Disclaimer: I don't own any previously copyrighted material. But everything not associated with such (original plot, original characters, etc.) does belong to me.
This is the final chapter of Silkscreen Requiem. I'd like to thank everyone for reading this story and supporting me along the way. Please enjoy!
Chapter Sixty: In Paradisum
I'm awake, but I don't move immediately. I still feel like there's ice slushing around in me instead of blood, and if I opened my eyes, they'd be fogged with a snowy haze. My memories are lying under a thin and crisp layer of ice.
Little by little, I pry my eyes open and move my right hand in front of my face. I flip it over so I can see the back of my palm. And there it is. Not quite a tattoo, not quite a scar, but something just as permanent.
I let my hand fall again. I move my head, first seeing the seven crystalline statues arcing around my left, then around my right, and the space kind of in the middle where I must have been a few seconds ago.
And then I stare straight up. There's no natural light here, only a steady glow that must have been going on for ages without anyone's help. Someone must have found us. We've been ceremonially buried alive, a stone temple in the bowels of the earth.
I sit up, and look at the brand on my hand again. Why am I awake? We did what we were supposed to do. We fulfilled what, as far as I know, was Kuja's final wish.
The pieces that come to me are small. I cling to the old, unrelated, but still so immeasurably precious memories—of my world, of Garnet, of everything and everyone we've lost. And then I try to fit the newer ones together.
The people of our world are supported by creatures called fal'Cie, and every so often a fal'Cie will handpick one of those people out of the crowd, brand them, and give them a task to complete, as well as a new name: l'Cie. If a l'Cie completes that task, the Focus, then he or she will be granted eternal life in crystal form. That's how it's been since the beginning, and that's how it will be until the end. And that's the truth.
People saw the tattoos we bore before we had even noticed them. Mistaking them for the brands of l'Cie, they demanded to know our Focus and the identity of the fal'Cie who had elected so many, even while questioning the strangeness of our particular marks.
But it turned out that we were the ones who were wrong. I don't remember everything: I remember Cloud, and I remember Sephiroth. And then this right now, waking up here. We weren't strangers mistaken for l'Cie, we were l'Cie. Welcome home.
"So this is it, huh?" I ask the empty hall. If I'm alone, I need at least the echo of my own voice to keep me sane. "This is how it'll be, Kuja? We're your immortal servants, your l'Cie, but we don't even get to see you?"
There's so much anger in my voice. When I hear those words repeated back to me, I want to take them back. Even if I'm the only one who heard them, that's too many people.
Besides, I'm just kidding myself at this point. I know Kuja's gone. I don't think I'd want to see him as a fal'Cie, with a clockwork mask for a face and streamlined metal for skin. Because if we're l'Cie in this world, he would have to be a fal'Cie, besides the whole obvious Focus and the fact that fourteen of us are currently encased in crystal thing.
So just tell me what my new Focus is already. Give me something to think about so I don't have to listen to Kuja telling me that he loved me over and over again in the back of my mind just before he took the fall for my two seconds of weakness and despair.
There's a moon in the sky. But I can only see it in my mind's eye. No, not a moon. Something else.
I see a kid with ash-pale hair and fury sparking behind his eyes, matching the chaos and fire tearing apart the world around him. Hope. He wears clothes that, last time I checked, weren't anything like what this world's peoples wear. How much time has passed?
Cloud. No, not Cloud. Definitely not Cloud; this one's a girl. A soldier with a glower on her face, framed with streaks of a rose's pale blush. The two don't make sense together. Her name is Lightning.
She gives two others a blank stare, not unlike one that Kuja might have given me once. The one that tells me to cut out the nonsense. One of them looks just like her. Serah. The other is a bear of a guy with a fuzzy excuse for a beard but a look that says he'll put his heart into anything. Snow.
I see a father in relaxed military gear, being forcefully separated from a boy who could only be his son from the look of despair on the man's face. Sazh can't keep his eyes off the brand on Dajh's hand.
Then I see two people who make a little more sense. They look like they belong to the world that we knew. Vanille, a l'Cie. She kneels over another l'Cie, Fang. They have just woken up, just like me. Fang looks confused. Vanille looks afraid.
One last thing. A fal'Cie.
No, not a fal'Cie. Garland. He sits on one knee, cradling a faint slip of pale silk in his arms. An old temple, sealed off from the sunlight. This temple. I don't even get time to think about how much that doesn't make any sense.
"Zidane, warrior of Cosmos. My...son."
A furious scowl slices across my eyes. Great timing, old man. Good thing I have no idea why you're alive, much less why you're here and I don't really want to know the answer to either of those. I startle to my feet and turn to face him.
The way he stands isn't exactly what I saw. He kneels in front of a slip of silver, but the only contact is a gauntleted hand resting above the silver mirage's heart. It rises and falls slowly and evenly.
