~ Epilogue ~
A warm late summer breeze swirled lazily throughout the house. The sun's bright rays streamed into the kitchen where Snow sat at the old table, holding a slightly rumpled piece of paper.
In spite of the news he had received in the form of the paper in his hands, Snow reckoned that today was a good day.
He hadn't been upset when he got the letter from the hospital in the mail a few months ago. He had been informed by the doctor that he wasn't alone and that he would go through stages, ending in acceptance... blah blah blah. All the blather about it irritated him and if he was being honest, he just wanted to get it over with. He had lived many years as he always suspected he would, mostly alone, mostly missing her, but now that he'd put in his time, he just wanted it to be done.
Now it seemed his fondest wish would not be far off at all in comparison to his lengthy and drawn out life.
Over the years, he had watched a hamlet grow into a thriving city and Sazh's son Dahj grow up, get married and and make a family of his own. Sazh and Dajh eventually moved to the settlement Snow and Lightning's work had helped to create, and they came by regularly. Even after his father became gravely and while Dajh was in the early stages of courtship with the future Mrs. Katzroy, he still found time to have dinner and play cards with the aging brawler. Sazh was the only family the kid had and took his father's death very hard, so Snow had done what only came natural to him; he offered as much strength and support as he could to the young man. Afterall, he knew death and loss intimately.
Opportunities for socialization were few and far between once he had negotiated the purchase of the parcel of land Lightning's home was built on. Colonel Amodar had done a lot of good for Pulse and the immigrants from Cocoon as a servant acting in earnest with power from the Neo Sanctum. Amodar had asked Snow if he wanted to take over Lightning's duties for the few remaining years before the settlement was founded and after that he would be free to purchase the land and do with it what he wished. Snow accepted. It wasn't like he had anything better to do.
He relinquished his position with NORA to Yuj and they continued to grow even more successful as time passed. His old friends would come to see him from time to time, always trying to get him to move closer to them or to town... but Snow never wanted anything more than to be as close as he could to the woman he loved even if she wasn't physically there anymore.
As he had no plans to ever return to Bodhum, he closed up the Farron household, and as far as he knew it sat there vacant to this day. Serah had never wanted to return either. After Lightning's passing, any dealings Snow had with Serah were strained at best. She never said anything, but he could only assume that she was angry that she didn't get to see her sister before she died. He couldn't blame the remaining member of the Farron family; there hadn't been time for much of anything before the raven haired soldier left the lackluster world he now regrettably drew breath inside of. Serah simply didn't keep him up to date on her worldly ventures.
Once he'd been tempted to try and get Serah back, just so he could have something that was familiar; something that could remind him of her, but of course he would never have wanted to hurt Serah like that; she deserved better. Sometimes, on dark days, he lamented the loss of both Lebreau and Lightning, knowing that there had been at least two women that loved him. The odd time that made him feel better, other times it made him feel worse when he reminded himself that they were both dead.
There was no denying Lightning was never coming back and no matter how he tried to appease his sense of loss and guilt, he never found anything to feed it that would quell its voracious appetite... so he let it slowly consume parts of him. The scar inside him never did heal, but there were so many layers of life on top of it now that most days he could almost convince himself that he didn't even feel it anymore.
Zack came by as often as he could to visit, but eventually hegrew ill and stopped coming altogether. The last time he saw Zack had been a dozen years ago before the man passed away, leaving behind his wife and four adult children. The two men had been as close as they could have been, and in the impossible months after Lightning's death Zack had been the only one Snow could turn to for comfort. They spent many a long hour sitting outside on the deck of Lightning's home drinking, laughing and commemorating the dead and living alike.
Snow, himself, never married. He never even had a woman after Lightning. There were many who had expressed an interest – even when the blond was well into his late fifties – but he could never fathom such a thing with anyone other than his beautiful soldier. When she left it seemed she had taken his desire with her.
