sounding out eerily loud in the stillness.

My body stiffened up in anticipation of being caught as I lay upon the ground, but as waited apprehensively for the sounds of movement, none came. A good minute passed before I finally mustered up the courage to creep to my feet and slowly, carefully make my way into the woods.

I started North, clomping through the underbrush a little more liesurely once I was well beyond earshot of camp. It wasn't long before I heard the metallic clang of shovels on stone in the distance. A smile lit across face. Bone Village was just up ahead, whim meant I wasn't lost, and that the sleeping forest was just on the other side of the village; The City of the Ancients, my destination, was just beyond that.

Three miners were out digging when I came through. They greeted me with corgal nods and continued diligently with their work without a word of question. Bone Village was accustomed to night owls, and they knew from the air ship anchored nearby that we were there.

The remainder of my journey was uneventful and fast. Not a fiend so much as showed its face to me along the way. Even the trip through the City was rather pleasant and abnormally silent. No voices haunted the buildings; no wind howled through the ruined buildings. It was truly peace on earth, for this night at least. It brought to me a feeling of security and relief as I made my way to Aeris' resting place, and I began to hope.

Then I came to the final bend before the lake, Aeri's grave, and all of my fears and uncertainties sprang to life. I froze midstep and couldn't find the will to go on. Forever was a long time. Was it the right thing to do? Did I even have the right to wish for forever just to be with him? And what if he changed his mind about me two hundred years from now?

A gust of wind snuck up from behind me and shoved me forward. Well, two hundred years was a while yet, and there was still the matter of getting that wish for eternity.

My steps were much more hesitant as I closed in upon my destination, and I took my time. When I came close enough that I could lean forward and peer into the widening path up ahead, I stopped and peaked from a modest distance. After a moment of debate and unease I forced myself into the clearing and walked towards the lake.

The water was serene an beautiful. I'd never seen it under a night sky before. The trees on the banks surround the lake glowed pale green, infused by the life stream, and their reflections shimmered on the surface of the water. I halted short of the shoreline and gazed into the endless depths silently.

A sudden flash of light to my left grabbed my attention and turned around sharply. My hands lifted automatically into battle stance, but there was no need.

An instant later Aeris was standing before me, a delighted smile on her face. "That's no way to greet a friend." She accused lightly, one brow darting upwards mischievously.

Any disquiet at Aeris' unorthodox arrival faded from my mind and I smiled easily in return. "Aeris!" I beamed, overjoyed, and scrutinized her curiously, "Why the dramatic entrance?"

"Oh, just for fun." She giggled with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I only get a few chances to pull off a trick like that after all."

"I see." I answered slowly, grinning, and we exchanged a brief embrace. A moment of awkward silence ensued as we both wrestled with where to begin. At last I cleared my throat and spoke uncertainly, " called me, in a dream."

Aeris poked me gently in the stomach. "I didn't call you anywhere, as you well know. You called me."

"Oh…" I paused. My cheeks slowly turned a scarlet color. "Then…you know what I want to ask you?"

"Of course I know!" She cried, her hands planting on her hips. "You do remember that I told you, if you ever need help, anything at all, to come here, right? I've been with you all the way."

I looked away shame faced and wrapped my arms around my waist. "I don't mean to ask of you anything that you can't do, but I just…I - there is no other way."

Aeris acted taken back and her eyes sparkled with a merriment. "Who said anything about 'can't do'?"

I held my breath, not trusting to hope yet. "You mean…?"

She winked and nodded. "Yes, I do mean. I've been given permission to grant you eternal life." Her expression became grim, "But, it does come with a price. For starters, you can't have children,"

"-I don't care." I interrupted earnestly, overcome by a powerful sensation of surreal disbelief.

Aeris lifted a chastizing hand, commanding silence, and continued evenly, "There is another thing too. This gift carries with it a burden, but one necessary in order for you to carry the blessing as well. You know that I am - I was - the last in the bloodline of the Cetra. However, we, the others and myself, have concluded that you might carry on the legacy through a transferal of powers. It isn't the same as you being a Cetra, but you will inherit our responsibility, as well as the abilities to carry it out."

