Author's Notes: Wow, it's been a while since I started this one - more than two years, in fact. So now that we've reached the end, I feel that some explanations are in order.
Diz's character in this story was based on an actual coffee shop owner that I knew during my high school days. In fact, several other characters such as Lani and Saix were also based on real people - my teachers, in fact. This story has seen me through one of the most meaningful years of my life, and I have to honestly say that I'm sad to see it end. Alas, everything ends, and nothing is infinite. A character from the ending portion (read - the part about Axel/Roxas) is also based on a real person, who is indeed regarded by some as a living saint. Nobuo Uematsu is an actual person, and the representation as follows below is entirely fictitious.
So, this chapter is meant to wrap things up for good. I'd advise listening to 'Passing Sorrow' by Nobuo Uematsu while reading this last chapter, since the last part is modeled after that song.
The song verses used at the beginning of each part are from the following songs, by the following artistes:
Only Time - Enya
Cartoon Heroes - Aqua
Vincent - Don McLean
Let's Start A Riot! - Blood On The Dance Floor
21 Guns - Green Day
How To Save A Life - The Fray
Speeding Cars - Imogen Heap
My Console - Eiffel 65
For those who hate songfics... do give it a chance, since I built this chapter around the verses to a certain extent.
Farewell from this story and its characters, and who knows? Maybe we'll meet again someday, in another story, another world.
Epilogue - Medley
Diz's funeral had been an unsurprisingly well-attended event. Almost everyone that had ever patronized the old man's shop and which had grown to know him was present, which brought the number of guests to a nifty seventy-five. For the first time in years, the caretakers of Twilight Town's moderate-sized cemetery had to actually dig out some spare seats from the graveyard's storehouse. Not all the mourners were garbed in black - yet another incident which had not been known to occur in recent years.
All the students who had ever found their way to the little food outlet on Metronome street were present. The last group to do so was none other than Twilight Town High's infamous Losers gang - Kairi, Larxene, Namine, Sora, Roxas, Axel, Demyx, Marluxia, Zexion, and Riku . Somehow, no other students from the time-tested high school had made their merry little way to Diz's Coffee Shop since that fateful day when Seifer, Rai, and Fuu had chased them there. Some of them had their parents there, too - Elena and Sephiroth had also been patrons at Diz's during their teenage years.
For some, things had changed for the better in recent times. Elena and Tseng had actually tied the knot, and Sephiroth was confirmed to be dating again - just who he was dating remained a mystery, though. Vincent Valentine and Yuffie Kisaragi were the proud parents of a rather loud pair of twin boys, and Mr. Saix had finally achieved his lifelong dream of replacing Lani Euclid as the most hard-nosed son of a bitch to have ever taught maths in Twilight Town High. As for Lani, doctor's orders ensured that she would never ever teach again after her heart attack, since her temper was just that volcanic. Xemnas, Lexeaus, and Xaldin were all contemplating early retirement from their educational careers after their former schoolmate, Luxord, managed to give them several helpful nudges that landed all four of them considerable windfalls on the stock market.
Quistis Trepe continued to teach English at the school, and still held discussion sessions about controversial issues during her classes. Then, the much-beleaguered counselor, Mr. Magus Merlin, retired at the age of fifty-eight, claiming that thirty-six years of counseling students was enough to last him for a lifetime. Professor Garland Genesis stopped teaching at Twilight Town High when he was offered the position of Vice-Chancellor at Ivalice University, and Professor James Hojo was somehow nominated as ShinRa's employee of the month for the first time in his twenty-year career.
As for Axel and Reno... Suffice to say that since Reno had been killed, Axel had never really been the same. Rumor had it that Rufus ShinRa himself had hushed-up Chief Inspector Steiner, but no concrete proof was ever obtained by the ever-ravenous media corporations. For all its apparent knowledge and glamor, the world of paparazzi remained clueless as to just what had transpired on the night when the notorious Flaming Amarant had been brutally murdered in his dead mother's apartment.
Shortly after Amarant's death, Twilight Town High had sent in a request to the Department of Education for a new biology teacher. According to the official reports, a certain Ms. Garnet Tribal had died of a chronic condition that she had secretly fought for years, thus vacating her position as the school's biology teacher. Her husband, the self-declared 'sexy-tary' at the same school, vanished shortly after her supposed death. The death toll among members of the Midgar underworld began to rise slowly but surely after that. His brother Kuja, who still taught art at the school, also disappeared soon after Zidane's vanishing act.