And then one day he was old. He had loose skin on his face, creased in the usual places from laughing and smiling but it was wrinkled and dotted irregularly with light brown spots. His blond hair turned white,lost its vibrant shine and was brittle. Even though his body had been in good shape since he was a young man, he had begun to turn soft many years ago. His frame was still very powerful and imposing, but he was more lean than ever, lending a certain fragility to his once robust aura. Blue eyes still held the mischievousness they always had, but instead of the intense zeal they once reflected, they were now calm and cool; mature.
The kettle whistled and Snow folded the letter back up tossing it aside on the tabletop before ceasing the screaming of the pot. His eyes travelled to an old hutch in the corner of the room that housed random knick knacks he'd collected over the years. Kid's sculptures, drawings, pictures of his beloved friends and family, most now long passed. Approaching it slowly, he opened the door to the bottom cubby and pulled out a small rectangular box held shut by a thick elastic. He stared at the faded container for a long few seconds and stuffed it under his arm.
Preparing some afternoon tea for himself, he took the cracked and well used mug in one hand, old box in the other and headed out into the backyard to reminisce and enjoy the day.
Placing the box gently on the wrought iron table, he sat in the warm afternoon, his eyes drooping lazily, tipping his head back against the lounge chair and letting the sun permeate his body. When it was quiet and warm like this, he could remember her like it was yesterday. She was so beautiful and so strong, and she'd forever remain that way. Sometimes he could hear her voice on the wind or her scent drift nostalgically under his nose, and he wondered if she was watching him even now. Afterall, she had died not 10 yards from where he now sat. To him she had never gone away completely, and one day he knew he'd be able to see her again.
He smiled slightly, remembering what little Dahj had said to him one day when he wasn't much taller than a weed.
My mommy died and my dad says that I won't get to see her until I get old and die...
Yawning, Snow figured hehad filled one out of two criteria. He was old... now he just had to ...
Snow awoke with a start at a shrill voice calling his name.
"Uncle Snow! Uncle Snow!" A little girl with bouncy brown curls threw herself into Snow's arms.
"Oof! Hey! There's my big girl!" He smiled sleepily, pulling the little girl into a monster embrace.
Letting her go, shesat on a knee and grinned up at him. "Whatcha doin', Uncle Snow?"
"I'm hanging out with my favourite girl." He winked at her.
"Uncle Snoooow!" she giggled shyly, locking her little arms around his neck.
Such a sweet girl... Snow mused, rubbing her affectionately on the back. "Where's your grandpa Dajh?"
"He's in the house! We brought you a cake!"
"A cake?" Snow pulled her back to look in her face. She was all smiles as usual, as words tumbled forth in her cheery sing-song voice.
"Yeah! For your birth-"
"Nora Dia Katzroy!" A playful voice chided, interrupting the child. "Didn't we tell you to keep that a secret!"
Nora clamped a tiny hand over her mouth, her bright eyes wide as she tucked her little head into the crook of Snow's neck and whispered. "Oopsie..."
Snow chuckled. None of the Katzroy family were particularly good at keeping secrets.
A cake, hmm? Is it really that time again...? Snow wondered idly.
"Go in the house you little snitch. Get your grandpa." Laughed the lovely young woman watching little Nora jump off Snow's lap giggling all the while.
Dodging a playful swat on the backside from her mom, little Nora dashed towards the open screen door and into the house.
Warm arms wrapped themselves around Snow's neck, a sweet familial kiss pressed against his wrinkled cheek, and a smile crossed his aged features. "How are you feeling today, Uncle Snow?"
"Oh, I'm just fine, Claire." He patted her crossed wrists on his collarbone affectionately. She lingered in the embrace.
"Looking handsome as always." She smiled softly, releasing him to take a seat across the patio table.
"It's nice to see you, Claire, and Nora too." It was nice to see his family even though they had nary a drop of common blood. These people, along with his friends comprised the family he had always wanted, but could never have. He would have liked his own children, but he accepted long ago that such a thing wasn't written on the page of his future. Not without her in any case...
