Standard Disclaimer: The story is actually over…

Notes: Holy god! So, I was aiming for exactly two years, but if I couldn't post the story on it's birthday, at least I could do it on the U.S.'s birthday? Well that was the plan anyway. I finished it yesterday, but I wasn't by a computer for a while so… There's so much I could say about this story and the process I've gone through to get it finished. There's so much I could say about what it means to write a story that is over 200K words long and actually get it done. I learned so much and met so many wonderful people thanks to this thing…but I'm not gonna go on and on forever. I'll just say thank you to all of you who have read this and reviewed and encouraged me to keep going. It's not the greatest piece of fiction ever written, but I put a lot of myself into it and I am grateful to everyone who took the time out of their lives to take it in.

Warnings: …really, this is the end.


Life on the Blitz

"Hindsight, or our ability to see our past clearly, is a learning function that, when damaged ... renders us unable to look at the past to guide ourselves through the present and into the future. Without this ability, we cannot learn from our mistakes. We cannot clean up the wreckage of our actions. We are locked into a cycle of repeating the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. This is commonly known as the definition of insanity."




One of the earliest lessons I learned in life is that people don't care. It only took me seven years to figure out how that lesson wasn't quite right.

My first semester of high school was hard, but I'm starting to realize that a lot of it was my own fault. If I hadn't been so determined to make a martyr of myself, maybe I would have been able to listen to reason. Maybe I would have seen how messed up things were getting. I dunno… Looking back on it now, I have a hard time understanding what I was thinking.

It hasn't been that long since everything came to a head and my world fell apart, but since then, I've had a lot of time to think about what happened. A lot of time to look at everything that contributed to those few months of hell and I realize that what they say is true. Hindsight really is twenty-twenty.

I'd been lying to myself from the start. Even before school began, before Blitz Camp, from the moment I'd found out that Rin was going to accept that job on the mainland, I'd been scared. That's the simple truth, and I'd let my fear affect every decision I made from that point on.

I think I'd known for a while that it would happen. It only made sense. Rinoa wouldn't put her life on hold indefinitely, there was only so much that I could expect from her in the long run. But there was a lot about that situation that I chose to ignore. I was looking for a let-down, so I never even realized what the sacrifices she'd already made really meant in the grand scheme of things.

God, you can't get more-self involved than that. I had it stuck in my head that Rin would always be looking out for herself first. She'd taken me into her home, changed her entire life for me, and I still thought that she was going to kick me to the sidelines at her earliest convenience. The fact that she let me stay behind was all the validation I needed. Yes, I'd told her over and over again that I would be fine. Yes, I pretty much refused to move away from my mother. Yes, I'd made it seem like leaving me on my own was a perfectly rational decision…but she should have tried harder. That's what I told myself. If she really cared—if she didn't secretly want to leave me behind—she would have tried harder.

I guess I share more with my mother than I would have thought. I really wasn't all that clear in the head when all of that was happening. It's justified I guess with all the crazy turns my life had taken, but that doesn't change the truth of it. I just wasn't thinking straight for a long time. It's no wonder Riku responded to me the way he did when we first met. He saw through me completely before I ever realized that there was anything to see through. I mean, don't get me wrong, he was still an ass, but as usual, there was more to it than that. We were kind of weird reflections of each other, me with my denial, him with his rejection of people. We were both hiding from the same thing in different ways, and we hated the elements of ourselves that we saw in each other. It's a miracle that we managed to get past that at all.

I feel like I should thank Bickson for that. Not like we've heard much from him since the crazy court thing was taken care of, but in a strange way, he's the reason that everything came together the way it did. Of everyone involved in what happened during those months, I think I probably learned the most from him. He taught me that things aren't always as they seem, that good things can come out of bad situations, and that even the biggest assholes have feeling, just like everyone else.

He came forward in the end, told all of the proper authorities that his father was a liar, and everything came out after that. The case was dropped and Riku was off the hook. Seems too easy, right? My best guess is that life was just cutting me some slack finally. I don't think I could have gotten through the court stuff on top of everything else and kept my sanity intact. Rin and I heard from Detective Maza a few days after it happened and she told us that we had nothing to worry about from the Bicksons anymore. She even invited us to press charges if we wanted to. After all that had happened, I just hung up on her. Rude, yeah, but I get the feeling she probably didn't mind.