"Why," I start, my voice shaking. "How…"
I guess our old man knows us well enough to start talking before our imaginations run away with us. "I told him that I would wake him when the time was right," Garland begins. "Quite honestly, I didn't know when that time would be. I figured that he would become restless and wake up on his own, but as you can guess, it's been quite awhile. He wants to be with you. With all of you. I don't think you would have woken up if that weren't the case. Whether this is the right time or not, I believe this is the right place."
"So he's just asleep," I exhale more than speak. There's something underneath what Garland's telling me. There's a lot. "Kuja trusted you to look out for him, didn't he," I say faintly. "To take care of him. Even though…"
"Even though I am Chaos. Yes," Garland replies. I know there's another 'even though', one that he doesn't share. But we both know it's there.
"We talked," he adds. "About many things."
"I guess you did," I respond. I don't doubt it.
"I don't intend to be here when he wakes up. Parting will be difficult, knowing that the next time we meet will necessarily be a time of strife. Without discord and chaos, nothing can move enough to live. Knowing this, though, I still return your god to you. Without balance… there is nothing. Both Cosmos and Chaos need each other to keep from falling into the ever-quiet abyss."
Garland lifts his hand and pushes Kuja's hair back, and then shakes his head and rises to his feet. "As much as I would like to know both of my sons, I know you understand when I say that I hope we don't see each other for a long time."
Was that a laugh? I think. Maybe. Just in case it was, I chuckle a little. Just as I drop to my knees in front of Kuja, mirroring Garland from just a moment ago, he disappears.
See you later, old man. And thanks. Thank you for saving my brother when he was trying to save me.
I'm going to pretend I didn't spend a good half minute staring at Kuja wondering why I couldn't think of a way to wake him up that wouldn't be ridiculous or make him want to kill me. "Hey, lazy, you've been taking a nap for a few centuries too long," I say, and shake his shoulders.
He mumbles something, and turns his back to me. "Kuja, I'm pretty sure Cosmos isn't allowed to say that," I reply. "You're slacking off on the whole 'god of light and order' thing. Come on, wake up."
He snatches my hand and opens his eyes. "You're real," he breathes. "It's real."
"Uh, good morning to you too?" Then I realize that he's talking about the mark on the back of my hand. The brand of a l'Cie, the brand he gave me in what must have been his dreams.
"Zidane," Kuja says to me. "I'm glad that the last time we spoke wasn't the last time after all. I… thank you for waking me up."
I shake my head. "Come on, any one of us could have done that," I tell him, and look away. It would be incredibly stupid if I started crying in front of him right now. I can stop the tears, so long as I don't look at him.
"Thank you for waking me up," Kuja repeats firmly, each word specifically shaped and crafted to best drill into my skull. Then he bolts up into a sitting position, and promptly winces and presses his fingertips to the bridge of his nose as he curls his knees into his chest. He sat up too fast. Slowly, he looks at me, and then silently looks past me. He's counting, matching faces to a number in his head.
Hell if I know. "What do you mean, 'where's Sephiroth?'"
"If what I dreamt is what actually happened, then Sephiroth should be right… there," Kuja says, pointing vaguely behind me and to my right. "It was the only way to keep him away from Cloud, away from this world. Making him a l'Cie, I mean. I made his Focus to see Cloud. Because he would have fulfilled it regardless, and then turned into crystal. But his statue's gone."
"You gave me a new Focus, by the way."
"I'm sure I gave all of you a new Focus, I just gave it to you first."
He gave me a Focus first. Something stupid like that shouldn't matter as much as it does to me right at this very second. Before I know it, I've half-tackled him. I'm just so happy to see him alive, to know that it matters to him that I'm alive too.
"Why does something like that make you happy?" Kuja demands, but if anything he clings tighter. "I'm so selfish. I wanted to see you again, and the only way was to give you a new Focus. You think I wanted to do this to you? What if something happens and you fail? I didn't mean to make you my—my slave. It just—I didn't know that telling you to find Cloud would turn into something like this when you came to this world. And now you're trapped, because of—"
"Kuja, if I had to be stuck to a fal'Cie, I'd rather it be you. Even if you don't really look like a fal'Cie. Well, maybe especially since you don't fit in with the other fal'Cie."
He pulls away, and the look he gives me says it all. I'm an idiot. But then he asks, "Are you sure?" in a quiet voice.
"Yeah. You can go ahead and wake everyone else up now. It's all right. I don't think they'll say anything different. But hey, what do I know? I've just had to hang around them for a few hundred years. No big deal."
"Are you lying to me?"
Kuja staggers to his feet. He doesn't need my help, but for a split second he stumbles and reaches out to me just before he rights himself. The last thing he says to me before the other crystal statues begin to fade is a simple, three-word sentence.
"I'll trust you."