Wow, it's hard to believe this is really done. It's quite a
bittersweet feeling, as I've loved working on it so much. Thanks to
everyone who read and who reviewed! And many thanks to Kaze and Lisa
for all the plot help! Kaze must be credited for the wonderful idea
of referring to a previous joke in this epilogue.
The Children of God
Once again it was an overcast day at Hollow Bastion. Reportedly there would be more snow that evening, but it did not deter most from walking about on a winter's afternoon. They passed over the streets, heading to jobs, or preparing to shop, or even just walking for the sake of walking. It was a normal day for them.
Sephiroth was not surprised. No doubt many had forgotten altogether about the pain some of them had supported inflicting on him and Cloud several weeks ago. The night was past, Kala-Ansa was dead, the clones had vanished, and the citizens no longer had any ammunition to feed their flames of hatred. But no doubt it would still exist, the embers burning quietly in their hearts. It was nothing he would not expect from them. The most he could hope for would be that they would leave the winged beings and their friends alone to live in peace.
Whether he wanted it to or not, it still hurt, that they had been willing to treat him and Cloud the way they had done. But when they did not care about how Sephiroth had tried to protect them in the past, why would they care that he and Cloud had tried to do the same in recent times? They were ungrateful and likely always would be.
He did appreciate the kindness that other townspeople had shown. As he wandered through the streets of Hollow Bastion today, some people smiled and said Hello. He nodded to them. Some he recognized as being among those whom William had saved. Maybe they were still mistaking him for William. But it was a nice change from the icy glares anyway.
And the mayor, who was recovering from the attack on his life, had announced that he was in the process of drawing up a new bill. It would specifically prohibit any unlawful assault against anyone, whether they possessed wings or not. It had received more support than Sephiroth had imagined it would. More townspeople did seem to be rising up against blind hatred. Kala-Ansa's actions of taking it upon herself to be the law had finally seemed to awaken the good people to a greater realization of the monster that had been seizing hold of many hearts. And hopefully it would continue.
With everything that had suddenly happened, Zack had not had the chance to tell Cloud and Sephiroth the truth about General Mathews until the past evening. Sephiroth was still not certain how he felt; it was so much to take in. He had always known Mathews had not liked him, but he had never expected that the man would go that far. Mathews had claimed that he had been concerned that Zack was friends with a Sephiroth impostor. Maybe that was true. But it was revolting, that he had been desperate enough to work with a madman such as Hojo. How could he have ever trusted such a person? Had he really been that foolish, to think Hojo would keep his word?
Another part of Sephiroth just felt weary by it all. It was one more reason to disapprove of Mathews' leadership, but that was not something he would need to worry about anyway, with Zack in charge. He would rather just not even think about it. Hopefully Mathews would never again make such a grievous mistake.
He froze. That was the obnoxious boy Billy's voice. Slowly he turned, his expression impassive as the child ran over to him. This was the first time Billy had ever addressed him by name. It was something to wonder about. Usually Billy called him "you," and when speaking of him or Cloud to other people it was not unusual to hear him refer to them as "winged freaks." It was very disrespectful, even if he had been indoctrinated against them.
Billy shifted, suddenly looking embarrassed. But then he placed his hands on his hips and tried to look tough again. "Sun said you helped her out when her mom was acting crazy."
Sephiroth regarded him in wariness. "In a sense, yes," he said.
Billy averted his gaze. He would not admit it, but he had been there the night Kala-Ansa had tried to burn Sephiroth and Cloud. Something about what had happened then had deeply affected him. He had not wanted them to suffer, despite what his mother and father had told him about the winged people and despite his determination to adhere to their views. Sephiroth had never done wrong to him, and seeing so many people willing to kill him without just cause had made him feel sick inside.
"Well," he said at last, "if you helped her, maybe you're not all bad after all." He shrugged in an offhand way, glancing back up at him as he turned to go.
