Azura sat on the porch swing, idly rocking back and forth. Her eyes were on the Undorian forest in the distance as she enjoyed the warmth of the late spring evening.
"Almost feels like déjà vu," said the voice behind her.
"We'll have lots, then," she laughed. "I still like the swing."
Patrick walked around her and made himself comfortable, slinging an arm around her shoulders, wincing as he did so.
"We should do this the other way." She tried to get up, but he held her in place.
"I'll have to get over the soreness sooner or later. I'll ease into it by cuddling first, then by swinging a sword at you in sparring practice tomorrow."
A grin tugged at his lips. "I take it that means your plans are going to be favorable to me?"
"Well…" her voice trailed off, teasing.
"Out with it, Valentine."
"Mom and Dad are leaving in the morning to go try and rebuild Wutai. I…don't quite get it. Between the…'fire' and the giant fire-ball spitting monster that followed, I can't see how anything salvageable is left."
"Leadership roles lead to feelings of responsibility, or so I have been led to believe by my sister." Patrick waggled his eyebrows. "But they said it was okay for you to stay here while they do this rebuild, then?"
"I didn't exactly ask," Azura muttered. "I told Daddy that's how it was. I helped save the world, I certainly think I can decide whether I want more training afterwards."
He brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Babe, you guys have to make up at some point. Even Reeve and I—"
She waved a hand. "He's just as stubborn as I am." She gave Patrick a small smile. "But I think I see him cracking, so I just have to last just a little longer. Besides, he's the one who really owes me the apology, don't you think?"
He leaned back, rocking the swing a bit more violently. "Far be it from me to get into a disagreement with a woman who can disintegrate the very fabric of reality…"
"Pat!" She slammed her feet down, stopping all motion, and looked at him imploringly. "I—I'm right, though, aren't I?"
"Zuri. I have no right to judge you in this either way. But all I'm going to tell you is that your dad did what he did for no other reason than out of love for you. Actions of far worse motivation have been, can be forgiven. You know?"
She bit her lip and nodded, sinking back into his embrace, as he started the swing to moving again.
"Granted, at some point I hope one of us has the stones to make that argument to Ishmael. He's breaking poor Rissy's heart."
"He's just having trouble understanding things have changed. Why they have, and whether or not it's really anybody's fault. It's hard to be on the outside."
Patrick nodded. "Maybe, someday, he'll let me tell him about it."
Raieyana shook the dust from the rug, then slapped it down across the rail of the back porch. The house in Junon had laid dormant for almost fifteen years, but something had kept her and Reeve from selling it.
(Almost like, somehow, we knew we'd be needing it again someday. Hardly expecting it to ever be for something like this…)
"This" being practically abandoning their Undor-Hai home in a rush, a mad desire to find a bit of neutral common ground. To rebuild something, rebuild everything.
"It'll be hard," Reeve said, walking through the doorway and into the night, "but I think, with my help, Alcor can get back to something sane and reasonable."
"It's amazingly fortunate for them you're willing to be so hands-on."
"I'm a little concerned with your plans for passing the time here. I know how much you enjoyed training."
Leaning back on the railing, Raieyana threw a scornful look back at the house. "I don't think you've realized how big of a job making this thing livable's gonna be."
He took up position next to her, shoulder against shoulder. "Mmhmm, and once you've finished that up sometime next week…"
"I suppose I have a book that I could rewrite into some publishable form…add more bits and pieces of prophecy…give some concrete explanation to all of Soldier's experiments as to why they've gone insane over the years and impotent, as of late." She flashed a wry smile. "Besides, I seem to recall deciding to have date nights and potentially entire days spent in bed."
"Dates, what are those again?"
"Apparently, an important part of relationships that we just sort of…skipped."
"The unhealthy codependence is kind of our thing."
She reached over, grabbing his arm and tucking herself in underneath it. "No matter what we've screwed up, in the end, we made it through because of and in spite of the other. We just have this small obstacle of living the rest of our lives without killing ourselves or others, and it'll be a perfect relationship."
"The kids'll be thrilled. Speaking of which…" Reeve paused. "Patrick had something to say to you before we left?"
