Notes: Wow. It's hard to believe that, after several spurts of inspiration and several spurts of writer's block, this is finished. It's definitely been another labor of love, one of the most heartwrenching adventures to take these guys through. Many thanks to everyone who's been reading, reviewing, and/or helping with the advancement of the plot! More is definitely to come. I'm thinking this Wutai thing will be a trilogy, in which case there's still another part. Hope everyone will stick around for it!


Epilogue

When You Wish Upon a Star

It is now three days following the latest terrorist attack on Wutai.

The man Commander Fair apprehended is, indeed, one of the most highly-ranked and sought-after terrorists. He refuses to speak, but even so, to have him in custody is a very encouraging development. SOLDIER continues to search for his allies, who have retreated from all knowledge again. The Underground has been left in confusion as well. Those who infiltrated suddenly do not know what has become of the other members of the operation. Some fear for their lives, and I do not believe this is unfounded. They will be watched very closely by SOLDIER.

Emperor Kisaragi's retreat has survived the past attack, and it is cleaned and ready for the royal family to remain as long as it is necessary. The work to reconstruct the palace has only just begun. It will take weeks, though their goal is still to finish it before the worst part of winter sets in. At this late hour, it does not seem plausible that it could be accomplished so quickly. From my window, I can see that the first snow storm of the season has already begun.

Commander Fair and I are preparing to return to Midgar. His request to return to Gongaga while he completes his recovery has been denied, without any explanation. I intend to learn why. Meanwhile, I will look after Commander Fair myself, and see that he receives the care he needs.

I have been asked to explain how Commander Fair survived not only the explosion, but also the fall into the ocean. I cannot. It is beyond my abilities. His resolve and endurance are well-known, and it is only logical to give him some of the credit. However, in his condition it would not be realistic to assume that his strength alone saved him. But what matters most is that he has, indeed, survived---no matter what, or Who, may have assisted.

Sephiroth

SOLDIER First Class

General of the Armies

Sephiroth leaned back, removing his glasses. His reports had been increasingly philosophical lately. He had to give a grim smirk. What did Lazard think of that? Not that his reports were anywhere near as deep as Genesis's often were. Sephiroth tried to keep his rooted in logic, based on what he had seen. Genesis had been known to go off into his own little worlds, almost. He had even quoted Loveless, when he had thought it suited the occasion.

"Hey Seph!"

He looked up as Zack limped into the room and eased himself into a chair.

"Get the report done?" he chirped.

Sephiroth nodded, setting his glasses aside as he half-turned to face Zack. Cheerful as ever, but he was masking his confusion and disappointment over not being allowed to go home. He had stayed optimistic when giving the news to his parents, even saying, "Well, hey, at least when we do meet again, I'll remember you both!" But his eyes had been sad.

Sephiroth hated that. He would give Zack anything in his power that he could, but getting him home seemed an impossibility. It was hard for him to even fathom home meaning something wonderful and joyous, but to Zack it did. Sometimes Sephiroth longed to share in that feeling, even to just be able to comprehend it. But right now all he wanted was to give Zack the chance to get back to it. And he could not.

"So . . . it's back to the concrete jungles of Midgar, then," Zack mused.

". . . I'm sorry."

Zack blinked. "It's not your fault, Seph," he said. He shrugged. "I mean . . . must be some crazy corporate thing, huh? Maybe they're worried I won't come back, like when . . ." He frowned, trailing off. He tried not to bring up Genesis when he could help it. He knew Seph did not want any more reminders than he already had from his own memories.

"No one could be more loyal to SOLDIER than you," said Sephiroth. "They wouldn't be concerned that you'd desert."

"Yeah, I guess. . . ." Zack frowned. "Don't they kinda wonder that, though, if somebody gets really hurt on a mission for SOLDIER? Like, that maybe they'd be too scared to go back to work?"

"'Kinda wondering' wouldn't be the same as them outright refusing to let you go home." Sephiroth frowned too. "You would be able to recover much better there than at Midgar. What a polluted waste."

"Doesn't sound too pleasant," Zack grinned lop-sidedly. "But oh well.

"Hey, the Motos thought I might be able to take the bandages off my eye today!" he remembered, perking up.

"Oh really." Sephiroth studied his friend. "Do you think you're ready?"

Zack nodded. "This thing's driving me crazy!" he exclaimed. Immediately he reached up, undoing the fasteners holding the gauze around his forehead. As Sephiroth watched, Zack wound it off, tossing it aside into the trash can. He blinked rapidly. His eye was still adjusting to the light. It felt like it was starting to water a bit. But it was definitely not like it had been before.

"Well?" Sephiroth asked, as Zack reached up to inspect the damage.

"It's great!" Zack grinned. "Wow, you don't know how awesome it is to see out of both eyes until you can't!"

Sephiroth settled back. He was still marveling over the fact that Zack was alive. And now he was back in every way. It had been wonderful to talk to him even without his memories, but now that he did remember, they had fully slipped into their friendship again.

". . . Seph?"

Sephiroth blinked at the sudden change in Zack's tone. Now the brunet was serious, looking at him worriedly.

"What is it?"

Zack shifted. "When . . . when you thought I was dead, you really couldn't take it, could you?" he said, his voice lowering.

