Squall did not trust Holt and Kyme to transport anyone through the portal safely, so he ordered Zell and Irvine to fetch Doctor Odine. Meanwhile, they had a lot of cleaning up to do. They piled together the bodies of the dead soldiers outside and used magic to cremate them. It was not a good end, or a fitting end, but as their ashes scattered in the wind, Squall thought that at least they had not been left as carrion for the monsters. Biggs watched all this grimly, but he refused to let the same happen to Wedge. Instead, they wrapped Wedge's body up using a sheet from the soldiers' living quarters and laid him out on a makeshift campbed. Biggs stayed with him.
Cloud and the others had gone to fetch Red XIII, who had stayed in the truck, still weak and able only to hobble slowly over the ground. Seifer and Selphie remained in the control room, guarding their three captives.
"We should go and talk to Biggs," said Rinoa.
Biggs was sitting down on one of the flat campbeds. The narrow room was a mess of mattresses, clothes, rucksacks and other sundry items: a battered pack of cards and a Triple Triad board, an almost full packet of cigarettes, a black wallet, an empty bottle, a crumpled fifty gil note and a small stash of potions. They were items belonging to men now dead. The air was stale.
Rinoa wrinkled her nose as she picked her way over to Biggs. Beside him, Wedge's body lay stretched out. The nearly-white sheet covered the whole body, giving it a sense of anonymity. It could have been anyone under there. Squall had miscalculated; he had not anticipated that Piet commanded GFs so powerful, or that they had the ability to suppress magic. They had been lucky to get away with only one casualty. Squall did not say any of this, because he had the idea that Rinoa wanted to comfort Biggs, and he didn't think his sentiments would be welcomed.
Biggs regarded them through tired eyes, but he didn't say anything so it was left to Rinoa to break the silence.
"We're so sorry," she said. "We'll pay you compensation, won't we, for your loss."
Squall nodded, although this had not occurred to him.
"I don't want your money. I don't want anything to do with SeeD."
"But if you want to give Wedge a proper funeral…"
"I'll dig him a grave with my own hands."
There was no arguing with stubbornness like that, but Rinoa didn't know when to give up.
"If there's any way that we can help…"
"You can help," said Biggs, and he turned his gaze from Rinoa to Squall, "by telling Caraway that I'm dead. You've tried hard enough to make it that way, so might as well make it official."
"If that's what you want," said Squall.
"Wait, what?" said Rinoa. "When have we ever tried to kill you?"
Biggs laughed mirthlessly. "I've lost count. I remember you twerps when you were only cadets. Squall and the little girl with the brown hair and the guy with the tattoo on his face and Seifer, the Sorceress' lapdog all left Wedge and me for dead up at the Dollet communications tower."
Squall blinked. "That was you?"
"You don't remember, do you? Piet was like that. He had no idea how many people he'd killed; he forgot the lot of 'em. I'm not sorry you took care of the scumbag."
"He was an ex-SeeD," said Squall.
Squall had nothing to say to that. An uncomfortable silence descended, during which Rinoa bit her lip and Squall surreptitiously tugged at her hand, wanting to leave.
"We're sorry," said Rinoa again. She turned and almost fled out of the room, Squall hurrying after her.
Every fibre of Yuffie's being was eager to be home. The portal was right there, all powered up, and it would only take a little jab from the knife which Selphie had returned to her to make Holt and Kyme set it up for them, but oh no, Squall was being all safety conscious and suspicious again, and wouldn't allow it. Odine was supposed to be coming, but he seemed to be taking ages. Yuffie had so far wasted her time prodding various parts of Rufus Shinra with her toe, hugging a disconsolate Tifa, telling a joke that fell flat to Denzel, and giving the tied-up Kelling dirty looks. After they brought Red XIII limping into the control room, she sprawled down next to him and stroked his damp furry head.
"You don't look good, Red, sure you're all right?"