Snow wrapped his thick hand around the worn mug, but halted his movements when Dajh's daughter laid her hand over his.
She had a look of concern carved into her features that Snow knew all too well. He'd helped Dajh raise this little girl after Sazh's death shortly after she was born, and the divorce from his estranged wife. He knew her moods and her expressions better than his own and he could tell something was worrying her. It was something big.
"Claire?" Every time he said her name his heart ached a little.
His friend's son had no idea what Claire had been to him, and so he couldn't have known how Snow's constitution weakened just being around the little girl. He found he couldn't deny her anything and soon she wrapped her little hands around his heart so tightly, just like her namesake. She grew into a loving, compassionate, guileless young woman and Snow loved her like she was his own.
"Uncle Snow..." she stared, looking him honestly in the face, taking his hand in her own, brushing her thumb over his swollen knuckles. "I saw that letter from the hospital -" Snow winced inwardly, cursing himself for not trashing that piece of paper long ago. The last thing he wanted to do was to make the people he loved worry about him, and now surely now they all knew.
"Hey, old man!" Called Dajh, emerging from the patio door.
Eyes both young and old snapped over to the interruption.
"Who you calling old?" smirked Snow good-naturedly, waving the pepper haired man over. He heard Claire sigh slightly; knowingly.
He'd dodged that bullet for now.
"I've sat Nora down with some juice, but she won't be busy for long..." laughed Dajh, looking at Claire. Taking her queue, she stood and hugged Snow lingeringly again.
She whispered tenderly in his ear. "I love you, Uncle Snow. Happy birthday."
The white haired old man smiled softly as she pressed another kiss to his cheek and took her leave.
"So what's this I hear about a cake?" Snow raised an eyebrow at Dajh as he took up Claire's vacant seat.
"Yeah... I know you don't like to celebrate, but Claire and Nora insisted."
Snow finally took a sip of the lukewarm tea, not saying anything. He didn't have to. Dajh knew well that Snow hated to make a fuss about his birthday, but of course the former sentinel didn't ever tell him why; only that he didn't want to be reminded of the passing of time.
"They love you to death, you know." Dahj said quietly.
Snow nodded, not looking at the younger man. "Thanks for coming around..."
"You know that we love to come to see you!" Dajh's tone picked up. "What're you doing out here anyway?"
"Oh... just remembering." said Snow casually, putting his hand on the decrepit box.
"I remember when you and dad used to talk about her. I wish I could remember more about her."
"Yeah, you were pretty young before she left..." At this moment, Snow had something he wanted to share with another human being. He hadn't touched the letter Zack had delivered to him that day so many years ago, except to eventually transfer it from the old file folder to the box that was now under his hand. "Speaking of... do you have a few minutes?"
"Sure I do. What's up?"
Snow pulled the elastic from the small container and sat it aside.
Taking the lid off, his old eyes were greeted by a shattered rainbow of shimmering colours. Tucked into the side of the box was a sparkling hair adornment; the jewelled averia he'd given Lightning the day she was taken from him. He eyed it for a thoughtful moment as the colours danced on his aged skin, but he didn't disturb it.
On the very top of a pile of various papers and pictures, there was a folded piece of black fabric. His eyebrows creased with aching memory as he took it in hand and tucked it away into the breast pocket of his shirt. He'd forgotten that was the last memory he'd sealed up. He actually held onto it after he'd packed away everything else many years ago. It was the one thing, save her, that he couldn't seem to part with.
Rifling through the various pieces of paper, he came to the piece of memorabilia he sought. He pulled out the letter with Lightning's name written on it.
Curiosity had almost gotten the best of him several times in the early years without her, but things had been so painful that he didn't want to read it in case it brought back more unwanted feelings. But now seemed like a good day to read it. Today he felt able to bear witness to the words inside.
He handed the letter to Dajh.