Man, I remember meeting Trav at the beginning of the year, back when he was just a bully. Who would've known he'd become such a huge part of my life by the end of the semester. I don't think anyone could've called that one, but I think that the thing with him was a lot like the thing with Riku. He saw through me, and he hated what he saw. Or maybe he saw everything that I was taking for granted and hated me for that. Who knows? Despite the fact that he was one of the biggest influences on my life, that "talk" we had on the day he kicked my ass is the longest conversation I ever had with him, and yes, I do remember that. It took a couple of months, and I still don't have all the gory details, but I do remember the day for the most part, and as embarrassing as it is, I'm so glad that Riku came to save my ass. I really think that Bickson had gone completely nuts. He could have very easily killed me.

I feel bad for him. From what Meg says, he wasn't always so pissed at the world, but with a father like his, it's no shock that Bickson turned out the way that he did. Like me, Blitzball was the only real outlet he had, and his father had influence even there. That's something else that came out by the way. Coach Clayton apparently got the job at Paopuan National because of none other than Clarence Bickson. I don't know the details, I just know that Clayton won't be coaching in the fall and there are rumors going around that Tidus' dad might be looking into the position. The last I heard about Bickson, he was working on his own emancipation and making plans to move away from Destiny. That was months ago. Wherever he ended up, I hope he can get his life together, and I hope his mother is safe.

It's crazy how if all comes down to our mothers. For me, for Riku, for Bickson. We all were struggling with the same pain. It's strange how different circumstances decided how we each responded to the situation. Riku and I are lucky to have the support that we have. I'll never take that for granted again.

"Sora! Where are you? We're gonna be late!"

"I'll be right down, Rin!"

I love this room, the one in the tower of the Loire Summer home. It's our home now, me and Rin and Leon and Cloud. I'm still not sure how that happened, but I'm glad it did. It's nice to live in a place full of people again. Tonight, we're all going to Wakka's victory celebration. He did his trial last week and blew several of the team sponsors away, the only sophomore to be selected out of all the participants. He'll be getting professional training from here on out. In two years, he'll be playing minor league making his way to the majors. He'll be able to go to the college of his choice doing something that he loves, and doing it for a living. I can only hope to be so lucky when my turn comes around.

For now, I've still got a lot of thinking to do. Four months have gone by, but that's definitely not enough time to completely rewrite my purpose in life. I'd been so single-minded for so long. It's harder to let go than I thought it would be.

"How long are you going to keep staring at it, Sora?"

I didn't even hear Riku come up the stairs, but there he is, skin glowing in the light of the setting sun from the windows all around us. I'd spaced out again. How long ago had Rinoa called me down?

"Rin send you up here to drag me away?"

He smiles, stepping forward to look at the picture with me. "Just following orders. Now that she's working with my dad, it's like I've become one of her employees."

"Hey, it's only temporary, remember?"

"Right. We just have to wait until you graduate. When's that happening, again?"

"Three years."

Riku gives a dramatic, long-suffering sigh and I can't help but laugh. He's been amazing through everything, seems to really be in tune with what I need most of the time. We've had our rough spots, but we work through them, and I think we're actually moving towards something that could be lasting if we play it right. We're not officially together, decided that with everything that happened, we both needed to take a step back, but he's still been a constant part of my life and I don't know what I would have done without him.

"C'mon, Sora." He takes my hand and pulls gently guiding me to the stair well. "It's not going anywhere. Everyone's waiting."

I don't know why I kept coming up to stare at the thing and getting stuck. It's crude at best. Simple in nature, childish…but it means so much. It's the only proof I have, and there are days when I need that. Proof that she knew me; proof that she loved me.

It's ironic really. She was the one person who I thought would care about me above all else despite the fact that she was the one who had abandoned me to begin with. I guess it shouldn't have been so shocking that she abandoned me worst of all in the end. More ironic is the fact that even in death, there is part of me that keeps trying to cling to her; keeps trying to force her to fit into the mold of 'mother' that still exists in my head.

I guess that's part of the reason that I saved this painting. There had been several canvases to go through and we donated them all to be primed over and given to other painters at the center, but this one alone I'd saved. I guess for me it represented everything that I had lost. Two parents with the tiny figure between them. It was the dream of a family that I'd once had. But it had always been nothing more than that; a dream, a fantasy, grounded in nothing beyond wishful thinking. Like the painting, it had been simplistic, immature. And now it's gone.

I don't think I miss it thought. I don't think it was healthy and now that I've been forced away from it, I'm grateful. The world beyond that dream is so much richer than anything I had imagined, but I kept the painting as a reminder. Only now, I keep coming back to it. I find myself studying it and wondering at the dull ache I get from remembering that dream.

"Sorry," I tell him, tearing my eyes away from the tiny brown spikes against that green, green backdrop. "You know how I get."

He smiles and cuffs me on the head gently, but I see the understanding in his eyes. I know that one day, I won't feel this panic as I move to leave the room, but for now I turn my back on the painting and allow Riku to guide me away.