"I have a fever," he replied. He was sitting with his limbs tucked under him, his tail flicking this way and that, the flame burning dully.
"That freak Odine had better get here soon. You don't look like you're gonna last much longer."
He said nothing, just flattened his ears to the top of his head.
"What's taking him so long? I want to go home now," she grumbled.
Red didn't take the invitation to complain along with her. Yuffie decided it was best to let him rest. As she stood up and stretched, Selphie came over and tapped her shoulder. "Hey. Seifer's just been telling me what happened with you guys in the training centre."
Upon hearing his name, Seifer joined them, grinning. Yuffie flushed and opened her mouth automatically to deny whatever it was that had happened.
"Why'd you look so guilty, ninja girl?"
Wait, she hadn't done anything wrong in the training centre, had she? "Uh…"
Selphie smoothed over the awkward moment with a giggle. "No, I was talking about Irvine and how you lectured him."
"It wasn't a lecture-"
"I think he took it seriously anyway."
"Really?" said Yuffie.
Selphie shrugged. "Well, we'll see. I'll miss you, Yuffie. But I bet there's someone here who'll miss you more." She nudged and winked at Seifer.
Seifer grinned. "I wouldn't count on it."
He got an elbow in the ribs for that, but it was half-hearted. Even though she had known it was coming, the thought of saying goodbye dampened her spirits. She glanced around to see what her friends were doing. Vincent was silently guarding Kelling. Cloud, Tifa and Denzel were conversing in low voices. Tifa still looked upset over Wedge, her eyes red-rimmed.
Selphie saw where Yuffie was looking. "Poor Tifa. He was a nice guy."
Yuffie felt a twinge of guilt. She didn't even know Wedge, hadn't bothered to get to know him, and yet he had died for them. "Yeah."
Squall and Rinoa appeared in the doorway. "They're here," he said.
'They' meant Irvine, Zell, Xu and Doctor Odine. The little scientist was as oddly dressed as ever. He let out a shriek when he saw his machine again, safe and fully functioning, and waddled over to it, cackling. While Odine checked the machine, Xu snapped her fingers and left with the three prisoners in her wake. Biggs also followed her, carrying Wedge's body with him.
"So that's that," Tifa murmured, as she watched them go.
"Are we going home now?" Denzel asked.
He looked at Cloud for confirmation. Cloud nodded. "Yeah, we are."
Yuffie grinned, her excitement bubbling up all over again. She felt as though the departure of Kelling and his cronies, and the sad bundle that was Wedge had removed the last of the lingering bad feelings in this place. Squall, Rinoa, Irvine, Selphie, Zell and Seifer were all staying to see them off. She bounced ahead of Tifa to the dais, joining Vincent and Red XIII who were already lining up to go through.
"Oho!" said Odine. "Zese foolish Galbadians, vat have zey done vith my beautiful machine?"
"Is something wrong?" Yuffie asked.
"No, I can make it vork, but zey have fiddled vith it, fiddled around vith my perfect program!" Odine began typing, his beady eyes scrunched up against the glare of the computers.
"Well," Squall began, "it's been a long journey."
"Wait," said Cloud. He and Vincent were holding Rufus Shinra's unconscious form between them. "Before we say goodbye, I want to ask you something."
Squall nodded, indicating that he should continue. Yuffie watched them curiously.
"After we leave, close the portal down. Dismantle it, destroy it – make sure that no-one can ever use it again."
Several people looked surprised, but predictably it was Odine who let out an outraged squawk. He turned to them, his ruff wobbling, and stamped his feet.
"Destroy my beautiful machine? Vat madness iz zis?"
"It's not madness," said Cloud. "Believe me, you'll thank me. See this man?" He indicated Rufus' lolling head. "This is Rufus Shinra. He knows about the portal now, Kelling told him all about it, promised him riches and new technology. I know him. He'll want to take control of it."