Dajh looked at him curiously, taking it and looking at the name on the front, the back to Snow. "Uh... Do you want me to read this to you?" Snow nodded and the pepper haired man opened it easily, the glue at the back barely keeping the envelope shut.
Taking his reading glasses out of his pocket, he adjusted them on his face and began to recite the written words.
Ever since I met you that day in the Pulse Vestige I've been in love with you. I love you more than I could ever say, and I've done things over this last year I'm not proud of. I have nothing to say in my defense except that I love you, and I want you to remember that.
I know I should have told you that Snow was alive. And I know I shouldn't have tried to get in the way.
Dajh looked up questioningly at Snow from the folded piece of paper in his hands.
"Go on." Nodded Snow.
I wondered for a long time how much you loved him, and if you even did, but if you didn't then why would you have something of his tied to you? I didn't want to admit what was right in front of my eyes. I wanted you to love me and that was all I could see. I couldn't bring myself to understand how much of a better man he was for you..
I'm sorry I tried to keep you apart. If it weren't for the things I did, then life would be different for all of us.
Dajh paused briefly to push up his glasses and clear his throat. Snow knew that he was aware of how Lightning died, but not of much else.
If you're reading this now, that probably means I'm dead and you're wondering what happened.
Do you remember when I saved that woman and was in the newspaper? Snow was the only one that witnessed it, and he never asked me what happened. I wanted to explain, but I was scared to. Maybe it's too late now, but I feel that I should explain myself to someone.
Snow's eyebrows raised in interest.
In order to save that woman so that she could be reunited with her family, I made a deal with the devil. I didn't want that little girl to grow up without a mother, like I had to and while I was inside that crumbling building, I prayed that I could save her. 'I couldn't save my own, but maybe I could save someone else's' I thought. I don't know what fal'Cie was left on Cocoon to grant my wish, but it was granted. I saved the woman but was reshackled to the inescapable fate of a l'Cie.
Dahj paused for a short second, his eyes still moving over the paper even though he fell silent. "Are you sure you don't want to read this yourself...?"
Snow said nothing in response.
The younger man peeked at Snow's face over the top of his reading glasses and witnessing his friend's resolve, he continued.
I was given this cursed brand once again, and with it a focus.
Snow Villiers was never meant to return to this world once he fulfilled his duty, so I am to kill him and send him back to where he belongs.
I want you to know that I didn't leave Bodhum solely because of my anger towards Snow for being in love with you, I left Bodhum so that I wouldn't accidentally carry out my focus when all I wanted to do was renounce it. My anger towards him stemmed from the same vein as the love I felt for him... and so I was consumed with internal conflict and turmoil. I thought it best to just leave and never look back.
That was my plan before I found you.
Even as I write this to you now, I am still unsure of the path I will take and I don't want to carry out this focus.
If I don't, then I'll turn into a ci'eth to live forever wallowing in my own regret for not just failing my focus but losing you, although you two could live happily ever after without hassle or threat.
I could kill him and fulfil my focus, but how can I end a life that has been so important to so many people while I just sit here and pout selfishly about all the crummy things that have happened to me? Will I take the life of the person that took me in and showed me how to be a good man? Snow was never anything but loyal and caring and warm to everyone, and everyone loves him dearly. But even if I go through with it, you'll lose us both.
I know what I want in my heart, and I know it's selfish, but I love you, Light. I want to be with you until the day I turn into a ci'eth. I don't want to kill the man who's been more of a father to me than my own, and eventually you'll be reunited, but I want to make you as happy as I can until I'm not... me anymore. The only way that I can have you is if I keep you two apart, but even if I'm able to do that, how much time will we have together before the chance I have to complete my task is taken away and I fall to ruin?
I have no answers, but now the clock is ticking and time is running out in one way or another.
In the end, I want to come and take you away. Maybe one day you'll find out that Snow is alive, but perhaps by then you'll have forgotten all about him and maybe one day you'll grow to love me when there is no one else.