I nodded, listening intently.

"This will bind you to the planet, like me and all Cetra are, only it will be through us and our power; you will be able to hear the planet's cries, and you will possess the power to guide the life stream. In essence, you will replace us as earth's guardian as the successor to our gifts. It is the only way to ensure that the planet is secure, with the protection of both the spirit world and the mortal one. That will be your task in exchange for eternity, got it?"

"Yeah," I replied softly. "I think so."

"There is no going back once you've decided, and I can't say it won't be hard - the planet has much healing to do still." Aeris warned warily. She forced a smile, "I don't mean to dissuade you, it's just..."

I shook my head lightly, "No, it's alright." I murmured. Memories of Aeris when she had been alive, and the cries of the planet that had haunted her day and night surfaced in the forefront of my mind. Yet in the shadow of my heart's desire, it seemed merely a small ramifacation in a much larger, beautiful picture. There were the occasionally psychotic scientiest who relished in experimenation on beings like the Cetra too, but as I was not one by blood, I was not worried on that part.

It was a daunting responsibility to face and one that I wasn't steadfastly sure I could bear at this very moment, but I had hope for the future. Someone should carry on the legacy of the Cetra. Maybe I could. I know that I would try, for Aeris' sake if anything.

"I'll do it." I said at last, nodding decisively, whether I felt it or not.

"You are sure?" Aeris inquired. "This is a big decision to make on such short notice. I'm sorry to throw this on you so unexpectedly, but I will always be with you, my spirit and my memory, to guide you. And," she smiled quirkily. "there is Sephiroth too."

"I hope so," I conveyed quietly, biting my lip out of nervous habit.

"Good then." Aeris grinned. "It will be up to you now, and the others, to look after the planet. The planet will give its own guidance, and in turn you will guide them: Sephiroth, Vincent, Lurcrecia. Better also make sure that the black materia is safe and in safe hands."

"We will." I said sternly. "You can count on us."

"I know." She replied. "Are you ready?"

I breathed in deeply and gave a curt nod. Aeris lifted her hand and with a swift sweeping motion through the air, a glimmer of light appeared. My eyes closed firmly against the brightness that exploded forth as the spell took effect, enveloping me completely in a rush of cool air enfused with powerful energy. It coursed through my body like ice water at first, putting my hairs on end, and then it became a warm embrace. Countless presences passed through me, sharing memories and visions, and each one voicing earnest encouragment as I was slowly drawn into their circle.

The sensation came to a close abruptly and I dropped back to the ground, unaware that I'd ever left it. My skin tingled with renewed energy and an unfamiliar life-giving power that seemed to reach out to any and all things that thrived; I was connected. Then the force of the voices and cries compounded into single body, so loud that I thought my head would burst from the strain.

Aeris rushed forward to support me as fell to my knees, reaching for my temples in pain. She whispered something inaudible amidst the cacaphony of sounds exploding inside my head, and they abruptly silenced. My throat expelled a tiny moan as I sat back on the ground and gasped in relief.

"I'm sorry - I should've warned you about that." Aeris sighed. "It'll be frustarting at first, learning to put them out of your mind, but with practice you'll be able to control the voices and when you want to hear them. Are you ok now?"

I rose to my feet slowly, flexed my fist and threw a few punches into the air. "Refreshed and energized." I concluded.

Aeris was about to respond when her gaze slipped pass me. Her eyes shifted slyly back to mine, a silly grin on her face. "Well, looks like it's time for me to depart. Cloud says hello, by the way - the same silly boy he always was."

"You're going already?" I asked sadly.

"Yep, my time here is limited. It was good to see you again though. I'm glad we had this chat." Her expression saddened for a moment. "I wish I could see the others, maybe some other time."She murmured. "But I must be off. Goodbye!"

"Bye, Aeris." I waved as she slowly faded, becoming translucent until there was nothing there but empty air.