"And if he doesn't," said Vincent, "there'll be a thousand others who will. Both in your world and ours. How long before someone else like Kelling comes along, and succeeds?"
Odine opened and closed his mouth like a fish. Squall nodded. "I understand. We'll do as you say."
Odine didn't look happy, but he was hardly in a position to argue. Squall thought the matter was done with, but then the flame-tailed creature, Red, spoke up. He had almost forgotten it was there.
"Odine," said Red, "did you bring anything else through the portal during your research? Any living things? Anything at all?"
Squall frowned. An odd question.
Odine's eyes suddenly brightened with interest. "Zat animal talks? How fascinating! I vould love for it to visit my laboratory!"
Red growled, deep in his throat. Odine seemed to realise that continuing this train of thought was a bad idea, and didn't pursue the subject. "Some things," he answered at last.
"What things?" asked Cloud.
"Pieces of technology. Phones, circuits, weapons, documents… It vas all legitimately acquired!" Odine added, seeing the accusing looks on Cloud and Tifa's faces. "Ve used your technology to improve our own. Your vorld iz backwards in some areas, but advanced in others."
How long has this been going on for? Squall wondered. It was no secret that Esthar had made amazing and rapid advances in radio signals and wireless communication. Were all these ideas stolen?
"But did you bring through any living things?" Red persisted.
"No," was the answer. "Ze city location vas not abundant in wildlife."
"You did not try to use any of these objects as a means to connect with our world?"
"That's an idea!" said Selphie. She looked at Red, impressed. "If you could use the materia to get to their world, then couldn't you use anything else from their world as well?"
"No, of course not!" said Odine. "Zese other objects did not contain magic like ze orb! It iz the magic vich makes it vork!"
Red spoke quietly. "It isn't the magic. It's the Mako."
Odine stared at Red. "Vat are you saying?"
"Materia is born of the Lifestream. It wants to return to its own world and that attraction creates the connection. Both Vincent and I have Mako inside us and that's why the portal pulled us through." He growled at Odine. "You have been meddling with powers you don't understand!"
A vein in Odine's forehead twitched. Then, abruptly, he let out a cry and paced furiously around in a circle. Squall couldn't decipher much of his feverish mutterings, but he thought he heard the phrases, "A breakthrough!" and "Zis Mako, it must be a powerful magic!"
"The hell you all talking about?" Zell asked. "What's the Lifestream?"
"Spirit energy," said Red. "The flow of life around our Planet. When we die, our souls return to the Lifestream, only to be born again as a new life. That is the cycle of the Planet."
"I have heard of zis," said Odine. "I thought it vas a legend from your vorld."
"It's no legend," said Cloud. "The Lifestream is real, as real as the Mako inside me."
Red turned to Squall. "Before you destroy the machine, you must remove the materia. It's a part of our Lifestream, which makes it too dangerous to remain in your world."
"But how can we do that?" Squall asked. "I thought the machine was powered by the materia."
"There may be some residual energy left over after our departure. Rinoa… I think you will be able to do it."
"Me?" said Rinoa.
"You're a Sorceress," said Red. "Perhaps your magic is ancient enough to remember this materia… to remember our world."
On that enigmatic note, he stopped. Squall frowned, but they were all distracted by Odine, who suddenly laughed.
"Very vell!" the scientist said. "One last trip. No time for sightseeing. Just one goodbye, and zat iz all. You have two minutes!"
Two minutes. Yuffie caught her breath. She had longed for this moment for so long, but now it was finally here, she wanted to stretch the seconds out. It was time to say goodbye. Squall and Cloud shook hands. Tifa hugged Rinoa, both of them with tears in their eyes. Yuffie rushed from person to person, hugging them all, even Zell who she barely knew.
"Bye, dude! Love the tattoo! Say hi to Quistis for me."
Zell flushed red, but he nodded and hugged her back enthusiastically. Selphie laughed, equally as enthusiastic.
"I'll miss you," she said again.
