Final Fantasy VII

Fare Thee Well

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and this ficlit is. It was partially inspired by a dream I had. And the prompt All places are alike, and every earth is fit for burial from 31 Days helped as well. It takes place quite immediately after Advent Children. Any resemblance to Mazzie May's wonderful fic Gone is purely coincidental, as I share some of her ideas concerning Marlene and Loz.

The old church had not seen so many people between its walls since it had served as an active place of worship. The children had happily played in the water for hours, joyous over their newfound health. Their parents and other loved ones had stayed on dry ground, beaming with gratitude as they had observed. Some had begun to socialize after a while. Eventually even the children grew tired of their games and had climbed out, dripping wet, and lain where the sun could beat down on them.

But now it was evening. Most had left for their homes or wherever they were staying. Cloud had wanted to linger a while longer, to clean things up as best as he could. It did not seem right or respectful to him, to leave the church in such an uproarious state. Tifa had taken most of AVALANCHE back to Seventh Heaven, after getting Cloud to promise that he really would be coming back. He had assured her that he would, and then Marlene had announced that she wanted to stay with him. Somewhat surprised at first, Tifa had then agreed. It would be good for them to reconnect, after their time spent apart.

Now, as Cloud went around straightening pews and sweeping debris into a pile, Marlene was gathering some flowers that had fallen to the wooden floor. She was quiet, which was not unusual for her. After all that she had seen, she had become a very introspective child. That was not to say that there were not moments when she behaved as any normal six-year-old, but at the same time there was always a sense that she understood much more than she ever said.

"What happened to Kadaj and the others?"

Cloud froze at the unexpected question. Straightening up from where he was emptying broken glass into a pail, he looked over at the brown-haired girl. Marlene was standing at the water's edge, still holding her flowers.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She shifted. "Tifa said you had to kill them," she said.

This was probably a conversation that required his full attention. He dusted off his gloves, walking over near where Marlene was standing. She did not look at him, instead gazing into the depths of the pool that now covered a good deal of the church's broken floor.

"I did," he said, his voice serious. "If there had been another choice, I would've taken it. But they . . ." He sighed, shaking his head. "They were so mixed up. They really believed that what they were doing wasn't wrong, and they were willing to die for it." He felt pity for them, when he thought about it. They had all been like kids. Really twisted and warped kids, but still.

". . . When they took me, Kadaj was talking about getting revenge on the planet, and that we'd all go to Mother." Marlene frowned. "What did he mean? Who was Mother?"

Cloud let out a deep breath. Now this would not be easy, trying to explain that Kadaj and his brothers had believed that a psycho alien's head was their mother. Jenova had manipulated all of them, bending them to her destructive will. And had they only believed because of their connection to Sephiroth, and because Sephiroth in his madness had accepted Jenova as his mother? Or was it deeper for every one of them, their longing for a mother's love? Mother seemed a sacred word for them, a shelter and a haven. Maybe it was what that word represented that they had loved, and that was what they had focused on, instead of stopping to reason out that an alien's head could not show them the love they had longed for.

Not that Jenova would ever love them, in whatever state she was in. Her spirit was alive and well, able to think only of obliterating everything.

Marlene's plaintive and questioning stare brought him back to the present. He looked down into her expressive brown eyes as he spoke again.

"Mother meant everything to them," he said. "It . . . she . . . I'm not sure she was an actual person to them, but more like . . ." Great. Marlene looked more confused then ever. Cloud reached up, brushing the bangs out of his eye with his arm. He had better start over.

"They wanted someone to love them," he tried again. "And they knew that a mother loves her kids. That's why they did all those things. They were trying to win the approval and love of what they thought of as Mother."

Marlene frowned. "But . . . a mother would love them no matter what," she said. "They wouldn't have to do anything to get her to do it."

"Yeah. I know." Cloud shrugged. "They didn't really understand." When he had been young, he had sometimes wondered if it had been his fault that his father had abandoned him and his mom. Even now, he could still remember laying on his bed and wondering what he could do to get his father to love him again. He had never spoken of those feelings, but his mom had managed to get him to say it once. And after they had talked it over, he had felt somewhat better. The guilt had not gone away altogether, but it had been a start.

"That's sad," Marlene objected.

