Disclaimer - I do not own any of the characters of FFVII. But, thank heaven's, Seph has agreed to be my muse, for which I am eternally grateful.
Author's Notes - Well . . . here it is. The final chapter . . . ie, Epilogue, to this story. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 10 - Once and Again
Tifa cleaned the bar silently, her eyes resting every now and then on the stool at the far end of the bar . . . the stool 'Seth' had occupied during his hours as bouncer to Seventh Heaven. It had been three years since the final showdown with Jenova . . . three years since Sephiroth had sacrificed himself to destroy the creature. Vincent occupied it now, absently watching the patrons from the shadows of his cloak. Midgar was nearing it's completion . . . she and Cloud had been married six months after the final showdown. Tonight was the anniversary of that final fight . . . the others would be here soon to raise a glass in silent prayer to the soul of their departed friend. The bar was closing now . . . she sighed as she glanced up at the clock. Five more minutes. She heard the bell signifying the opening of the bar door, but did not turn around to see, assuming that it had been another patron leaving.
None of her patrons wanted to be forcefully removed by Vincent. Most of them behaved beautifully even when drunk for fear that the volatile man would come anywhere near them if they got out of line. She stopped to look at the picture over the bar . . . a picture showing the entire group gathered around a single, black haired, violet eyed man who's eyes reflected horrors belying his youthful appearance. It had been taken during his brief stay as Seth . . . Tifa smiled as she remembered him protesting the picture, saying it was not his place to be in among the friends. 'You belonged there more than any of us ever suspected . . .' she thought, before turning back to the glass in her hand, pushing back the tears that threatened to spill again.
Vincent noticed immediately, however.
"Thinking of him again, Tifa?" he murmured. Tifa merely nodded, her eyes fixed on the glass before her. She heard Vincent shift, and glanced up to find him regarding the picture as well. He'd had the hardest time . . . finding his son only to loose him mere weeks later had done nothing to help his perpetually dark state of mind. They had thought he would follow Sephiroth into death for a while . . . then Barrett had rather rudely reminded him of Sephiroth's final words to him.
"'Do not withdraw from life again. Let them help you as they helped me.'" That had proved to be Vincent's breaking point. He had disappeared that night . . . only to show up two weeks later, back in his usual form, his demons dealt with. He had even agreed to move into the bar when Cloud and Tifa bought a house nearby. He had been there ever since, ceasing his wandering and settling down with an easiness that had startled Tifa and Cloud, and amused Nanaki. Barrett had returned to Corel, Cid to his beloved Shera (who he'd finally gotten around to marrying), and Reeve to rebuilding the rest of Midgar and the other cities Shin-Ra had destroyed.
As if her thoughts had summoned them, AVALANCHE strode through the door, their mood somber. It seemed to happen this way every year . . . this day was set aside for that moment in time, when they would remember the man they had once hated, and had eventually come to see as a friend. Vincent removed the rest of the patrons, and together the members of AVALANCHE gathered at a table, Tifa pouring each of them a shot of brandy and setting it onto the table before them, joining them herself when she was done. Silently, they raised their shots to the picture, each of them murmuring a good will phrase towards the soul of a fallen angel.
"Mind if I join you?" a voice whispered, startling all of them. They could have sworn all the patrons were gone . . . Vincent was very good at his job, after all. They turned as one to face the intruder, hands going to guns and swords instinctively as they came face to face with a tall figure, swathed in black. His face was hidden deep within the folds of his hood.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Vincent growled, standing slowly, bristling with anger. The stranger merely shrugged, gesturing with one black gloved hand towards the shots and the group.
"Merely wishing to give my own regards to the soul of the fallen. Although I doubt he needs your help anymore." There were growls all around the table at this comment, chairs sliding back in preparation for a fight. Tifa was unsure which they planned on doing . . . attacking the stranger, or preventing Vincent from killing the man. It was during these thoughts that she caught a glimpse of leather and knee high boots. She leaned forward slightly, her breath catching in her throat as she saw a flash of glowing blue/green eyes and saw a stray strand of hair . . . a strand that was the color of pressed platinum.
"Oh . . . my . . . gods . . ." she whispered hoarsely, her eyes widening in stunned disbelief and hope. "Guys . . . put your weapons down . . .Vincent, sit down . . . I think you are going to need to." The figure nodded towards her, silently thanking her for her intervention. Reaching forward, he took the shot from her numb fingers, raising it in toast.