"Me too." Yuffie brushed back a strand of her hair, revealing Selphie's undamaged ear, with a white earring shaped like a teardrop dangling from it. "At least you can remember me every time you wear a single earring, huh?"
Selphie laughed. "Yeah, that'll remind me."
Yuffie noticed that her hand was tightly entwined with Irvine's. She hugged him next, saying, "Treat her properly, you big schmuck!"
Then she hugged Rinoa. "Sorry again about the whole assassination thing. Won't do it again, promise!"
Rinoa laughed. "Don't ever change, Yuffie."
"I'll miss you."
"Me too. I would have loved to see your world, just once…" She smiled sadly.
Yuffie went to Squall next. He had just shaken Vincent's hand and she caught him off-guard when she flung her arms around him. He was like a marble statue, all cold hard leather, she thought. She grinned mischievously.
"Bye bye, Commander! You're an asshole, but you're really hot, you know."
She left him standing frozen and bright red.
She turned to Seifer last. He was on his own, slightly isolated from the others. She pinched him on the cheek and grinned. "Bye, Seifer! You're a jerk too, but ya know what, I like you that way! You're actually kinda hot too, but let's not get into that now, I'm never gonna see you again anyway… Seifer?"
He looked over her shoulder, towards Odine, as though he was waiting for something. Counting down the seconds, she thought, until…
Odine let out a cry of triumph. "Yes! Ze co-ordinates are set!"
The high-pitched keening of the machine cut through their ears. Their farewells ceased abruptly. In the moment that the noise reached its highest pitch, making them all wince, Seifer took a pace forward, Yuffie stumbling with him. His face glittered in the glare of the computer screens. The sound of the machine passed out of their hearing. There was a moment of absolute silence when Seifer spoke.
"I want to go with you."
Yuffie's mouth fell open. "What?"
"I'm going too – through the portal and into a new world!" His face was eager, passionate.
Yuffie swallowed a couple of times but for once she was rendered speechless.
Instead, it was Squall who spoke next. "But you came back to Garden. You said you wanted to become a SeeD. Was that a joke?"
"No. I thought I did. I thought it was the only path left open to me. I would walk side by side with Fate instead of being dragged along at her heels. But now I have a choice – a chance, and I'm gonna take it. You – SeeD, Garden, everyone in this world – you can all go fuck yourselves. I'm leaving."
The shock left by his words seemed to vibrate in the air. The portal was still shimmering. It gave an eerie cast to the pale faces around them. Yuffie backed away from Seifer and he took her hand, his expression urgent.
"Are you sure?" she asked. "I mean, what if it doesn't work out? You won't be able to go back."
"But your friends – Raijin and Fujin…"
"Do I sound as though I haven't thought about this, Yuffie? I talked it over with them. I've said my goodbyes."
He's really serious, Yuffie thought. This isn't just a crazy impulse; he planned this moment all along. The world suddenly seemed to be full of endless possibilities. She imagined introducing Seifer to her friends back home, to Cid and Barret, to all the stuffy nobles in Wutai. She could hardly contain herself.
"Then come! I'll show you Wutai and take you to the pagoda and we can climb up Mount Da-Chao and-"
"What about me?" Rinoa asked. "You won't be able to write to me."
Seifer shrugged. "I'm sorry, Rinoa."
"No," said a low, rasping voice, and Yuffie looked around in surprise for the source of the voice. "No, you mustn't go."
Red had spoken. She frowned. What was Red doing raining on her parade? He was still in a bad condition; none of their potions or spells had been able to help him any further. He limped towards them, looking scarred and grizzled.
"Why shouldn't he come with us?" she asked aggressively.
Red's tail swung from side to side like a very fast pendulum. It reminded Yuffie of a cat, and cats only wagged their tails when they were angry or agitated…
"He doesn't belong to our world! His soul will not find a resting place in our Lifestream. I would not condemn anyone to such a fate."