Sephiroth blinked. For once he was surprised. But then he nodded, his expression otherwise remaining the same. "Maybe," he agreed.
"She's crazy about you, anyway, and she's not one of those silly girls that goes off cooing over everything."
Sephiroth allowed himself a slight smirk. "No, she isn't," he agreed.
Billy hesitated. "So . . . yeah. Anyway, I don't think you'll have any more trouble with people trying to kill you."
"I hope not." Sephiroth's voice was flat.
"I'll be telling them something, if they try it." Billy turned again, facing Sephiroth as he started to walk backwards. "I'm gonna go see Sun now. She acts like she likes where she is."
"She does," Sephiroth agreed.
"I'll tell her you said Hello or something." With that he whirled around, running off down the street.
Sephiroth looked after him. It seemed that he was wrong, about everyone's opinions staying the same. The boy's efforts to show that he was changing his views had actually somewhat touched Sephiroth. It had been difficult for Billy to do that, with his pride and his desire to be tough. Sephiroth began to walk on, feeling somewhat more encouraged.
Aeolus had said that he would be around a lot less now. It was his mission to talk to the clones who had perished and to try to teach them about life and living and how to respect people. Some of them were receptive. Others refused to listen, but he still had hope for them. William, he had said, had the same mission with any living clones he found—such as ones who had defected from Hojo or ones left behind for other reasons. William was awed by the responsibility. And he was most certainly willing.
Sun had said she wanted to help, too. She was enjoying staying with the Restoration Committee, as Billy had observed. And she was growing quite attached to William in his own right. She had never seen him as only a Sephiroth clone. The two of them were planning to move back into Sun's old home and be a family together. That would be good for them.
He looked up. Somehow he had wandered over near the cathedral from the other day. Though it still felt awkward to be there, Sephiroth could feel something different this time. God did not disapprove of his presence. He knew he was welcome. And it still overwhelmed him, that one as tainted as he believed himself to be could ever be forgiven and loved. But Zack had done both—he had forgiven Sephiroth and loved him unconditionally. And if God's love exceeded any human's, then Sephiroth supposed it should not really be a surprise that He would feel the same. But it still was, anyway.
Then an eyebrow raised as he drew closer. Cloud was sitting on the steps.
"This is the last place I imagined I would find you," Sephiroth commented.
Cloud started and looked over at him, seeming slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, well . . ." He shrugged. "I was waiting for Zack to get done with his physical therapy thing, and I just started walking around. Somehow I ended up here." He shifted. "I thought I remembered something from when we were out in the snow."
Sephiroth came closer, crossing his arms. "What's that?" he asked.
"I thought I remembered you praying," Cloud admitted, "for me and for Zack."
Sephiroth nodded. "I did," he acknowledged.
"Heh. . . ." Cloud studied his friend's expression. Impassive, as usual. ". . . I was just surprised," he said. "I mean, I've never heard you do that before. You acted like you didn't feel worthy at all and that you'd never ask for help because of it."
"That is how I felt." Sephiroth continued to watch him. "But I didn't know what else to do. I had to hope I would not be struck by lightning for my efforts."
"Well . . . thanks." From Cloud's tone, he meant it for a lot of things. They had been through so much during that time, and they had helped each other in whatever ways possible. And those positive memories would always last along with the negative.
Sephiroth gave a slow nod in response.
Cloud started to stand. "We should probably go get Zack now," he said, stretching his wing. It had healed a great deal during the prior weeks. There was still a vague scar from where the knife had plunged through it, but it would likely fade over time. Zack was confident of that, at least, and Cloud had no real reason to disbelieve it.
Neither had Sephiroth. "We should," he said.
They were about to leave when a familiar voice called out to them.
"Hey! Seph! Cloud!"
They turned. Zack had come around the corner, leaning on his cane. With his other arm he was waving to them.
Cloud shook his head. "You were supposed to wait for us!" he called as they began to walk to him.
