A/N: And here it is. The final chapter of this series. I was going to post it just a day or so after the last chapter, but I got all sentimental and couldn't bring myself to do it. It feels weird to finally be finishing this off, but I'm glad I'm doing it. I'm very happy with this chapter, as it sums up the idea behind this whole series, as well as what the title means.
I just want to give a huge eternal thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, alerted, faved, etc this story over the years. Seriously. You make my life like you wouldn't believe. As I mentioned earlier, I'm planning on doing a video blog to sort of personally say thanks, and I need you guys to send me questions/fics you'd like me to read from, etc for it. I love you all, really. If I could dive through my computer screen and hug you all, I would. These two words aren't nearly enough, but here they are: thank you. And now, without further ado, I give you the final update to AIWJGTBM.
As if We'd Just Gone to Buy Milk
There's the night sky, glittering and twinkling with millions upon millions of stars. See that one? Over there? No, a little to the left. That one, the small bright one. Yes, that one. It's not a star. It's a world.
Such a small world, nestled in a calm, serene part of space. Too far from its neighbors to know it has any. How would it know? It's all water and oceans, you say?
Islands. Small speckles of land sprinkled atop the seas. Small islands with small villages of small people with big hearts.
One island in particular. Too small for homes and businesses, but just right for playhouses and summer fun. Children run across it and dream of worlds beyond the small one they inhabit. It is such a small, inconsequential place. Nothing really special in the grand scheme of things. Beautiful? Yes. Remarkable? Not really.
Now look closer.
There's a small outlet of land just off the side of this island where a long curved tree grows. It's odd, this tree; no one really knows how it grew so warped as to be such a perfect bench for the children who play there. But it is not the most remarkable thing on this small island.
Three children sit on the tree, except they're not children, not really. Their souls are far too old for their bodies and they have seen horrors no child should see.
The same three children (except now they really are still children) sit on the same tree on the same island on the same small world nestled in the same unimportant corner of the cosmos. They are younger, sillier, more carefree, more naïve.
No one sits on the tree. The children are all off, scattered across the worlds. Fighting monsters and demons and their own darkness and fears. They hop from world to world and leave another piece of innocence behind at each.
Back to the present, where the three not-quite children who are still too young to really be adults sit on the warped tree and watch the sun set on their small world. They're back where they belong, a little older, a little taller, a little wiser. The bonds of friendship grown stronger, the budding romance ready to bloom, the horizons much wider. They sit there as if they never really left, as if they'd just gone to buy milk. As if nothing much had changed.
Except everything has changed.
Look at the boy with the wild hair and eyes like the sky at midday. Look past the goofy smile and bright eyes. This boy saw horrors. He watched his everything—his home, his friends—ripped apart. He was given a weapon and sent off to save it all. And he did. He saved everything. The lazy carefree boy carried the weight of the whole universe.
Look at the boy with the cold green eyes hiding behind long bangs. Look at how he smiles and laughs with his friends. Would you believe he tried to kill them? He has fought darkness and been darkness and known guilt and regret and sin and redemption. Don't let his detached attitude fool you; he holds everything so much closer because he once threw it all away.
Now look at the girl sitting between them. She smiles and giggles and swats at her silly boys as if they drive her insane. But she has done more than her fair share of worrying about them. She has stood, alone, waiting for too long a time. She has watched, and wondered, and feared the worst and felt so helpless for being unable to help them. She has thrown away caution and thrown herself through dark walls to be able to sit and let her silly boys work her nerves.
See it now? How hard they laugh, how much they act like old times? It's not because nothing has changed. It's because everything has changed.
Peak ahead. Just a tad. Just the next page.
The tree is empty.
They leave tomorrow. Duty calls, and they must answer. And then, once it's all over, when they come back (if they come back) they will sit on this tree and talk and laugh and love one another just as fiercely as before. Until you look closer, and see that they sit there older, wiser, and so much more battered and broken. They'll return with battle scars, some visible and some not; hearts stronger but stretched further. They'll hold more tightly to each other with each attempt to tear them apart, and each homecoming will be that much sweeter with each greater distance traveled.
Life may go on, but beneath the normality there is the undercurrent stained by adventure and trauma.
Life goes on, seemingly ever the same, but it isn't really, because no one comes home from war the same as if they'd just gone to buy milk.