Oh, no. Not that.
Cloud looked worried. "Could it contaminate our Lifestream?"
"It's possible," said Red.
Seifer looked at her, but she couldn't deny it. She could only give a tiny shrug.
"I don't care!" he said. "I don't give a shit about your Lifestream mumbo-jumbo. I just want to start a new life somewhere else, somewhere different…"
"No, Red is right," said Vincent, coming into the fray. "You might be willing to risk your soul, but I'm not willing to risk the Planet. Remember what happened last time an alien spirit found its way to our world."
"Jenova?" said Yuffie incredulously. "You can't seriously be comparing Seifer to Jenova."
"We can't let him come with us, Yuffie," said Vincent. "Not permanently."
Sometimes, Yuffie really, really wanted to hit Vincent.
"You're going to stop me?" Seifer sneered. "Cloud, Tifa, what have you got to say?"
All eyes turned to Cloud and Tifa, who were standing with Denzel between them. If they chose to side with her and Seifer (and they'd better do, she thought), Seifer might get his way after all.
"There's something I want to know," said Tifa. "If we're in two completely different worlds, then why do they share the same sky?"
Squall looked surprised. "They do?"
She nodded. "But even without that, you must have noticed the similarities… It can't be a coincidence that we understand each other, can it? We speak the same language."
"I never thought about that!" said Zell. "That is weird!"
"Is this going somewhere?" Yuffie asked.
"Yeah," said Cloud. "Because if our worlds are related somehow, maybe they're not that alien at all, maybe Seifer would be able to live there…"
Hope shone bright for a moment, but Red swiftly crushed it.
"No," he said, "no, you still don't understand, any of you. This is a different world."
"Then why does it have the same sky?" Tifa asked.
Red sighed. Although his breathing was shallow, he spoke in a quiet, even tone. "Here's a story for you. A story of universes intertwined. Once upon a time, there was a planet. Two thousand years ago, a calamity fell from the sky. Jenova. That event changed the future of the planet forever. But, in a different universe, Jenova never came. In a different universe, the Ancients became known as Sorceresses. The ancient entities of the Lifestream became known as Guardian Forces. The two worlds diverged, but they share the same roots."
"How do you know all this?" Squall asked.
"I don't know. I make an educated guess. Perhaps the split occurred earlier. I don't know enough of the history of this world to say."
"But," said Yuffie, grasping at straws, "doesn't that mean the Lifestreams aren't so different after all? It's a slightly different version, that's all."
"Only two thousand years or more different," said Vincent dryly. She glared at him.
Red sighed again, his patience wearing thin. "Do you know why I'm sick? Do you know why I haven't eaten anything since I arrived?"
"What?" Tifa cried. "You've been starving yourself?" She hurried over to him and knelt down at his side to feel his ribcage. "No wonder you feel so thin!"
"I know why you're sick," said Yuffie. "You're sick 'cause you've been too dumb to eat."
Seifer chuckled, but nobody else did. Red growled at her. "You were more accurate when you said I was allergic. I am. Two thousand years or more is enough to completely change the make-up of the Lifestream. Every organic thing in this world is like poison to me. I cannot ingest it. You don't realise it because you're less sensitive, but it's the same for you. You've survived several days in this world, eating its food, being healed by its magic. How much longer before you sicken too? A month? A year? Ten years? The alien spirit energy will accumulate sooner or later."
Seifer spoke. "And what you're saying is, if I go into your world, the same will happen to me? I'll get sick… and die?"
"So I can't go." He said it in a flat, dead tone, which matched his face and his body language: slumped, defeated.
"No, no, don't say that!" said Yuffie. "I wanted to show you Wutai! I wanted to take you to the pagoda and Da-Chao and show you the statues of the five gods…"
She trailed off, feeling overwhelmed. For maybe a couple of minutes, she had believed that Seifer would be coming with her and she had allowed herself to entertain possibilities she would otherwise not have imagined, to feel emotions she had suppressed. It felt like a real loss to have that taken away so suddenly and quickly. She swallowed, looking up at Seifer, memorising every plane of his face.
