Before we go for good – I'll be attending Dragoncon this September. That's Atlanta, Georgia, folks. If you're going to be there too drop me a line. We'll have a TWT reunion. Just as long as you promise to leave the maiming objects behind ;)

Chapter 112:

Tifa opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was the metal and cloth of the underside of a bed. It was a familiar bed because it was familiar bunk.

She was on the Highwind.

More than that, there was a familiar weight against her body and familiar scents in her nostrils. Crayons and sugar and strawberry shampoo. Marlene. Dust from hidden explored places, the lingering fade of 'little boy' and the hinting sharper scent of 'not quite man'. Denzel.

Storm winds and midnight shadows and lighting.



Her family was wound around and piled on top of her and she could feel the exhales from one of her siblings against the back of her wrist. Cloud took up most of her however and the way he held her, the way his hands were on her, even in his sleep, indicated that, soon, the children were going to be expected to not only sleep in their own bed but in their own room. Even asleep it was apparent he wasn't going anywhere but exactly where the rest of the family went.

Wherever that was…

For the first time, Tifa realized, they had a choice. And as much time to make it as they wanted to…

"Hey." It was a whisper and she turned her head to the side of the bed. Zack… Kunsel was crouched down, his nose just level with the edge of the mattress. Careful not to jostle anyone sleeping around her, she reached out and brushed her fingers over his spiky hair. He still looked the same. Except his eyes. His eyes were closer to the eyes she'd seen belonging to the man watching himself in the mirror. They weren't the dull glass they'd been in Cosmo Canyon though. The sparks of light were still there. She gave him a smile.

"Hey," she greeted back and he shifted to rest his chin on the edge of the bed. It was quiet for a long moment while she stroked his hair as if he was Denzel and their family slept on. Finally, he softly told her.

"Your eyes look the same. I was afraid they'd be green or glow. But they're still just dark and warm."

Long fingers suddenly flicked out and struck Kunsel's forehead. Against Tifa's shoulder, Cloud's voice came out roughly muffled and he didn't lift his head.

"Stop flirting with my girl."

The dark haired man pulled back and snorted, though he kept it soft so it wouldn't wake the children.

"Elmyra's taking Aerith's body back to the lake in the forest. I think… I think it will let her in." Kunsel paused. "I'm going to go with her. And then… I think I'm going to go to Kalm."

Against her, Tifa felt Cloud stir and he finally lifted his head to rest his chin on her shoulder and look at their friend.

"You want company?"

Kunsel smiled.

"I'm taking Red. Which means I'm apparently getting stuck with Vincent too since they're now best buds or something."

"You're sure?" Tifa asked softly and Kunsel shrugged.

"Not really. Vincent smells like mothballs and I keep expecting him to start talking with a bad 'vleh' accent."

Tifa gave him a gentle push and he rocked on his heels and his smile softened.

"I'm sure, Teef. I need to do this. And… and I think I need to do it away from you two. You know me too well. I can't… I can't try to figure out who I am now when you both make me so comfortable being who I've been." He rubbed at the back of his head. "Does that make sense?"

Cloud just grunted.

"I would tell you you were over-thinking things but that would sound hypocritical."

Kunsel's grin flashed in the dimness of the room. Maybe she just imagined it, but Tifa thought she saw the whisper of a dimple.

"Maybe. Just a little."

"You'll come back though?" Tifa asked softly. "You'll come back to us?"

The dark haired man's face softened and he reached out to brush her hair back from her forehead.

"Yeah," he promised. "Yeah, I'll be back. And then you two won't be able to get rid of me. We're a team." He offered his hand and Tifa laid hers over top of it. A second later, Cloud grunted and then included his as well. To their surprise, two smaller hands snuck up as 'sleeping' siblings contributed their affirmation to the connection again. Somewhere, very faintly, Tifa heard laughter like wind chimes and, for just a moment, felt the warmth of another hand joining the promise.

"We're family," she answered.

Now this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. – Sir Winston Churchill