EPILOGUE: Aviva has the last word
I've tried to write to you lots of times before, but I've never finished any of the letters I started. I told Mink I didn't trust somebody not to open my letters on route - and it's true, the post is so unreliable nowadays, a disorganised network of small businesses, not like when Shinra was running it. Of course she pointed out, and she was right, that I could send it via the Chief, although I don't know if I entirely trust him not to read it either. You know how he likes to keep himself informed.
Now I'm going to tell you the truth. The real reason I never finished any of those letters is that none of them sounded right. I couldn't think how to say what I needed to say. I don't think I even knew what I wanted to say. But now Rude is here and he says that if I want to write to anyone, he'll take it for me. He said "anyone", but I know he means you. He'll be disappointed in me if he has to leave empty-handed so, here I am, me, Veev. I'm just going to start writing and see where it takes me.
That's not my name any more, by the way. The people here know me as Molly. Mink calls herself Sue. When I picked the name Aviva I was just a little girl. Aviva was the name for that little girl's dream - to matter to somebody, for somebody to want her. To be important. To have a family. That name was a celebration. It told the whole world her dream had come true. It said, "Look at me, I'm unique, I'm special, I've been chosen."
I think about Aviva a lot. Some of her memories still make me cringe, but more of the time I envy her, her ability to feel things so passionately in every fibre of her being, her high highs and her low lows. Molly is such a level-headed person by comparison. She knows that no joy lasts forever and no disaster is absolute.
I really like that last sentence, but let me tell you, it took me a lot of pen-gnawing to get it right. I had to scrunch up the first draft of this letter and start again.
Maybe I should tell you what happened to Mink and I after the night the Chief was saved. I didn't get a chance to tell you anything the last time we saw each other. That was an insane night! Did it feel to you like a bad dream, running round in the storm of smoke and dust in that terrifying bloodred light, losing each other and then bumping into each other and then losing each other again? I was on such an adrenaline rush I wasn't thinking about my own safety or even about you, much, I was just trying to do my job and help people. In situations like that, the training always kicks in, doesn't it? One part of you switches off and another switches on.
We were our best selves that night. I'm so proud of what we achieved. That's twice now we've saved the people of Midgar - three, counting the time Avalanche took the Junon cannon. My first proper mission. Remember? Before that day I felt I was living on borrowed time until the Chief realised he'd made a big mistake and sent me back where he found me, but after that day, I knew I was going to be all right. That's what you used to say to me, remember? "You're all right, half-pint." High praise!
So now let me tell you the story. On the night we saved the Chief, after we all split up, Mink and I took one of the bikes and we rode east. In one of the villages we went through we saw some clothes hanging on a laundry line, so we took them. I didn't want to but I knew we had to. Mink doesn't suffer from the same qualms as me! We didn't even have any money to leave in exchange. We were nearly out of fuel when we came to a town with a cash machine, so we hung around until the bank opened and Mink got some gil. I didn't have my card with me. I wonder what's happened to all my money. Gone, I guess. It was all just zeroes on a piece of paper anyway.
We checked into a hotel to await further instructions. We expected them to come through the classifieds in the Midgar Times like they always did when we were incommunicado. But when we bought the paper the next day, we saw our own death notices! Killed in action, all of us, except for you, Rude, and Mr Tseng. I was devastated. Mink just laughed. I asked her why she was laughing and she said, "Free at last." I couldn't understand her. To me that death notice meant I could never go back, never see you again. I was so sick with misery, I don't think I ate for three whole days. I found it pretty hard to be around her, to be honest. But all we had was each other. We stuck together.
She's so clever. Right after she read the notice she went to withdraw the rest of her gil. I said, "But they'll see the withdrawal and then they'll know," and she got a pen and wrote her pin number on the back of her card. "Stolen card," she said. "Pinched from my poor dead body." She left the card in the machine.
Mink cut her hair and dyed it blond, she dyed mine red. We just kept moving, living off her money. I felt like a deadweight. I was so unhappy. If I could never go back, I would rather be dead. The whole situation didn't make any sense to me. Why had we been killed off? By whom? I couldn't stop trying to analyse it, and I think Mink got pretty sick of listening to me.