There were some looks of surprise among the mourners as a black limousine pulled up outside the cemetery, and none other than Yen Sid himself stepped out of the vehicle. After all, Diz's contempt for his former business partner's fast-food franchise was something which he had often declared to his customers (loudly, proudly, and repeatedly, to boot). Nonetheless, the McMoogles founder and CEO made his way to Diz's coffin to pay his respects to the man who had once upon a time opened a coffee shop with him.
Also in attendance was elderly Miss Scarlet who owned the weapons shop down the road from Diz's coffee shop. Few knew that her daughter was none other than ShinRa's very own head of weapons research and that her husband had been six feet underground for close to thirty years. Fewer still knew that she had put him there herself after he tried to raise his hand against her when she was cleaning out a shotgun. What most knew, however, was that she had been Diz's steady companion during their golden years. For a short period of time, there was even a rumor circulating that she had been fucking Diz when he got the heart attack that killed him. Alas, the person who started the rumor had been warded at Twilight Town General Hospital with a gunshot wound in each buttock, and that effectively was the end of the rumors.
For some reason, she stayed behind even after the coffin had been lowered into the ground and buried, leaning heavily on her cane. Hands that were rough and calloused after years of handling firearms gripped the stick's curved handle tight, as she stood all alone by the freshly-filled grave plot.
After some time, she left.
Who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows, only time
And who can say if your love grows
As your heart chose, only time
Miss Scarlet sat in her rocking chair, sipping warm cocoa as she watched the setting sun. The sky was painted with vibrant pink and purple hues, and few clouds were in sight for once. She had contemplated ordering take-out for dinner, but had ultimately decided against it. Instead, she had whipped up an omelet with sliced bacon bits in it, and had washed the tasty meal down with a glass or three of hard liquor.
No sir, she was definitely not a lightweight drinker.
Diz's will had named her as the beneficiary for whatever money he had in his bank account, and she appreciated the gesture for what it really was. He had also left her his treasured photo album with instructions to someday hand it to Rufus ShinRa, though the reason why he wanted her to do such a thing baffled her completely. So the old album remained in her possession since she had picked it up from his solicitor's office.
She hadn't missed that crook of a lawyer's smirk, either - he probably had heard the rumor that she had screwed Diz to death.
If only he had known how wrong he was on the matter. If only everyone knew.
"Diz, Diz," she mused, chuckling to herself. "To think that they thought we'd been together all those years, when you were about as straight as a hula hoop."
We are the cartoon heroes, oh
We are the ones who are gonna last forever
We came out of a crazy mind, oh
And walked out on a piece of paper
All forty-five students fell silent when the door banged open and Mr. Saix stomped into the classroom, his reading glasses wobbling precariously near the tip of his nose.
"Today, I shall be returning the results of last week's pop quiz. Once again, I must say that you turds have all FAILED with flying colors! HAH!"
He didn't receive a response - not that he expected one, anyways. After all, the last student to talk back to him had been sounded halfway into the next century.
"I also have an important announcement to make," he said, tossing the envelope containing their test scripts onto his desk. "But first, I'll need to know how many of you are taking my classes for Geometry 1 and Trigonometry 1."
About eighteen hands went up in response to that question.
"Geometry alone?" Twelve hands.
"Trigonometry?" Fourteen hands.
"Well, I shall be retiring by the end of this week, and I'm sure you're all ecstatic to hear that."
For once, the class remained silent out of shock rather than their usual fear for the blue-haired maniac who taught them mathematics.
"My replacements are standing outside right now, in fact... GET IN HERE, YOU DIPSHITS!"
There came the sounds of a brief scuffle outside the door, and within several seconds a silver-haired man in a rumpled shirt was shoved through the doorway and into the classroom. Moments later, a brown-haired man with blue eyes stepped in, smoothing out the creases on his own shirt. Saix merely rolled his eyes and let out a sigh of resignation upon seeing the results of the duo's antics.
"Yes, these clowns - Mr. Riku for geometry Mr. Sora for trigonometry - are meant to replace me as your mathematics teachers. May god help have mercy on your souls."
Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know that darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and daffodils
Catch the breeze and winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land
"... at this rate, it's going to be hard for me to keep squirreling away all this money under tax exemptions."
"I'm sorry, but why can't I just pay the taxes?"
"Namine, Namine," Kairi sighed, while waving her hand dismissively. "Those bastards up at the tax office are already making billions off people like you who don't know better. Trust me when I say that minimizing your tax payments is for the best."
"... this is confusing. How is it that this is legal whereas tax evasion is not?"
"Well, you ARE allowed certain graces and exemptions, you know. And it's all your fault for going commercial while pursuing your degree, anyways."
"How was I to know that that man was an art dealer?"
"He had faggot hair!"