The little girl ran a finger over the wilting flowers. ". . . I talked to the big one, Loz," she said at last. "Kadaj scared me, and that other one didn't want to talk, but . . . Loz ended up being nice." She paused. "I felt sorry for him."

Cloud blinked. "When did you talk to him?" he asked. When he had arrived at the Forgotten City, Marlene had been with Denzel. Somehow it had never occurred to him that she would have actually spoken to any of the trio.

Now Marlene shrugged, studying the drooping petals. "Right after he took me," she said. "I wanted to know why he was doing it, and why he'd hurt Tifa, and I didn't really get what he was saying. It was like he'd known Tifa was getting hurt, but it was a game to him." She frowned. "But it wasn't like he was trying to be mean, either. He kept talking about playing. And he said stuff about Mother, too. He couldn't really tell me much when I asked him. I guess it was kind of like what you're saying, that Mother would be nice to them and love them, and that they had to do what she wanted."

She turned, looking out at the water again. "Then when we got to the island, Kadaj came along and was acting weird. And . . ." She frowned. "They didn't make me go with all the other kids, I think because I wasn't sick. And I kinda wanted to stay with Loz. I thought maybe I could find out what was going on, and I didn't want to have to talk to Kadaj, so Loz let me stay with him."

She fell silent again. Yet Cloud could sense that she was not waiting for him to speak. She was not done.

"What'll happen to them now?" she asked. "Will they be happy?"

Another big one. Cloud followed Marlene's gaze over the calm waters as he tried to think how to reply.

Someone had spoken to Kadaj, when he had lain dying in Cloud's arms. Someone had lifted him into the Lifestream. And he had called her Mother. But it could not have been Jenova, could it? She would not do such a thing.

Wait. . . .

When Cloud had nearly died himself, he remembered hearing Aerith and Zack talking by his wounded body. And Aerith had said . . . she had said . . .

"Why is everyone calling me their mother lately?"

She would have pulled Kadaj up. She would have understood him, and forgiven him, and maybe tried to give him guidance. And if she would do that for him, there was no reason why she would not do it for Yazoo and Loz, too.

Zack would be there as well. Would they adopt him as a father figure? That was both amusing and frightening. But a slight smirk graced Cloud's features. He could picture it. And Zack would be great in the role, no matter how he would deny it or how uncomfortable he would feel.

Suddenly the complete assurance swept over him. They were okay. They were all okay, and now they had the true, genuine love that they had longed for.

"Yeah," he said. "They're happy right now. They found Mother."

Marlene did not entirely understand. But that was alright. Cloud had said it, and he knew what he was talking about. He would not say it if he did not believe it to be true. Marlene knew he would not.

The water lapped in laziness at the edges of the splintered wood. Yellow and white petals from other flowers were still floating on the surface; a bittersweet sight. The flowers had perished, but the pool underneath their soil would continue to give life. Somehow it was appropriate.

"I want to say goodbye to them," she said, turning again to look up at Cloud for approval.

He gave a quiet nod. Words were not needed.

She stepped as close to the edge as she dared, releasing the handful of dying flowers across the surface. For Kadaj . . . for Yazoo . . . and for Loz.

They floated near her for a moment, as if to bid her farewell. Then, slowly, they were carried out across the pond, spreading in every direction.

It almost seemed that their petals were brighter again, their stems straighter, all traces of wither fading in the life-giving water.

Marlene turned after a moment, seeming at peace. "Let's go home, Cloud," she said.

Cloud looked back to the uncompleted job. He had wanted to get it done first. But it was not critical. He could always come back tomorrow and finish it. Aerith would understand.

At last he looked back to Marlene, nodding. "Home," he repeated. It was a sweet word.

She reached up, taking hold of his hand as they began to walk towards the large doors.

Behind them, five translucent figures were watching.

"That was very sweet," said Aerith.

Kadaj frowned, seeming confused. "Why would she care what happened to us?"

"Because she's a good kid," said Zack.

Yazoo did not offer a comment. He stood with his head tilted to the side, watching in silence.

Loz looked wistful. "I'm gonna miss her," he remarked.

Now Yazoo smirked. "Don't cry, Loz," he said.

Loz turned to glower at him. "I'm not crying!"

Zack ran a hand over his face. "Hoo boy." He looked to Aerith for help, but she only smiled.

"One big happy family," she said, her tone light.

Zack was tempted to say "Some family!" but he did not.

Who knew. Maybe it really would work out.