"To friendships . . . and new lives," the figure murmured, before tipping back the shot. The hood fell back, revealing a face too well known to ever be mistaken for anyone else, topped with a trademark platinum color. Jaws dropped around the table as they all sat there, staring at a man they would have sworn was dead . . . again.
"Sephiroth?" Vincent whispered, his voice failing him. The man turned towards him slowly, eyes shifting to blue as they met the crimson gaze solemnly.
"Hello again . . . father." A hoarse sob broke from Vincent's throat as he stepped forward, enveloping his son in a hug that looked like it would break bones on any other living being. Knowing Vincent . . . it probably would have.
"But . . . how?" Cloud asked a short while later, after the raging torrent of tears, hugs, handshakes, and back slaps had calmed down. Sephiroth sighed, a hand running through his hair as he thought about the question.
"To be honest . . . I am not sure," he said finally, sitting back with his cup of coffee in his hand. "I can clearly remember dying . . . the next thing I remember was Aeris. She was waiting for me, as she said. She said I was going to be given another chance . . . but that the Planet had to make a few . . . modifications." He peeled the gloves from his hands slowly, revealing smooth, completely unmarked flesh. "The Planet removed every trace of true Jenova from my body. The cells that had integrated with my system are still there . . . it only removed the ones that were still self-sentient . . . the ones that could have made it possible for Jenova to come back again. I had no idea of time during my . . . transformation. When I was next conscious, I found myself in the reactor in Nibelheim . . . with this." He removed from an inner pocket a very familiar round, black materia. "It's mine . . . mine to watch over, mine to call upon. The Planet's first 'gift' to me. The second is it's voice . . . the full awakening of my Cetran blood. I truly am the Planet's last guardian . . . and because of Jenova, I am an eternal one."
"How long ago was that?" Tifa asked quietly as the rest took in the information.
"Only a week ago. I came straight here." He looked around at the gathered friends, smiling slightly at their still slightly stunned expressions. He couldn't really blame them . . . he had not expected to be coming back either. "Of course, I hate to say it, but I had an ulterior motive other than coming to see all of you again. I suspect, as the Planet's new guardian . . . that I may need to call upon you all from time to time. I wanted . . . to know if that would be alright." Tifa burst out suddenly.
"What do you mean, from time to time!? Of course you can . . . cause you'll be right here to ask when you get the call!" Sephiroth looked at her in surprise, startled by her outburst. "What?! You didn't think we were just gonna let you walk right back out of our lives now that we know you're alive again, did you? OH NO . . .you're stuck with us mister . . . even if I have to lock you in the basement myself!" There was a moment of stunned silence before the laughter began. Tifa, realizing what she had just said, couldn't help but join in. It came as somewhat of a shock when they discovered that Sephiroth was actually laughing right along with them, as was Vincent. Finally, Sephiroth held his hands up in surrender.
"How could I turn that offer down? I guess I am here for good, then," he murmured finally.
"Yer damn right ya are!" Barrett growled. Cid readily agreed with his own, more colorful language, and Nanaki nodded his head, Reeve murmured a soft assent, Cloud gave him a dirty look that he had thought any different, and Vincent just looked at him. Sephiroth sighed, shaking his head in perpetual astonishment at these former enemies of his. They would never cease to amaze him.
Later that night, as he lay in his room in the basement of the bar, he stared up at the ceiling, deep in thought, listening to the whispers of the Planet inside his head. The voice of the Planet was so very different from what Jenova's had been . . . it was like the constant babble of a bubbling stream, comforting in a way. He sighed, the black materia resting against his chest, cradled gently in one hand.
He'd been granted a second chance . . . a second life, so to speak . . . and he intended to learn everything he could about life from his new friends. He was sure it would prove to be the most gratifying experience of his entire existence. He grinned slightly as the Planet murmured a sleepy affirmative to his thought, and as he drifted off to sleep, he had one final thought.
The redemption of a fallen angel was an old fairy tale . . . one that he now very firmly believed was possible.
Final Author's Note - I hope you'll forgive Vincent being emotional . . . I felt that the stress of losing his son, and then seeing him come back to life on the night they were remembering his death would make him a little more prone to doing things he normally wouldn't. Hopefully, you'll all forgive me . . . and Vincent will too, cause he's currently glaring at me for making him act like that. I think I'll go hide behind Seph now. Later all : )