"I guess we'll really have to say goodbye," he said, with an odd, tight smile.
"Sorry, Yuffie," said Cloud.
"You can shut up." She glared at Cloud, before turning back to Seifer. "Well, it won't be so bad, staying, will it?" she said, conscious of Seifer's outburst earlier. "You'll be a SeeD at last, you'll be with Raijin and Fujin and all these guys. They're worth staying for, right?"
"Do you want me to say yes?"
"I want you to say yes and have it be the honest answer."
"Don't think I can do that."
Everyone was either staring at them or looking at their feet, trying not to intrude, though it was impossible in such an enclosed space. She felt awkward.
"Ze portal won't stay open forever, you know," said Odine.
"We'd better go," said Vincent. He picked up Rufus and threw him over his shoulder like a rag doll. Without hesitating, he stepped over the threshold, through the portal and vanished at once.
Yuffie squeezed Seifer's hand tightly, making no movement towards the portal. Just a few seconds longer, she thought.
They all watched as Red wished them good luck before leaping through the arch, eager to get home and recover. Then Tifa bent down and kissed Denzel on the forehead.
"I'll go first, okay, and you follow."
She waved at Squall and his friends for one last time before departing. Denzel looked up at Cloud, who ruffled his hair.
"Do as Tifa says."
"Marlene's waiting for you," said Denzel. He walked backwards through the portal, Irvine, Selphie, Zell and Rinoa waving at him, but he only nodded back. He seemed happy to escape from the world which had captured and held him prisoner.
Now only Cloud and Yuffie were left.
"Can you just give me a second longer?" she pleaded.
"You go first, Yuffie," he said, beckoning.
She looked back at Seifer and thought, to hell with it. This is my last chance. Not caring that the others were there, she reached up on her tiptoes and flung her arms around Seifer's neck. He bent down and their mouths met and her eyes closed, and for a moment she could pretend that it was just the two of them, locked in an embrace which ignored the barriers between worlds. She kissed him hungrily, because this was the first and last kiss they would ever share, and Seifer responded with equal passion.
Somebody coughed and the moment was lost; they broke apart as people shifted awkwardly around them. She stared at Seifer, torn between cracking a joke, kissing him again, and breaking down in tears. His expression was the same.
"Go on," said Seifer, giving her a little push.
Yuffie straightened up and walked towards Cloud with her head held high, determined to show no sign of embarrassment. He kept his face expressionless. She stepped up to the dais, pausing just before the portal. She could feel its energy buzzing behind her, a slight pull at her back, like a magnet. Tears clustered behind her eyes. She held them back fiercely.
"Bye, everyone. Don't forget me."
She stepped back, and the world dissolved around her.
Squall had watched as one by one, they stepped through, while the portal shimmered and crackled around them. Last of all, Cloud paused before the dais and turned, his face haloed by the light of the computer screens.
"I guess this is our last goodbye."
"I guess it is," said Squall.
A wry half-smile curved Cloud's lips. "I'm glad I met you guys, even after everything that happened."
Squall's mind immediately tallied all the reasons he wasn't glad to have met Cloud and his companions: the attack on Rinoa, the near fatal attack on Quistis, the death of Angelo, the trouble of getting them back home again–
"Squall," said Cloud, "look after Rinoa."
Shut up, mind, he told himself. He smiled back at Cloud. "I will."
And Cloud turned back towards the arch, took another step and vanished.
Rinoa reached in and delicately removed the green orb from the clasps keeping it nestled in the centre of the machine. She drew her hand back from a tangle of wiring, until finally she held the materia, warming once again in her palm. She felt a rustling, like an echo of something long forgotten.