In spite of all this, one thing is for certain... it's him or me.
I don't want you to hate me. I'm sorry for everything I've done... and everything I will do.
Forgive me... and if you cannot, then please think of me from time to time.
A whisper of a breeze blew between the friends as they sat quietly, both looking down at their hands. Dahj refolded the letter, its words finally spoken aloud, but didn't tuck it back in the yellowed envelope before he placed it on the tabletop.
Snow had wondered what secrets were concealed within those pages adorned with her beloved name, but now he knew for sure. He had always been in the dark about Hope's motivation; always wondering what drove the boy besides his teenage hormones and anger.
Now his chest was tight, his breath short as he considered the weight of what Hope had written. He had no idea that he had traded away his life to save that woman's, and if Snow had been in the same situation, he wasn't sure he would have chosen any differently. Afterall, at that time, Lightning had been so far away that she might as well have been dead, leaving the young men that adored her far behind.
Snow found it interesting that Hope's focus consisted of taking Snow's life, and some how wondered why it was that he'd been given his life back in the first place. He'd never gotten any answers in regard to that either, and he didn't expect any, especially now that it was really a moot point. He'd lived his life for the last seventy years and now according to the doctors he'd leave as naturally as he had come.
Considering the events of the past, Snow had deduced long ago that Hope had never actually meant to hurt Lightning. He said as much during that sunny day that he had stolen the light from Snow's life. She had been a tragic causality. Resolution and acceptance took months before it happened; Snow felt anger and bitterness like he'd never felt before.
Hope had been so self-centered to take his own life when Snow had denied him death. Hope had been angry with Snow judging by the boy's tone towards him in the end, but from the information in the letter, Lightning wasn't the only tragic causality that day.
How long had Snow felt cheated and robbed by the boy's last actions? The answer to that was almost too easy; every single cursed day that passed. The passage of time was slow and meticulous; birthdays and the changing of seasons reminding him of yet another passing year laced with empty animosity and unrequited retribution.
Pain throbbed down his arm, and he clenched his fist against it; his heart beating a dangerous and uneven rhythm in his tense chest. His breaths were unsatisfying and shallow, his body seizing like an old rusted clock that had seen its fair share of the flow of time.
He heard a voice call his name, but it sounded far away. It continued to shout above him, but he paid it no mind.
"Claire! Claire! Call the hospital! Get someone out here now! Something's wrong!"
So the puppet strings that bound his old friends had tangled Hope once again, sealing his fate, along with the woman they loved. He was unsure if he could let go of that hatred he held for the coward who took his life instead of living with what he'd done. If his focus had been to end Snow, then it really wouldn't have been feasible to live side by side one another, but it would have been better than having to give up the woman he loved. Even if he would have had to sleep with one eye open for the rest of his life, it would have been preferable to live that paranoid life with her than without her. Surely anything would have been better than what he'd lived.
But Claire... little Nora... Dajh... my family.
If things had been different, then maybe he would have never had the pleasure of meeting Claire and helping to mould her into the beautiful woman she was today. Maybe there would be no knowing little Nora and the boundless joy they brought to his life over these last years. Maybe life had turned out like it was meant to. They'd all been sent down paths, given trials to overcome and learn from.
Knowing the truth about the kid's motivation melted the icy hatred in his heart just as it ceased its foreboding staccato.
He felt cool hands on his face, but his body was pleasantly numb as he drifted from consciousness into consuming darkness.
"It's about time this all ended..." Breathed a gentle voice, the scent of honeysuckle ghosting over his visage.
Snow opened his heavy eyes.
He was already on his feet, standing somewhere familiar; somewhere empty and white but endless and timeless. Looking around into the void, behind him an intensely warm palm came to rest in the middle of his back.
"I've been waiting for you to keep your promise." She said solemnly.
Snow spun around, his heart jumping into his throat.
There she stood, a small smile on her lips.