I was left in complete silence, all alone, a glamorous smile creeping onto my face. The sheer magnitude of what had happened, and how seemlessly it had happened, was slowly dawning on me. It begged to question whether it was truly real or the figment of a very vivid dream. If it was a dream, I hoped never to leave it.

Some time passed and nothing but the wind changed. The reality of it crashed down around me with force and I twirled carelessly in place, laughing as the world melted together in a blissful blur. Forever...I've been given forever to love and be loved.

The faint crunch of a boot on gravel halted my celebration mid-sway as my heart lurched into my throat. No other sound followed, but there was no denying the nearby presence of another. I waited breathlessly, squinting into the darkness and clencing my fists as a protective measure. There was only the breeze in return, sweeping around me softlyand stirring my hair briefly before moving on its course.

Gradually my fears abated and my arms tentatively relaxed at my sides. It was probably only an animal gow long gone I suspected.

"Letting down your guard somewhat prematurely, aren't we?" A smooth, cunning voice emerged from the shadows.

I nearly jumped out of my skin lurching around so hard. Recognition only registered after I had a moment to compose myself and locate the offending party. My eyes locked firmly on a familiar figure as Sephiroth glided out from behind a tree and approached the clearing, his mouth upturned in a slight grin.

"You - you bastard!" I exclaimed, my voice faltering in inner relief.

"I must say it was vastly entertaining watching you stand there like a petrified rabbit." He commented casually, his attention cast momentarily aside as he polished his already gleaming sword.

My jaw went slack in abject horror, "I was not!" I retorted defensively and pretended to resolutely looked away, ignoring him.

His eyes flashed with amusement. "Oh but you were, and as you very well should be, now that I've found you." He uttered, his eyes narrowing. "You should know better than to believe that your departure would go unnoticed."

I scowled in frustration. "And how did you know I'd gone?"

"One can't help but notice being kicked in the shin by a hard, steal toed boot." He said through gritted teeth.

My forehead wrinkled quizzically, "No, that's not possible." I maintained. "I avoided everyone in camp." Didn't I?

"Tell that to the welt on my shin." He answered tartly. "Lucky that I am such a talented actor, and that I was able to follow after you had gone, completely unaware."

I crossed my arms. "And why did you need to follow me? I take care of myself just fine."

"Well, it perks one's curiosity when someone goes sneaking off during the night, obviously to avoid being seen or raising questions, which might lend one to think she is hiding something." He answered tonelessly. "It tends to grab my attention, especially when the party in question is you, love."

"I'm not you're prisoner. I don't have to tell you anything if I don't want to, and I don't have to stay within your sight at all times either." I protested. "Sneaking off is perfectly reasona-"

I was cut off mid-sentence as Sephiroth snatched up my wrist in his hand and pulled me sharply towards him so that our eyes were only inches apart. He looked dangerous in the pale light of the glowing trees, and his eyes seemed to radiate their energy as they set firmly on my own. "Oh, but you are mine, and I'm am exceedingly jealous and selfish in what I consider mine".

"This is going to take some getting used to." I said dryly.

"I can get used to it just fine." He offered quietly and grasped a thick lock of my hair in his hand, inhaling the scent with a contented sigh. "But," he paused and pulled back, his tone on a more serious note, "why didn't you tell me?"

"It was my business and I didn't want any chances of someone trying to...stop me." I explained hesitantly. "It was Aeris who told me to come alone though. Mayve to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation between the two of you."

Sephiroth seemed to consider that for a moment and eventually nodded in reluctant agreement, "I suppose that will suffice." He said. "But next time tell me. I won't stop you."

I smirked. "That's because you can't stop me."

"Oh?" His brow darted skeptically at that, "we'll see about that."

A voice shouted out from behind us. "What the hell you waitin' for, boy? Get on with it!"

Our heads turned simultaneously at the unexpected outburst. We whirled to face the intruder, none other than Cid Highwind leaning against a tree with arms crossed over his chest and a freshly lit cigarette at the corner of his mouth, and I felt a touch of color come to my cheeks. Sephiroth went completely rigid.