"Seemed like it. He had some sort of…experience, otherworldly." Raieyana wasn't quite sure how to explain it. Her younger son had pulled her aside, ostensibly to have someone to discuss his glimpse of the afterlife. The obvious choice would be the other person he knew who had experienced something similar.
"It was so short, so confusing…and I had expected to be there alone, but…"
"Did you recognize the person there with you?" Raieyana asked.
Patrick paused, appearing to search the ground for the words he couldn't find. "Not really." His eyes met his mother's, seeking… A shake of the head. "I suppose it's something I really have to sort out for myself. Like the thing with you and Dad."
She smiled. "Speaking of…when did 'Dad' happen, anyway?"
"You told me to call him that when I was in diapers, remember?"
"And at least once a day since you stopped calling him that, if memory serves…"
He wrapped his arms around her, the first active hug he'd given her since even before Reeve had stopped being "Dad" to him. "It's shitty what it takes to gain some perspective, but now that I've got it, I think I'll keep it."
"Your father and I…"
Patrick nodded. "I get it. Rissy gets it. We'll leave the light on for you, try not to burn the house down, or have too many parties."
Raieyana tried to hold back the tears forming. "I think he just…needs to make right what he can. None of us can take back what we've done, but we can try and make the future better."
"We will," Reeve swore, tightening his embrace.
They remained out among the stars, steady and sure like that night at the villa so long ago. Perhaps forever wasn't so impossible, after all.
For not the first time since the sun had set, Aeris wondered if she had been foolish to believe Cloud's easy promise that he'd return. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stave off the night chill as she peered through the tree line. There was only so far she could go out towards the open without calling attention to herself or the Undor-Hai trail.
(He's spent the last decade-and-a-half as a hermit, for Planet's sake! Did you honestly think that a few weeks spent with you would make him crave human contact when he despised it for so long?
He has a PHS. I'd think he'd at least call me if he changed his mind.) She sat back down on a fallen tree that she'd been nervously revolving around during her entire wait. (Unless he was afraid of facing me, hurting my feelings…)
Suddenly, she heard a chattering in the distance. It began approaching, soon ringing into a veritable cacophony. The haze of the shadows obscured all but an outline of a man leading a chocobo by the bridle.
"Goldie," she heard a soft voice murmur, "can you get the rest of this circus up the mountain?"
The bird warked in response, setting off an echo of mimicry. Suddenly, the bridled bird began trotting up the mountain, ignoring anything resembling the trail. A strange thunder followed as a train of birds followed the lead.
The man broke through the trees alone, feet headed towards the near-invisible path with assurance. He immediately found himself face-to-face with Aeris.
"I had pretty much decided you weren't coming after all." Her voice was an accusation.
"Ever take a herd of chocobos across the ocean?"
She shook her head. "Seas too rough to make a phone call?" She crossed her arms, petulant.
"Riss, I was in the zone." He began to walk, but she didn't move. "Wait, are you angry that I did come?"
"Wait a sec," she jogged a bit, catching up to him. "It's not that, Cloud…but I was waiting an awful long time for you. I just started expecting the worst while hoping for the best. And I was just so ready to be mad at you…" Aeris grabbed his arm. "I needed a moment to stop being angry."
"I was going to say, that's an interesting way of being appreciative of my lifestyle change."
"I just don't have enough self-confidence yet to quite believe that you'd be willing to do all that, because I asked."
"It was beyond time for me to rejoin the world again." Cloud flashed a wry smile her way. "Don't be afraid that I'm going to run away at the slightest kink of things…this is something I need to be doing, for myself."
Aeris paused. "That's good. All of a sudden, it's like I've nothing left I can count on. Everything's changed."
He stopped, resting his hands on her shoulders. "Things will be different, but I don't see how that's all bad. Your parents and Patrick were doing better, last I knew…"
"My parents are all sketchy with us and each other and will be away for who knows…could be a week, could be forever. Patrick's a whole new person, and even if it's most definitely for the better, it's still not what I know…"
"You're not your parents or Patrick, honey, and—"
"He hates me!" Aeris burst into tears. "The most important person in my life, who was always there and understood everything, hates me!" She took a shuddering breath. "And it's not just that, he hates Patrick, he hates Mom, Dad, everybody…everybody who's not his precious Kati. Everybody who won't let him wrap himself away and take the easy answer to explain everything away."