"It's just on the next block!" Zack protested. "Being able to walk around in peace is a great thing!"
Sephiroth had to smirk at that. It was certainly true. After the experiences they had been having, the point had been driven home all the more that they should never take it for granted. He enjoyed walked around Hollow Bastion, but not when angry, bloodthirsty mobs were chasing him. That kind of experience took away any possible benefits.
As they approached, Zack glomped them both, grinning in excitement.
"What's the occasion?" Sephiroth asked.
"We're alive!" Zack chirped.
Now Cloud smirked. Zack's optimism had been sorely missed, when he had been so distressed and despondent about the horrible things that had been happening. Now he was able to be happy again.
Zack turned, keeping his arms around their shoulders. "Come on, pals!" he declared.
"Where are we going?" Cloud asked.
"To the car," Zack smiled. "And then, who knows! Maybe we'll drive around a bit and get something to eat."
"Hey, I'm driving, you know," Cloud said.
Zack gave him a mournful look. "Aww, we're not gonna go straight home, are we?"
Sephiroth shook his head in amusement. "What did the physical therapist say?" he wanted to know.
"Well, I really kept off my leg the last weeks," Zack said as they started walking. "Course, you guys made sure of it." He grinned. "She thinks it's gonna heal! Might always have a slight limp, but not enough to be a real worry."
Cloud allowed himself a genuine smile. "That's great," he said.
Sephiroth smiled as well. That was as it should be. Zack should never have been laden with such an injury. For so many months they had gone along wondering and worrying if the damage would heal, and now there was finally more of an assurance that all would be well. That was an immense weight off of all their shoulders.
"I'll be able to quit using the cane soon," Zack continued.
"And then we can store it in the attic?" Sephiroth supplied.
Zack gave an eager nod. "And never have to get it out again!"
"Hopefully," Sephiroth said.
"No pessimism today, Seph!" Zack said. "I'm just getting fired up!"
"We can see that." Cloud smirked as they reached the Jeep. As he unlocked the doors, they all began to climb in—Zack in the middle, Sephiroth on the passenger side, and Cloud driving.
Cloud shut the door, pulling down the seatbelt. "Okay, so where do you want to go?" he asked Zack.
"I thought you wanted to go straight home," Zack said, looking to him.
Cloud shrugged. "I think we can manage a celebration . . . just this once."
Zack gave a cheer of delight.
Sephiroth listened as Zack began to give a list of possible places to visit. There seemed to be no end to it. It was tempting to say, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" But he did not. They would humor Zack today.
Anyway, there was a lot to celebrate.
Cloud started the engine. "Hey, one place at a time," he said, shaking his head as they began to pull out of the parking space.
Zack blinked at him in innocence. "The day's young!" he said.
Sephiroth leaned back, crossing his arms as a slight smirk graced his features. "By the time we would visit all of those locations, we wouldn't be young," he remarked.
Zack's eyes widened in mock realization. "Then we'd better go to the place where you get your shampoo, too!" he said.
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "And why is that?"
Now Zack smirked. "So that when my hair starts to look like yours, I'll be ready."
Sephiroth gave him a deadpan look. "Your hair could never be like mine," he said. "Even if you grew it out, it would still look like this." He reached up, poking a spike. "And that would look very unattractive with long hair."
"Aww, you're no fun!" Zack pouted.
"I never said I was," Sephiroth shrugged.
Cloud shook his head at their banter. "So, how long did it take you to grow your hair out, anyway?" he asked, turning a corner.
"All of my life," Sephiroth responded, his tone flat.
"You never cut it?" Zack blinked.
"Not unless I was trimming the ends, or the bangs."
Zack smirked. "That must be where all your powers come from, then."
Sephiroth grunted. Outwardly he appeared unimpressed. Inwardly he was amused and relaxed. Everything was going back to normal.
He looked up at the shifting clouds as several rays of sunlight began to break through. A silent Thank You came to his mind.
And he knew he had been heard.