"Well now, seems this old geezer can still hold is own sneakin' up on two lovebirds gettin' ready to nest, eh?" He chuckled. His gaze flickered regretfully at me, "Sorry Tif, but a man's got to do what he's got to do when his manhood's been brought into question by a young pup."

Sephiroth's eyes were pulsating. "When I'm through with you, Highwind, you'll be begging for death."

I tried to hide my smile, but failed and buried my face in Sephiroth's shoulder instead. It seemed that Cid and Barret really had been up to something.

"No one gets away with callin' me a fuckin' senior citizen." Cid replied steadily. He idly checked his watch, cast a look over his shoulder, and then stared back at us expectatnly. "Well, we're waiting."

"We're?" I echoed.

"Didn't think he'd leave da rest of us behind, huh?" Barret spoke up from behind Cid. Slowly the others materialized from their various hiding places, eyes glistening sheepishly - or eagerly - depending on who you were looking at.

"Yup. We're all here for the show." Yuffie announced exuberantly from the high branch of a tree.

My eyes gradually picked out each one of my friends, all seemingly waiting for something that I had apparently missed being apart of. I grew more red by the second.

I looked up at Sephiroth in confusion, uncertain of how to proceed. He was beginning to closely resemble a rabbit himself; a rabbit surrounded by hungry wolves. I could just see the flush beneath his regularly pale skin.

Barret frowned deeply, "It's high time ya come through man. You gonna be a real man now, or do I have to-"

"Alright!" Spephiroth snapped through grinding teeth, his hands tightening into fists. "I won't forget this, mind you." He directed his finger at them, Cid and Barret. "There will be repercussions rest assured."

"I don't doubt it." Cid grinned.

"Someone mind telling me what this is all about?" I demanded in embarrassment, eyeing each person accusingly from beneath lowered eye lashes. "I can't help but notice that I am the only one who doesn't seem to know what's going on."

"Tifa," Sephiroth shook his head in mock disappointment, "-I'm astonished by your blindness, I should think that you of all people would know what this is about."

"Enlighten me." I said crossly.

Sephiroth shot both Cid and Barret a whitering glare before turning to face me. "Tifa…I-" He started, his voice breaking for an instant.

"On your knees boy!" Cid growled. Someone was clearly enjoying this.

Sephiroth restrained his hand as it reached of its own accord to his sword, and eventually it complied. He seemed terribly flustered, but I couldn't blame him under the circumstances.

My eyes gradually widened as his hand slipped into his pocked and pulled a small, black velvet box. I felt my heart melt into a pool at my feet as realization hit and my lips parted slowly with a breath of disbelief. Now I did feel like the fool. Barret had even told me that Sephiroth would propose to me at some point, but some part of me had doubted to the very end. No more, never again.

I gazed up at him fervently and tried to force the tears of joy back, but they persisted stubbornly and leaked silently from the corners of my eyes.

"I'd be honored my lady if you, Tifa Lockheart," He paused to open the box with shaking fingers, and cleared his throat, "would wife."

At first I didn't even notice the ring, my attention was so intently on him, but I spared enough time for a glance. It was silver and gold entwined in beautiful Celtic design around a small stone the color of Sephiroth's eyes, and polished to a brillian sheen. "Yes. For ever and ever, yes." I answered hoarsely and collapsed to my knees. My hands touched his face gently and I leaned in to kiss him. .

His arms looped around my waist without hesitation and I wrapped myself around him in return. Everything outside that moment vanished from my mind. It was a long time, perhaps eons, before I noticed the commotion that had erupted around us.

The serene night was torn assunder by the unrestrained outbursts of joy and encouragement from the peanut gallery. I wouldn't have been surprised if Bone Village had also heard the obnoxious hooting and hollering that echoed across the woods. Yuffie was brining down the stars with her shrill cheering.

"Yo, come up for air!" Barret yelled after a bit.

The both of us started laughing mid-kiss, and were forced to stop and hide our faces in slight embarrassment.