"... how stereotypical can you get? Half of our high school buddies had... faggot hair, as you said."
"Like duh! Sora, Riku, Zexion, and Demyx were all about as straight as bananas! Axel's hair was a nightmare, and Roxas' was probably the closest to normal."
"ANYWAY. So just what am I going to do now?"
"You might want to hire a professional tax accountant."
"But that's YOUR job, Kairi!"
"I'm an accounting major, dear. Lots of tricks of the trade that I haven't picked up yet, duh."
Namine threw her hands in the air out of frustration, "Great, it looks like somehow, I've managed to get myself into a financial tangle by selling off my homework."
"Don't be too flattered - I still think they look like shit."
"To quote your dealer, 'They're all... beautiful in being disturbing, and the critics love them for it.'"
"PREPARE TO DIE!" squealed Namine, grabbing her pillow, barely managing to suppress the laugh that was bubbling up from somewhere inside her gut.
With that, a ferocious pillow-fight ensued, that soon spilled out into the dormitory's corridor. It was only when campus security arrived on the scene that Kairi and Namine stopped their shenanigans, both of them out of breath and grinning from ear to ear.
Life was good.
Make your move into my room
And I'll whip out my Dr. Doom
(Ow, what the fuck?)
Bitch just shut up and suck!
The 'Mile-High club' was rather exclusive, since it involved having sex in an aeroplane without getting caught. However, as with most other things in the world, there was a right way and wrong way to go about it, as a rather unfortunate passenger on flight TK-421 discovered.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
"Miss, relax! It was just a jo-"
"A JOKE? A FUCKING JOKE?"
"DON'T YOU 'MISS' ME!"
"Larxene, calm down," pleaded Marluxia, as he tried to get between her and the passenger who had foolishly made a pass at her. "Just what did he do?"
"HE PINCHED MY ASS!"
Almost immediately, all the other passengers began murmuring amongst themselves and turning around to try and see the face of the supposed molester. They had all been woken up by the furious stewardess' shouts, but had no idea as to what the crazy blond bitch with the antennae was going on about in the middle of the night flight.
"He did what?" Marluxia gasped, whirling about to gape at the man in horror.
"He," growled Larxene, narrowing her eyes. "Pinched. My. Butt."
With a curious cry, she launched herself at the hapless passenger, and began punching every part of his anatomy that was within her reach - quite a lot of it, really. The man cried out in pain and tried to curl into a fetal ball, occasionally taking some futile swipes at his assailant.
"MURDER? I'LL SHOW YOU MURDER!"
"LARXENE, STOP THIS!"
"BOTH OF YOU STOP IT!" Bellowed the chief steward, as he charged into the business-class section.
"SHUT UP!" screeched Larxene, as she continued pummeling the unconscious passenger's face into a pulp.
With an angry shout, the chief steward stepped forward and dished out a powerful blow to the side of her head, knocking her off-balance and sending her careening to one side. Before he could do anything else, however, there was a loud CLANG! as Marluxia brought down a metal tray on his head with enough force to bend it out of shape. The large-bodied man swayed on the spot for a while before collapsing to the floor with a thunderous crash.
"Fucking son of a bitch!" snarled Larxene, as she began kicking her superior's unconscious form.
"BOTH OF YOU." Boomed an authoritative voice. "STOP RIGHT NOW."
The two of them whipped about to see an air marshal standing not five feet from them. He definitely didn't look pleased, and the taser in his hand only served to drive that fact home.
ZAP! ZAP! All it took was one shot each, and both of them crumpled to the floor in a twitching heap.
Larxene and Marluxia both ended up being charged with assault and battery, and both of them were given their pink slips shortly after that.
When it's time to live and let die
And you can't get another try
Something inside this heart has died
You're in ruins
"... so tell me again why I should give you the Retlaw scholarship for your degree in chemical engineering."
"Well... I think that my grade-point average is the best among those listed down there, for one."
"Close, but incorrect. I have six others with 4.0 GPA's, so for the last time - tell me what makes you distinct from the other six applicants."
"Professor James Hojo took me on as an intern."
For the first time since the interview started, Ivalice University's dean did not say anything in response to the applicant's words. He was honestly bewildered by the young man's behavior - for someone who obviously wanted the scholarship, he seemed quite content in fencing with the man whose signature would seal the deal. And of course, things were only made more interesting by the fact that the young bugger's mind was as quick as his tongue was sharp. It didn't help that the young man's single visible eye seemed to have a distant, rather unnerving look to it whenever he decided to make eye contact.
"So I've heard," stated the dean. "But I've also heard some other things about you, Mr. Nomura."
"Oh? May I know of them, then?"