Both of us knew we ought to get rid of our suits. I don't know how we would have done that, because with the mythil in the fabric you can't burn them, and we couldn't just dump them in a skip. We should probably have buried them. But we couldn't bring ourselves to part with them, not even Mink, and she's a lot less sentimental about that kind of stuff than I am.
We bought the paper every day, waiting for messages. We saw the news of the President's death on the television. I said to Mink, "Now we have to go back, Mr Rufus needs us," but she said it would be stupid to go back without knowing the situation we were running into and she wasn't going back until we were sent for and she wasn't letting me go back either. She was acting like she was my mum. She does that a lot. In fact, that's what we are, here: a mother and her daughter. That's our story.
We were in a town called Khot on the Zuun coast. We'd gone as far east as we could go without getting into the ocean and swimming to Wutai. Mink got a job and told me to get a job too because otherwise we'd go crazy with boredom and waiting. She worked behind the counter in a materia shop. I got a job sweeping up in a hair salon. It may sound surprising, but I liked it, eavesdropping on everybody's conversations. They gave me a better dye job for free too.
So we'd just kind of settled into that, when the message came, in the paper, coded, like we expected. Meet in the safe house in under-Junon. That far out east, the paper was always a least a day old before it came on sale. We were standing at the bus stop with our tickets in our hands when Meteor appeared in the sky and the world went into meltdown.
Oh, before I forget - Mink says she hopes you're glad now she let Zack's friend live. I said I'd pass that on.
You must know the next part of our story. We made it to Junon, but it took us twelve days and we had to walk a large part of the way. I was so happy to be going home, I didn't even care about Meteor, I was happy for Meteor because it meant I could come back and to me, that was the only thing. I thought for sure I'd see you in Junon. But you were busy elsewhere. By the time we got there, Mr Tseng was on the mend.
You know what happened with that, don't you? Reeve Tuesti was the one who contacted the Chief to let him know Tseng had been injured, through that cat-toy-spy thing he made. I don't know exactly how he figured out the Chief was still alive or how or why he got in touch with him, but Two-Guns said, after we found out what he did, Tuesti, or rather what he didn't do, that you can't take anything Reeve Tuesti does at face value, you have to consider how it furthers his own agenda. I'm sure you know he promised the Chief he'd make sure to inform Mr Rufus and you that Mr Tseng was all right, and then didn't do it. Why he didn't, is something we all have our theories about. Mink thinks he'd already decided by then to throw in his lot with the Sector 7 terrorists and was trying to weaken Mr Rufus in any way he could. I think he was settling old scores.
I'll tell you one thing, though. When he, Reeve Tuesti, told us Mr Rufus was dead, I didn't believe him for a minute. Mr Rufus doesn't do dead. The first thing I thought when Rude told us Mr Rufus has the geostigma was, "Well, now they'll find a cure for sure," and not just because he has the money to pay for the research, although I know that's what you're all working on. I don't think there is anything he can't overcome. I suppose it is kind of contrary to feel fresh hope when you find out that someone has a mortal illness, but that's how he's always seemed to me, indestructible. Irrepressible. Rude says he's like the cat: nine lives. Just when you think he's taken a hit nobody could survive, he comes bouncing right back.
It makes me so happy to know the cat is alive after all. Rude says it rules the roost at Healen and bosses Dark Nation around like it's the President and she's Mayor Domino. I can imagine. That cat might be little in body but it's mighty in spirit. Like me!
After we finished the evacuation of Midgar the Chief took us all back to Junon. He told us the old Shinra was finished and if we wanted to quit, he wasn't going to stop us, but he was too old to be anything else but a Turk, and if we wanted to keep working, we should scatter round the planet and be the eyes and ears for Mr Rufus. Of course I said yes straight away. Mink needed some time to think about it. In the end she said she reckoned interesting things always happened when Mr Rufus was involved, so she was going to stick around just to see what he did next. But first, she said she wanted to see her son.
She hadn't seen him since he was a small baby. I couldn't let her go alone.
Her hometown is one of those little rural farmer's-market towns in Arcadia, about a day's drive south of Junon. She didn't want to go into town in case she was recognised, so I went for her. I went to her old house and knocked on the door. A older lady came and told me I'd find the boy out in the field, making hay. They own a farm, his family. I went back to Mink and told her. She led me through a path in the woods to the top of a little hill overlooking the field, and there they were, about a dozen men and boys all with their shirts off in the hot sun, cutting the grass with their scythes. She said, "I don't know which one is him," like the real end of the world had come. But I recognised him straight away. He looks just like her - except, he seems to be someone who laughs a lot. All the time he was swinging that scythe he was talking and laughing with the other guys or singing at the top of his lungs. He looked tanned and healthy and happy, and big for his age. He's sixteen years old, can you believe it? She must have been just a kid herself when she had him.