Sephiroth got to his feet then, pulling me up with him. "I hope you like it." He said and slipped the ring on my finger.

"I love it!" I exclaimed softly. "It reminds me of your eyes."

"That's why I picked it." He asserted nervously.

I took a moment to admire the brilliant piece of silver and gold that encircled my finger. I would have to get him one with a garnet stone.

"Is that it?" Yuffie blurted out.

Sephiroth smirked dryly and I rolled my eyes, laughing.

1 year later…

My legs stretched out across the stone bench where I sat beneath a weeping willow. The soft glow of the moon shot tiny tendrils of light through the canopy of leaves. It was warm and humid, the air laden with smells of sweet and spice.

One had to visit the garden at night to appreciate all its secrets. Many flowers were best admired during the night when their scent was most potent. I came here for that very reason quite often when the moon was a beacon.

There was the faint whisper of a breeze out, a comfort against the heavy warmth. The simple white, silk nightdress that I wore was necessary in this climate, I'd been out here countless times in the same garment and never once caught a chill.

The garden was enclosed by fifteen feet high, ivy grown stone walls. It was dilapidated with time in many places, littered with broken or cracked statues that were as old as the walls. Who knows how long it had been abandoned for before Sephiroth had inherited it and the mansion it belonged too, but the state of overgrowth within reflected a severe lack of tending.

With Anne's help I was able to bring the garden back under relative control. The interweaving stone pathways were cleared so that one could actually navigate them. Everything was neatly trimmed and tenderly cared for now.

This had become my personal area. Sephiroth scarcely came here, which was unfortunate for it would've been nice to have someone to share it with. I almost felt guilty that I was hoarding the entire thing to myself. That wasn't entirely true as many of the servants came here on off hours.

My thoughts wandered, caught in the flurry of time as I looked back on a year before. Nanaki had devised a genius plan for discarding the petrified Jenova, which was immediately put into effect. It would be a while yet before it was put into effect as it required building a rocket to send her into space. Cid was taking on the task with funding from Reeven and the new Shin-Ra government.

The same thought occurred for dealing with the black materia, but as brilliant as it may have seemed, Nanaki doubted that it would work. He hypothesized that the black materia would simply be drawn back by the lifestream and would eventually return to the planet. So, that idea was discarded.

Other possibilities were presented, all of which would work. It came down to a vote between burying it deep in the sea or in the crater. The crater idea was not so well revised however, and several problems arose after closer examination. This left us with burying it in the sea. Literally burying it. All maps were destroyed thereafter, and considering how vast and the depth of the ocean, we figured the chances were slim that anyone would track it down.

I yawned, not so much out of sleepiness, but boredom. I was yearning for another's presence. Even Lucrecia would have sufficed, but both her and Vincent had retired early.

They lived in the right wing of the mansion. The house was far too big for just Sephiroth and myself, even with the hired hands who lived along side us. It was on the surrounding grounds that the four of us had gotten married in a joint celebration. Half the country side had shown up for it - we were hailed heros by then - as well as our core group of friends. No one was conscious until well into the afternoon the next day.

Everyone had warmed up to Sephiroth by then, and for his part some of his cold exterior had melted. He pretended to be above the child's play that the Cid and Barret, and Yuffie, enjoyed, but he admitted later that against all probable odds, the three were growing on him. He even took some satisfaction in getting them back from time to time. There was no end to the pranks and gags between the four of them these days.

Yuffie was still overcoming her primal fears of being cut into tiny pieces by Sephiroth's sword - he especially relished in tormenting her with threats of immense bodily harm. There was little sympathy for her case however, as she gave as good as she got, and somtimes better. "A menace" Sephiroth had dubbed her following the episode of his sword's disappearance, along with a few other of his personal items consisting predominantly of his clothes - she had been generous enough to leave his pants though.