"I obviously needed to verify your claims of having worked with the... distinguished professor. So I gave ShinRa's laboratory a call. It took me while to get to Hojo, and he immediately started chewing me out on the line."
"And aside from being cursed to heaven, hell, and back, can you guess what Hojo told me when he finally finished with his little tirade?" He noted with some pleasure that his interviewee seemed to be at a loss, for once.
"I... have no idea."
"Professor Hojo," said the dean, "told me that you were the biggest disappointment he had ever seen among his interns. That you had everything within your grasp, but threw it all away on the whims of a rather frivolous emotional attachment."
Zexion remained silent, though he continued to fixate his gaze on the dean. Hell, if he was going to be denied a chance at studying at Ivalice University for his failure in obtaining the scholarship, he was going to at least creep the bastard of a dean out while he was at it. So far, it seemed to be working, too.
"... I made a mistake. Got my priorities wrong."
"Well... I neglected something that meant the world to me in the name of my curriculum vitae... if only I had known back then that it was worth that much to me."
"So you're saying that you have difficulty in balancing your work and personal life?"
"Nothing of the sort," retorted Zexion, as politely as he could. "I merely got... carried away."
"I'm sure you know the feeling, sir - the one that grips you when you stand at the verge of a whole new chapter in your life. The one that clicks into place when everything seems to be going right for once."
"Indeed I do. So... how should I regard your disappointment of your former mentor?"
Zexion shrugged, though his facial expression betrayed the slightest hint of regret for a split-second, "Interpret it however you wish to."
"... but he also said that I'd be a flaming fool to let you go."
That caught him off-guard, "I- I beg your pardon?"
"You're in, Zexion," nodded the dean, as he signed the sheet of paper that certified him as a recipient of the Retlaw scholarship. "Your saving grace was that recommendation from Hojo, so make sure that you don't let me down on this."
Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Roxas wasn't going to let it slip by. She came from a far-away land that he only faintly recalled being mentioned briefly during a history lesson. Some called her a living saint, and some claimed that she had healing powers. He had never really been spiritual nor had he followed any religion, but he decided that in the end, he had nothing to lose. Whatever the case might have been, she was his only hope.
After all, it had been years since Axel had spoken a word to anyone besides him.
He was hardly surprised to see that a large crowd had already gathered by the time they got to Sunset Hill. She was known for being an early bird, and so he had hauled Axel out of their apartment at somewhere near five in the morning. Presently, his watch indicated the time to be sometime about seven thirty in the morning, and it was already difficult to get beyond the edge of the observation deck where the saint was supposed to be meditating.
"Axel, come one," he coaxed his partner softly. "She's here."
The former Turk merely followed along in his footsteps as he made his way through the crowd. Reno's death compensation had been enough to ensure that Roxas' part-time job as a programmer was enough to support them both, and so Axel hadn't exactly gone job-hunting after he had been dismissed from the Turks. In his mind's eye, Roxas could still recall the day when Tseng had let him go.
"Axel, Roxas," Tseng nodded. "Take a seat."
The two of them sat down in front of the senior Turk's desk, wondering just what he wanted to speak to them about.
"I'm sure you realize by now that ShinRa offers considerable compensation deals to the families of deceased Turks. Well, SOLDIER members also get it, but the Turks get a better cut, I think."
"Compensation deals?" Axel asked hollowly. "How can you compensate... this?"
"Monthly payments of this amount," Tseng said, while scribbling something down on a memo pad, "will be deposited into your bank account. We understand the circumstances behind your father's... passing, and so the company is being unusually generous."
When he tore the sheet off and handed it to Roxas, the blond's eyes grew wide. The amount stated there was equivalent to the monthly salary of a middle-class white-collar worker.
"Ah, I almost forgot - the payments will continue until you gain employment with another company."
"Axel... has been dismissed from the Turks," said the black-haired Turk softly.
Said redhead merely stared blankly at his - former - head of department, while Roxas looked horrified.
"How could you fire him like that?"
"Roxas, it was not my decision to make. You KNOW what we do for a living. You KNOW what our jobs involve. Imagine the baggage we have."
"Sometimes, a Turk just... breaks. They see too much, or they go through something that is too traumatic for them to recover from. We cannot risk putting them in such situations ever again."
"... so you just dump them?"
"Dismiss them, yes. With the option of living out a decent life for the rest of their years, as opposed to possibly going through the same trauma again."
"... that's bullshit."
Axel could only stare at the woman as Roxas led him towards her. Somehow, she had managed to clear the crowds from directly around herself, and had gestured for them to come forward. Garbed in a billowing, shapeless robe, she smiled at Roxas. Her face was lined with wrinkles and her hair streaked with gray, but that one smile reflected a soul which understood why they had made their way to the observation deck that morning.