We sat on that hillside for a long time watching them make hay. It was a beautiful sunset: all the Meteor debris in the atmosphere made the reds so red and the golds so golden. When it got too dark to work they packed up and headed for home. After they were gone, Mink stood up and said, "He seems fine. Let's go."
I said, is that it? Aren't you going to go and see him? Don't you think he'd want to meet his mother?
She said, "He has a mother. From the look of things she did a good job. That was all I wanted to know."
I can tell you, I would have handled it very differently, but Mink does things her own way. She seems a lot more relaxed since we saw him, though. Lighter, if you know what I mean.
So from there we came here. I got a job in Rocket Town, to keep an eye on what Cid Highwind and Barret Wallace are up to, since the WRO channels of communication are not to be trusted. My hair's grown practically to my waist now. You wouldn't even recognise me. So far, nobody has. Mink - Sue - has gone back to what she likes best, prowling the countryside on her own hunting monsters for the WRO aren't as many as there used to be, but there's enough to keep her busy. She sold some bear's tails to your new rookie, Roz's sister. Elena didn't recognise her and Mink didn't enlighten her. Rude says she's a good Turk. I thought I'd feel more envious of her than I do.
Rude told us Tys and Hunter are working openly as Turks now. Did it surprise you to find out they were married? I never thought she'd go for it. Hunter likes her independence. Two-Guns is still working Don Corneo's old networks, and Skeeter's in Icicle Inn, keeping an eye on the crater in case any more nasties come crawling out of it. Roz and Knox you know are with the Chief in Junon.
Rude told us you and Cissnei are back together. I can't tell you how glad I am to hear it. But he also says it's a rollercoaster. You fight a lot and not always playfully. I don't like hearing that. He says you say it's a case of "can't live with her, can't live without her." I guess it was never going to be plain sailing with the two of you. It's not in your natures.
I don't think you ever knew - why would you? - how much I used to hate her. I thought she didn't deserve you. But I've changed my mind. She really loves you. I know she does. Maybe neither of you always know the right way to show it, but who gets it right all the time? You just need to be kind to each other. I know you can do it, Reno. You were always so kind to me.
Aside from my mother, who I can barely remember, you were the first person in my life who was kind to me without wanting anything in return. That was the agony and the ecstasy of it. I think maybe it's easier to be kind when the other person doesn't mean the world to you. It's not that I mistook your kindness for something else. I always knew exactly how you felt about me. But I wanted it to be something more. You never realised how I felt, because when you don't want something from someone, you don't look to see if they're giving it to you.
This is what I couldn't say before, Reno. Aviva loved you.
If you ask me why I never said anything, I would reply, because if I'd told you, you would have been kind about it, and that would have been more than Aviva could bear. She had her pride. You might even have tried to make yourself believe you loved her back. I know you. You don't like to be in anyone's debt. It would have been indescribably awful.
She tried seeing other people, but none of them were you. You consumed her world. She lived and breathed you. She adored you with every fibre of her being. One word of praise from you gave her more strength than a hundred elixirs. I'm sure you're feeling very embarrassed right now reading this, and probably angry with me too. But it has to be said.
Other people saw how I felt. Mink knew and Rude knew, but of course they never said anything. They're two people who know how to mind their own business. Charlie knew, but I would never let him say it. Once, when he tried to, I literally ran away. I was afraid to hear it spoken out loud. Aviva hugged her secret tight because she knew the moment it was out, she would start to lose it. There was only one person she confided in. When she was right down at rock bottom, she told the Chief.
Don't worry, she didn't tell him who it was she loved so hopelessly. Just that she knew her love could never be returned. And after she'd told him and had been lectured and had a good old cry and been comforted, she knew with an awful sinking feeling in her stomach that her secret was smaller than it used to be.