Sephiroth hesitated. "No," he said then.

Zack gave a slow nod. "Thinking about it now, it makes so much more sense," he said, choosing his words with care. "When I first heard you at the Motos' place, and you were flipping out, I wasn't sure what to think. I was kinda ticked off." He grinned weakly. "I mean, they'd taken care of me, saved me from dying, and I couldn't figure out why this weirdo was showing up and screaming at them for not telling anyone."

Sephiroth smirked a bit.

"So . . . then I hobbled out and saw you there, shoving Mr. Moto against the wall, and I got even madder." He paused. "But then you turned and looked at me, and . . . I dunno, I realized you're important to me. And I did understand better why you lost control, when you talked about how everyone'd thought I was dead for weeks, and . . . you'd seen it happen. . . ." He shook his head. "But . . . I didn't understand altogether until I remembered."

Now his lavender eyes were filled with turmoil. "You know I would've contacted you if I could have, right, Seph?"

"Of course." Sephiroth frowned. "You couldn't help that you didn't remember."

"I know . . . but I still feel awful for putting you and everyone else through it." Zack leaned against the back of the chair on an elbow.

"And Seph?"

"What."

Zack rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "If I'd really been dead, what would you have done?"

Sephiroth's dream flashed through his mind again. The same question had been presenting itself to him for the past several days. And always, there was only one answer he could give.

"I would have continued to do what I've always done," he said. "I would have to go on."

"All alone, too," Zack surmised.

Sephiroth grunted. "Who else would I have?"

Zack shrugged. "Cloud, maybe?" he suggested. "He would've been all alone, too."

Sephiroth quirked an eyebrow. "An MP, barely into his teens?"

"Hey, he's just nine years younger than you, Seph! And I'm not much older than he is! Are you saying I'm too young to hang out with you?" Zack blinked in innocence.

"No." Sephiroth shook his head. "I just can't feature myself growing close to him." Even though he had felt some kind of a bond when they had spoken. But that was surely just because of their mutual friend and their shared grief. And because Sephiroth had an almost paternal instinct towards the men.

"You never thought you'd get close to me, either!"

Abruptly Zack sobered. "But seriously, Seph . . . I'd wanna see you be happy again," he said, his smile turning sad. "Not just cooping yourself up in your office and refusing to talk to anybody unless you had to."

Sephiroth gave him a deadpan stare. ". . . You know me too well." He looked away. He did not want to talk about this any more in reality than he had in his dream.

And Zack could tell. He sighed to himself. But then he grinned. "Hey, I'll always be around, Seph," he said.

An ironic smirk crept over Sephiroth's lips. It was strange, that the impression he had had of Zack in his subconscious mind was eerily correct.

"I know," he said.

Encouraged, Zack yawned and stretched his arms in front of him. "Well, guess we'd better get going soon, huh?"

Sephiroth nodded. "I just need to look over this report again and then send it."

A knock on the door brought them both to attention. "What is it?" Sephiroth called.

It slid open. Emperor Kisaragi was standing there, his expression filled with concern.

Zack blinked. "What's wrong?" he asked.

The emperor looked from one to the other. "I'm afraid your departure will be delayed somewhat," he said. "This storm is growing worse. Airships are not even flying in this weather."

Sephiroth frowned. He was quite familiar with Wutaian blizzards. Sometimes they lasted for several days on end. And then it took some time for everyone to dig themselves out afterwards. But it seemed that there was little choice. Even if an airship would agree to fly them out, it would be extremely dangerous.

"Fine," he grunted. "Thank you for letting us know."

The emperor nodded, closing the door again to leave them in peace.

"So we're snowed in?" Zack said.

"Effectively," Sephiroth said.

"Hey, it won't be so bad," Zack chirped. "Just as long as we don't have to go get lost in the snow again. We can stay warm and dry in here, and roast marshmallows, and tell stories, and . . ."

Sephiroth was giving him a Look. "Roast marshmallows," he repeated.

Zack nodded.

"You expect me to take a stick, place a gooey piece of confectionary on its tip, and hold it in a fireplace?"

Zack smirked. "Yep!"

Sephiroth's deadpan expression did not change. He crossed his arms. "And what kinds of stories are supposed to be told?"

"Oh . . . the scarier, the better!" Zack gestured wildly. "Ghost stories, monster stories . . . you name it!"

"Monster stories." Sephiroth looked into the bright lavender eyes. "Such as werewolves and vampires?"

"And ghouls, zombies . . . ! It'll be great!"

Sephiroth's eyes remained unblinking. "You believe I would waste my time making up such drivel?"

Zack just continued to smirk. "There won't be much else to do."

"I'd rather be bored."

"Aww, come on, Seph!" Zack gave him the most pathetic puppy eyes he could manage. "At least listen to me tell the stories!"

"If you're telling them, that alone is enough to frighten me."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You figure it out."

"You're so cruel!" Zack swatted Seph on the shoulder.

Sephiroth was nonplussed. "Oh really."

"Yeah!" Zack smirked. "How'd we ever end up buddies?"

"I have no idea."

Sephiroth leaned back, smirking in amusement. He felt more relaxed and at peace now than he had in weeks. And from the way he and Zack were bantering, Zack felt the same. All was well.