Was she really there, or had senility taken over completely?
He wasn't sure what he should do at first, keeping a constant eye on her face, hesitantly reaching out to touch her. If he could feel the warmth of her skin against his, he could be stark raving mad and he would have been fine with it... as long as he could feel her again.
Snow felt his hand brush against hers, the weight of emotion and relief flooding over him and then floating away, taking with it the sadness and guilt of the years etched upon his soul. Wanting to put the theory that she could possibly be a solid figure to the test, he pulled her tightly into his chest, hiding his face in her rose hair.
She chuckled as she wrapped her own arms around him to return the crushing embrace. It was an odd sound to hear from her even as muffled as it was, but it was surely a laugh. Lightning somehow pulled back to look at his watery gaze, tracing a her thumb along the corner of his eye to collect some of the warmed moisture. He took her hand in his and placed her palm against his lips, relishing in the myriad of emotions and the renewed tingle in his skin; the taste of her hand and the sound of her voice.
"We've got to get going." she said, pulling reluctantly out of his arms.
Lightning remained silent but turned and started to walk away from the confused man. He stalled for a second, but hurried to her side and eagerly snatched her hand up in his own. She looked up at him with a raised brow, feigning annoyance, pulling her hand away.
"What? Do I have to hold your hand now?" she asked dryly, cocking her head to the side, a grin tugging at the corner of her beautiful mouth. "You're not an old man anymore, y'know."
Snow was confused again by her words.
...not an old man? ... Surely...
Looking down at his hands, he no longer recognized them. Turning them over and over again, he was shocked to see that they were the strong, capable hands he knew decades ago. Raising them to his face, he examined it with his fingertips, expecting to feel the loosened flesh he had become accustomed to. Surprise flashed on his features as he felt the smooth, supple skin of his cheeks and chin beneath his constant five o'clock shadow.
She smiled genuinely, obviously entertained by watching him begin to put together a piece or two of the puzzle that was only beginning for them. Folding her hand around his this time, she turned towards a shimmer in the near distance.
Snow had no idea what was going on, but he breathed a sigh of sweet contentment as he felt her hand in his, corporeal and real against his own. He watched her hair sway gently with her steps as she tugged him along. She was as perfect as he ever remember her to be. Maybe too perfect... he once again wondered if this was even happening...
"Wait." he said, stopping all of a sudden.
She turned back to him, a question on her lips. Before words could pass, Snow pressed a long-awaited kiss against her, keeping his eyes open to see her expression. A light blush passed over her cheeks as her eyes slipped shut when he deepened their innocent kiss. She obliged him, silent promise passing between them.
He may not have known what was really going on, and maybe he never would, but he was convinced that she was feeling what he was in that very moment as their lips met and mingled, and somehow that was all that he needed. He let his own eyes close as he leaned into her, cupping her cheek with his smooth, unabused, uncalloused hand. After a long moment, they pulled apart, leaving them both breathless.
"Ok. I'm ready now." he grinned, perhaps a bit too confidently, enjoying her sweet taste on his lips.
She snorted in mock annoyance, attempting to restore her reserved mask at seeing his old endearing cockiness return.
How she had missed him.
Turning back around, she gave his hand a fond squeeze before once again taking her place as his consort to lead him through the veil.
A/N: I would like to thank everyone who stuck with me these last few months. Whether you were reading and reviewing, or just enjoying my story in silence, I appreciate it. Truly I do.
I must thank my wonderful husband who treats me very sweetly and was very supportive and encouraging when I stayed up into the early morning or bitched and complained about not getting something posted in time or how something wasn't coming as easily as I wanted it to... etc. Also, I have to thank him for talking things over with me and supplying me with lots of ideas and directions in which I could take this tale... his male insights were particularly useful as well as his slightly morbid imagination. He really is the best and I am really very lucky that he puts up with my BS. Thanks, baby.
Thank you again for reading. See you around! ^_^