It had turned out to be an eventful night, our wedding, and when I say night, I mean night. Midnight began the drinking contest at Cid and Barret's urging, only to be shamed by an unexpected defeat by the local florist. The sixty year old woman wasn't even tipsy when Vincent finally backed down with a slight swagger. Barret and Reeve had long surrendered to her. Cid had been sidetracked by the demands of his daughter to administor a pony ride, and Sephiroth had declined taking part altogether.

Nanaki was content to watch from the sidelines as the night unfolded, keeping an eye on the kids while the adults played, and Yuffie was maintaining her soberiety for the greater good of plotting and deviating while her targets were incapasitated. Shera and Lucrecia were attempting to keep the ruckus to a minimal, and I was entertaining the guests with my meager piano skills.

After an exhausting month of fighting for the life of the planet and every soul on it, we were all needing to let loose. It was a much needed break from the ordinary routine of daily life.

The difficult part was telling my friends about my meeting with Aeris and the consequences that it entailed. They had all understood though, as if they had known before I did, and I knew then that things would be alright. It would be hard as they got older, but nothing would change the depth of our friendship.

As for my inherited Cetra abilities, well, they were behaving themselves for the most part. I could command the voices when I needed them, but so far there was no reason to. The planet was healing.

The creaking of the garden gate broke my train of thoughts abruptly. I glanced over my shoulder, listening, and was met by a heavy silence. I frowned thoughtfully and slipped off the bench, padding quietly across the stone back towards the entrace to investigate.

It was a vast garden with interweaving paths all over so it was possible that whoever the intruder was, they may have been able to make their way through the garden without me hearing. They didn't know it as well as I did though, I thought smugly. If they thought to sneak up on me they had something else coming.

I darted off down the trail leading deeper into the gardens where things were not so tame. Leaping the small pond in the back, I landed softly on the other side and waited beneath the shelter of lilac trees, watching. The leaves rustled faintly in the breeze, and that was all the sound I heard.

I was beginning to get impatient when someone assailed me from behind without warning. Aleather glove clamped over my eyes as the other hand took a firm hold around my waist, subduing any attempt to escape. His breath trickled down the back of my neck as he hovered there silently.

He chuckled when I started to squirm impatiently.

"I know it's you." I smiled dryly. "Quit it."

"Do you?" He challenged, his hand still covering my eyes.

I sighed, "Are you going to let me go? I can't see."

Again he laughed. "I don't know if I should if I'm going to have to run you down again. This is quite the jungle you have here."

"I did almost best you, didn't I?" I asked, daring to hope.

"Almost." He answered flatly.

"I promise I won't run." I said coyly.

"Of course you won't." He concurred and let go, but only for an instant before turning me around to face him.

His features were accented by the moonlight as it reflected off his hair and eyes. He stood before me like a knight in shining armor. "So, what brings you to my humble abode, hmm?"

"You, of course." He responded, his gaze intent upon mine. "I find myself requiring your presence now rather than later. You've been vanishing on me lately - didn't we go over this a year ago?"

"You're tired." I noted absently. "I'm sorry I left."

"I'm not." He replied coolly and pressed his lips to my knuckles. "It is more peaceful here than anywhere else."

I closed my eyes and rested my head against his chest. "You should come here more often. It gets lonely sometimes."

"I should." He agreed. "And despite my lack of affection for flowers, I can't deny that it is quite a magnificent garden."

We stood motionless for several minutes, relaxing into each other's embrace.

"Look." Sephiroth said, breaking the silence.

I looked up. A star streaked across the sky and disappeared into nothing; A wishing star. Someone else's wishing star tonight though. I had already had mine and I was content to keep it.

"Has it come true?" Sephiroth asked softly, "The wish you made the first night of our journey?"

"Yes." I paused and looked up at him quizzically. "Why?"

He smiled faintly, looking past me. "Just curious."

In an instant it came to me. "You knew."

"I did." He admitted.

"How?" I inquired.

"I heard your thoughts as clear as day - I swear that I was not at all reading your mind at the time either." He explained. "I don't now how or why it happened."

"At the time?" I lifted a scrutinizing brow, smirking.