"Come, child," she murmured with outstretched arms. "Bring him to me... he is in much pain."
"Go, Axel," Roxas whispered, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. "Go."
Obediently, Axel trudged over to the woman, and stopped not three feet away from her. His eyes could have been carved out of emeralds for all the emotion that they showed.
However, that changed when she stepped forward and embraced him. Being nearly two whole feet shorter than him, all she could do was wrap her arms around his chest, but she managed to hug him, nonetheless. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, Axel's blank facial expression begin to waver. He glanced down at the woman who was embracing him, and blinked once.
A sob cracked like glass, and he returned her embrace, leaning on her and clinging on for all that he was worth as tears streamed down his cheeks. She didn't seem fazed; rather, her expression was one of sorrow, as though she had taken his emotional burden and made it her own.
"It's alright," she said softly, stroking his back. "It's alright..."
"Let him go, my child... He would not have wanted to see you in this state..."
Axel's tears were subsiding, even as his grip on her shoulders loosened. She slowly released him from her embrace, and nudged him towards Roxas.
"Be with him now," she told Roxas, even as her own voice trembled ever-so-slightly. "And if he ever needs it again, be there with him."
She clasped his hands with her own, and for that one moment in time, Roxas felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.
There, there, baby it's just textbook stuff
It's in the A-B-C, of growing up
Now, now, darlin', oh don't lose your head
'cause none of us were angels
And you know I love you, yeah...
Thunderous applause filled the concert hall as the orchestra's last notes faded into silence, marking the end of Nobuo Uematsu's last piece for the night. The legendary composer himself was behind the piano, and he waved to the audience as they gave him a major round of applause.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he spoke into the microphone mounted on the piano. "That was my last song for the night, but it will not be your last song for the night."
Excited whispering broke out among members of the audience as they discussed the surprise addition to the concert's list of performances. As per the performance schedule, Uematsu had performed three of his most well-known pieces along with two of his lesser-known works. However, there he was, telling them that he had one more song in store for them.
"I hope it doesn't sound arrogant if I say that I have made my mark in the world of music," he said, eliciting some laughs. "So tonight, I shall be giving another musician a chance at making his big break."
"Once upon a time, there was a lowly music student who was offered a chance at composing some simple musical scores for the Squaresoft corporation. His works were well-received, which eventually lead to a long-time career in the company."
He swept the audience with his bespectacled gaze, noting how they were clinging on to his every word.
"That student was me. And tonight, you shall have the privilege of watching as a star is born. He will be playing one of my older pieces, since he is still exploring his own composing style. His choice of song was... unusual, but he has assured me that he has personal reasons for doing so."
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my protege, Demyx Kohaku."
Polite applause was heard as the mullet-headed blond made his way towards a stool that had been brought to the center of the stage by a stagehand shortly after Uematsu's last piece had been finished. He fidgeted as he sat down with his guitar, and drew in a deep breath - it was his first time performing in front of such a large crowd, and at the Shimomura recitals, to boot.
"Good evening, everyone," he said softly. "My name is Demyx, and this is 'Passing Sorrow'."
"This one is for... a friend of mine. He meant the world to me but... things changed."
The audience was somewhat distracted by those words at first, but that changed once Demyx's fingers began plucking at the guitar's six strings. As the instrumental's haunting notes resonated throughout the packed hall, they found themselves being drawn into the graceful yet emotional melody. It flowed as smoothly as water, but nonetheless possessed a palpable air of profound sorrow.
Those in the front rows didn't miss the sight of several tears falling onto the guitar as Demyx continued to play.
As he drew close to the song's climax, Nobuo Uematsu himself came to the center of the stage with a flute in his hands. Within seconds, the guitar's rendition of 'Passing Sorrow' was accompanied by the flute's gentle notes. Together, the two of them played through the song's remaining parts in perfect harmony, casting a spell over the already mesmerized audience. When the last notes finally faded away, the audience was completely silent. The two musicians that had taken center-stage merely stayed in their positions, feeling drained by the sheer emotion that had gone into performing that one song.
It took only two more seconds before the silence was shattered by the audience rising to its collective feet for a standing ovation. Nobuo Uematsu placed a hand on Demyx's shoulder, even as he began sobbing in earnest.
The stage, whose lights had already been dimmed, was cut-off from the rest of the world as the curtains closed.
We gonna play the game the PlayStation all day
With Metal Gear Solid to Tekken 3
And from Omega Boost to Resident Evil
Just play for the fun
'cause we got it going on.