I'll never regret loving you, Reno. My love for you helped to make me who I am. It gave me back something I thought I'd lost forever. I don't think you'll ever fully understand how much you did for me. My love for you is a part of me, it's in my bones, and it always will be. Back in the old days I would rather be skinned alive than admit this. But these days, more and more I've felt the need to tell you, and I think the reason I feel this way is because I'm finally ready to let it go and move on. I've met someone.
Probably I'm totally jumping the gun here because I only met him the day before yesterday, but we'll see. I was riding my bicycle back from Rocket Town, and it was such a beautiful warm afternoon that I decided to stop by a meadow and lie in the sun for a bit. I must have dozed off, because I suddenly woke up to the feeling that someone was watching me. I jumped up and looked around, and there he was, sitting on a rock a little way away with a sketchbook on his knee. I said, "Are you drawing me?" because it would have been too creepy if he was. He waved his hand inviting me to come see. I did, and he showed me what he'd been drawing, the old tree I'd been lying under. It was beautiful, all gnarly and woody like you could touch it and feel the roughness of the bark. I said, you're an artist, and he said he was one of Highwind's mechanical draughtsmen but what he really wanted to do was paint landscapes. It's such a beautiful world, he said, and we nearly lost it.
I said, "did you follow me here from Rocket Town?" I couldn't help it: once a Turk, always a Turk. I must have sounded like I was on the crazy side of suspicious to him, but he was nice about it and said, "No, I often come out here to sketch," and then he started blushing and said, "I've seen you around the town. I've always wondered who you were. When I saw you asleep down there I thought I should hang around to keep an eye on you. There's wolves in those woods, and worse things."
When I saw him blush, my heart started pounding. I can't explain it. When you know, you know, don't you? The first time I saw you, I knew you were going to be important to me. My heart hasn't pounded like that since the last time I saw you.
I said to him, I may be small but I can take care of myself.
I don't know what made me act so rude. He looked hurt, and started gathering his stuff up to go. I didn't want him to go. I've never felt that with a man before, not with anyone but you. I said, will you show me the rest of your drawings? He didn't wait to be asked twice. He sat beside me in the grass and we looked through his sketchbook together. His level of talent is just insane. I'm giving Rude some of his sketches to bring back to Mr Rufus. I know Mr Rufus has an eye for art, and if there's any justice in the world, he's going to be famous one day.
By then it was starting to get dark, so we got on our bikes and he rode back to the village with me even though he lives in Rocket Town, and we went to the pub and had a drink and he gave me his sketchbook, he said it was full anyway, and he rode off home. Yesterday he came to see me at work and asked if I'd like to go on a sketching picnic with him. I said I couldn't draw but I could fight the monsters off while he was drawing. He thinks I was joking! He doesn't know me yet. But he will.
Now picture this. Mink's outside in the garden, pretending to weed the vegetable patch but really she's on the lookout. Rude's hiding behind the curtains, waiting to scope him out so he can bring you and Mr Tseng and Mr Rufus a full report. I'm sitting at the kitchen table wearing blue jeans and a red checked shirt, with my hair - remember I told you it's long now? - in two braids and my sunglasses on my head. I'm feeling so excited, it's like I'm fifteen years old again. The picnic basket is already packed. I did it before I started writing this letter. He should be here any minute. I really need to finish up. I've written way more than I thought I would. You know, I really think I'm going to send this one.
Good-bye for now, Reno. You're always in my thoughts, but you're not the only thing in them any more.
I want to thank everyone who has seen this project through to the end with me. Many changes have taken place in my life over the seven years it has taken me to write this beast (changing countries, changing jobs, children growing up), and to be honest, if I'd known what I was getting into I probably would never have started. But I'm glad I did. It's truly been one of the happiest and most fulfilling experiences of my life, and that's pretty much entirely thanks to all the wonderful people I've got to know along the way. I'm afraid to name you all in case I accidentally forget someone, but a special thanks has to go to redcherryamber and cameoamalthea, whose thoughtful, detailed reviews were my reward for posting each new chapter, and to clementrage, the most constructive of critics, who never let me satisfied with what was merely "good enough". Thanks also to all the fabulous friends I've made at thelifestream, who are always willing to discuss canon with me. Thanks to my relatively new fandom friends, calamity and the moss-stomper, for their encouraging words. And thanks to k, happyhaunt, and herhousu, whose reviews inspired me to finally stop clinging to this thing I love, post the last chapters, and let it go.
As always, thanks for reading!