He shifted nervously. "I may be guilty of that in one or two instances, but not that time."

"It was silly." I said softly, shaking my head.

"No." He interjected curtly. "No, it was not at all. It took me by surprise actually. You proved yourself a fine actress that night - I never noticed that that smile of yours was only a disguise until then."

I sighed. "I had a lot of practice."

"Yes, well, after I knew it was not so difficult to see the truth beyond it. I found that to be very irritating at the time, that you of all people should harbor such bitterness." He said, his eyes narrowing as if still befuddled by it. "I made a vow to myself that night and it seems that I've kept it."

My eyes brightened with intrigue. "What vow was that?"

"To make your wish come true, and no longer have to see that brittle mask. It doesn't suit one of your beauty." He said.

I blushed madly. "I wonder sometimes, whatever happened to the cold, tenacious Sephiroth you were known to be before Jenova? You changed when you returned, you changed a lot."

He nodded vaguely. " I did indeed, and you managed to needle your way beyond the false exterior of my person. I was prepared to shield myself from the world - you most of all, for you were a threat to me from the start. Evidently I failed, though I'm not sorry for it now."

"Of course you failed. No one can resist my charms." I teased.

"You are more right than you think." He answered. His thoughtful expression vanished and turned to mischief. "Now, let's make the best of the night and our, as you would put it, romantic surroundings, shall we?"

"I thought you were tired?" I giggled.

"Me? Tired? Never!" He exclaimed. " I've never been more engergized. Might I remind you that you were the one who said I was tired, not me." A twinkle of anticipation rested in his eyes.

"I'd hate to disappoint you then." I responded. Mustering up all of my strength and speed, I planted my leg behind both of his and pulled him the ground. My triumph was not long lived however, for he reacted instantly and had me pinned beneath him before I could blink an eye.

"Nice try." He said grimly. "But you'll have to do better."

"I'm happy just knowing I got half way." I stated proudly,

Sephiroth entrapped me in another one of his irresistible kisses before I could speak another word. He did that often, claiming I talked too much, which I may or may not be guilty of. I suspect it was more for his own pleasure however..

Upon releasing my lips far too soon, Sephiroth began to say what I'd just been thinking of. You-"

"Talk too much." I finished for him.

He smiled amusedly and buried his face in my hair. "My love for you shall never cease, Tifa." He sighed in contentment. "I never knew that one could be so blissfully happy."

"I love you too." I replied and kissed him again.

Eternity would test our loyalty and our love for each other, but I felt we would be alright. Love that is real and true doesn't fade if it is properly nurtured. It takes work - everything does - and a constant reminder not to take for granted what you have. Every day I wake up and tell myself to remember what I have and how important it is that I never forget it, because that is the doom of love.

Forever is a long time, but everything has its end. Maybe ours will come when the planet finally goes to rest. Until then, we take comfort in each other and the responsibility we have been given. That is a worthy cause to live for, and keep living for.

Author's Final Notes: Omg, it's finished! I can't believe it…collapses in relief YES! Eh, is it any good? I feel terrible, it's just taken me forever to do this and I have to admit, embarrassingly enough, I've been somewhat avoiding it. This chapter haunted me. Well, not exactly, but I've been worried about it, wondering if I'll ever get around to finishing it, which it looks like I finally have. As for another story…hmmm, I don't know what will happen. Any suggestions? I may not write another one for a while

Thank you very much to all of you! I'm overjoyed that everyone has liked this story so well. I only wish I could have done better hehehe - well, I always do. No way of helping that. I hope this satisfies you all after such a tremendous wait. I'll emphasize again that I feel very bad about taking so long. My horse had a baby on May 25 though, so she's been taking up a lot of my time! Along with a great deal of other things, but that's no excuse! I know, it should've come out sooner. It feels like I've had a 4 month long writer's block that has just finally been lifted.

Ahem, well, I've rambled on for long enough. Thank you all once again, and to everyone who still stops in once in a while to read this - your encouraging reviews are what keep me going.

Tibi gratias habeo!