She moved towards the dais, and it was just as Red XIII had said. The air was thin here. The gap between worlds had been breached so often that the whole place was fractured. If she wanted, she could focus her power and the power of the materia, and blast open a permanent rift between the two worlds. But she didn't want that, she wanted to seal the wound, and the way to do that was by sending the materia back through.
Holding the materia between her palms, she reached out towards the centre of the arch, where the crack was widest. She looked into the materia's depths, and for a moment, she thought she saw a pair of green eyes swimming in those pools. With a crackle of magic, the orb vanished, taking the image with it, and she immediately convinced herself that it must have been her own eyes reflected back at her. They only looked green because that was the colour of the materia.
She turned back to the others. "It's done."
"Cloud! Tifa! Denzel!"
A small figure in a pale dress ran down the stairs to meet them, her pigtails flying out behind her. Seventh Heaven looked the same as ever, but behind the bar stood a big man with a metal arm and a blond man smoking a cigarette. A robotic cat hopped after the little girl, cape swishing.
Marlene threw herself into their waiting arms. Cloud and Tifa crouched down, the entire family huddling together.
Vincent and Red XIII stalked into the bar after them, both fully recovered, and Yuffie raced past them, stopping to pick Cait Sith up and throw him into the air. There were greetings, shouts, cheers and whoops, but for Cloud all that existed were the three people around him, holding him tightly: Tifa, Denzel and Marlene. Relief flooded through him.
"Yeah," he whispered. "We're home."
Balamb Garden was running smoothly once again, skimming across the deserts of Galbadia. Squall found Rinoa sitting at the window seat in their bedroom, gazing out at the night with a pensive expression. She had become quieter since the events at the missile base, he thought.
As he sat down next to her, she turned to look at him and quickly smiled. "Are you going to the party tomorrow night?"
She was referring to the graduation party for their newest batch of SeeDs. Squall nodded. "I have to."
"I saw Seifer trying out his new SeeD uniform. He looks cute. Almost as cute as you look in it."
"I'll be wearing mine."
"Good. Are you taking anyone?" She said it with a mischievous sparkle in her eye, and he realised, belatedly, that he had forgotten to ask her. He had just assumed that they would be going together.
"Maybe," he said. "If you're there, I might ask you to dance."
She grinned. "I'd like that."
They sat in companionable silence for a short time. Rinoa looked outside again, watching the lights of the city on the horizon grow steadily closer. He watched her face as her smile faded and her eyes became clouded. Something was troubling her.
He touched her shoulder. "Rinoa. What's wrong?"
"I was thinking." She turned to look at him, her face anxious. "It… it was better that we took Kelling alive, wasn't it?"
"Well, Caraway paid us more."
"I don't mean like that."
Squall considered. "I suppose prison is punishment enough."
"I just thought… killing him was something a bad Sorceress would have done. I don't want to be like that."
"You're not. You're better than any of us."
She smiled. "And Balamb Garden… We'll make it better too."
They had already discussed reform – changing their policies to focus on defence and monster hunting, on protecting people rather than killing them. Rinoa wouldn't let go of the idea and it was close to Squall's heart as well. He didn't want Garden to create another Piet.
"It'll take time, you know that."
She nodded. "But it's a start. Tifa told me about how they've been rebuilding their world. We can do that too."
Together, they looked out at their world, at the stars shining down on the dark earth. Balamb Garden moved like a whisper in the air, carrying them ever closer to a new horizon.
Far away, on the other side of the air, night had also fallen. Cloud and Tifa had put the children to bed, so that the two of them were the only ones awake in the house. They headed upstairs to their bedroom, ready to sleep too. Cloud moved over to the window to draw the curtains, but stopped to look outside. The world seemed still, settled. All was quiet. Tifa joined him, taking his hand. They didn't need words.
Then, for just a moment, a fraction of a second, a single beat in the slow inevitable passage of time, two couples from two different worlds looked upon the same sky, and thought of each other.