"I never had a brother, let alone a twin. I can't begin to understand the bond you had…but what I do know is that he has to be missing you just as much as you miss him."
"He has a funny way of showing it! Swearing that he'd never want to stay under the same roof as Patrick again, and that he'd not ever be interested in coming home until Wutai was back the way it was."
"I know what it's like to feel left out of something big, something huge, Rissy. And while it may feel like he's abandoning everyone he loves for one person… He wasn't with Zuri and Patrick in the wilderness. He wasn't with you or I when we fled with the materia. And he wasn't down on the plains by Midgar with the E' Sha. He didn't see or feel the things we did."
"He'll never understand, then?"
Cloud brushed a tear from her cheek. "He doesn't understand now, but he will want to, someday. Because he loves you. And when that day comes, I hope you'll be there to help him understand. Because you love him."
"How'd you get so get at this?"
"Funny thing," he said softly, "I just recently met someone who showed me that there's always someone. To listen, to understand, and to help change things for the better. To stand beside you at the darkest hour, and lift you up at the first light."
"Oh," was all she managed before his lips came down on hers for a crushing kiss.
The moon was high in the sky before they broke apart.
Aeris rested back on her heels, smiling. "You'll have to introduce me to this wonderful person, someday."
Cloud shot her a dirty look. "It appears like it may be a difficult feat. You see, she has no idea she's so special."
She smirked. "So, it'll all be okay?"
"If we try our hardest, it can be." He took her hand and began leading her further up the mountain. "And I will."
A/N: Many years ago, a young girl began her first foray into fiction with a mediocre fic starring an OC that may or may not have been a Mary Sue. The supporting cast of characters may have helped disguise that fact a little, and the fact that the writing was technically competent probably didn't hurt.
It led into a more ambitious sequel, which wasn't quite as rushed or bad. Then the series laid dormant for awhile. Eventually, a bit of nagging and a spot of creativity began the third installment of the trilogy. She continued to steadily work on the trilogy for about a year or so, getting steadily closer to the end. There was one small problem: the story didn't have an ending, yet.
So the story sat dormant for what could be considered an eternity, in internet time. Other stories were written, other hobbies were picked up and put down, but the lack of ending to the story that started it all nagged at the back of her mind. Occasionally, old readers/fans would find her in other places and ask what had ever happened to the story, and she'd have to regretfully say, "I don't know."
And then one day, it just happened. The story came to completion. Six thousand words poured out in a very short period of time. It was done. There could be closure for everyone: author, readers, characters.
While the story itself is likely due for a bit of an editing job, to at least mesh the writing style of the past with the writing style of the future, anyone who happens upon this will now finally know just what happened. I hope the anticipation hasn't made it entirely a disappointment.
On a little bit of a technical note, 's parser seems to have gone way overboard and stripped certain things out of past uploads, rendering them unreadable. I am updating every chapter of this fic so it's legible and will go back and do the others in the trilogy somewhat soon. They will be updated with revised versions, as well. The revisions were done quite some time ago, but I felt that it might be disappointing to go get them all posted when I still didn't have the end finished yet.
It's not exactly what I had envisioned when I began the tale. The first story didn't immediately make me think trilogy, and I began the third installment with a rough idea that Patrick would murder both of his fathers (which quickly was thrown out), but I am satisfied with the whole of the tale as a full-cycle.
So, I am at what could be considered a stopping point for this particular universe. I don't plan to completely quit fic writing: I am slowly picking the story Tarnished Side back up, and I think there are more turns to add to the E Pluribus Unum cycle. I think there are small fluffy bits and vignettes I could return to this 'verse in. I'm a bit intrigued by the childhood that I skipped and alluded to here. But, if I need to, now I can walk away.
I hope anyone waiting for this considers it a piece of closure, too.
Thank you to anyone who has read and supported this story or anything of mine. I apologize for leaving you hanging, if you've been waiting. I hope that, in the end, you enjoyed the ride.