The End (part 4)

July 10, 1994

Battler let out a groan as he latched Isabel onto his back and carried her up the path leading to the mansion. Only a few years ago, he had no difficulty giving her piggyback rides; now that she was seven years old, she was gradually getting too heavy for the task. And soon enough, she'd be too mature for the task. Although, if she were anything like her mother, she'd probably never grow out of it. She already resembled her mother in appearance—long, wavy blonde hair that fell down her back, and blue eyes.

"Ohoho, getting old so soon, Battler-kun?" laughed Kumasawa as she walked just behind Battler and Isabel. "Is that child breaking your back already?"

"Eh, Isabel's growing like a weed, ihihi!" laughed Battler. "Seven already, can you believe it? A big girl now!"

"And do big girls get to call themselves whatever they like?" asked Isabel. She had grown to, if not hate, at least strongly dislike her name. She was the only one in her entire school to have a foreign-sounding name...and as if this wasn't bad enough by itself she was also the only one in her generation of cousins to have a Western name. Ai, Haruki, Etsuko, Kaede, Daisuke...hell, even her baby brother had a Japanese name! Already, at the age of seven, she was learning the foundations of humiliation.

"Now Isabel, your name is very pretty, and honours your Italian roots," said Beato as she caught up to her husband and daughter while holding her and Battler's six month-old son, Riku, who was currently sleeping.

"Yeah, and everyone else's names honours their Japanese roots—as they should," said Isabel irritably with a roll of her eyes.

"Now isn't that interesting of you to say that," said Rudolf, glancing over at Battler. He was having strong memories of Battler complaining about his Western name, and vowing to give his children strictly Japanese names. Ah, if only he knew...

"This one kid in my class said you have a reindeer's name, grandpa," said Isabel, the wind playing with her blonde locks.

"Did they now?" laughed Rudolf. "You tell that kid I just happen to love my Westerns, which they've probably never seen!"

It felt nice to have a light-hearted atmosphere with joking, as though they were a normal family, as though Isabel had been born at a more convenient time for her parents. The first year of her life had undoubtedly been the most difficult one—from an assortment of illnesses and infections that seemed to hit the poor child all at once to lost sleep to arguments with Beato over almost everything, Battler had been in serious doubt of whether he and Beato really could handle this, and if Rudolf had been right all along—that he really wasn't cut out for this.

In time, however, he had gradually grown accustomed to fatherhood. Isabel became much healthier as she grew older, and Battler and Beato began to open up with each other about their feelings over parenthood more. And while it had seemed impossible at one time, Battler had graduated with acceptable (though not particularly outstanding) marks just two years ago.

And now, Isabel had a baby brother. Riku hadn't been planned any more than Isabel herself had been, but her parents were somewhat better prepared with more experience. Of course, finally having the money to move into a slightly bigger house had helped as well. Isabel had needed some time to adjust to the move, as she had grown up in the same house as her grandparents and aunt, and would miss waking up to the sound of five people getting ready in the morning.

"Isabel's getting a ride!" exclaimed the eldest of George and Sayo's children, four-year-old Ai. "Can I have a ride too, daddy?"

"Soon enough, Ai," said George gently as he held Etsuko in his arms. The girls had been the first to come, Etsuko being born two years after Ai; boy Haruki was just a baby, whom Sayo was attending to. Slowly but surely, George was beginning to build his own business that he hoped would eventually amount to his father's own business, perhaps even exceed it, within a couple years' time.

Maria and Ange lingered behind for a bit while the cousins and parents began to mingle on their way up. "Maria onee-chan," said Ange, "How have things been going for you?"

"Mom and I are getting along somewhat better now," said Maria, both looking and sounding more adult in tone, "We talk about our problems more, and there's less fighting and yelling, so it's all good."

Maria had grown up to be somewhat nonchalant about her problems in life, which Ange supposed was good—better than dwelling, right? Ange said, "I still baby-sit for Isabel when I'm needed, but that's less and less now." She sighed, "I'm beginning to see what my parents meant when they were going on about how children grow up so fast."

"Now hold still, Kaede," said Jessica as she began to run the brush through her three-year-old daughter's unruly dark hair. She was sitting on Kaede's new "big girl" bed while Kaede herself was sitting in her mother's lap.

"Ow!" yelped Kaede. She struggled to get out, but Jessica held her in place. Still, she supposed she shouldn't get too mad; after all, Jessica herself had refused to give her own mother any cooperation with her hair. She still remembered the sharp yanks and tugs no matter how gentle Natsuhi had tried.

"I don't wanna have my hair brushed," whined Kaede, "Why do I hafta anyway?"

"So you look like a beautiful young princess," was Jessica's on-her-feet reply. If nothing else, her experience with her game had taught her how to think on the spot within a few seconds.

She closed her eyes thoughtfully. "That" game...she hadn't thought of that in a while. In some ways, though, "that" game had brought her and Yoshiya closer together...brought her closer to her brother...resulted in her child being born...

Kaede had been the result of Jessica's eager answer to Yoshiya's marriage proposal the summer after she had graduated from university. Even though the young couple had always taken precautions, there was something about the excitement of being newly engaged, the thought of finally being able to start their own life together, that made them throw away all common sense and take the moment for what it was.

Jessica's parents had mixed feelings about her getting engaged to a former servant, even with the reminder that he was no longer a servant, and these feelings grew all the more stronger when she learned exactly one month and two weeks since she had accepted his proposal that she would be having his child. And of all people, the first person whom she had told about it was Sento, who had even stood by her side when she broke the news to Yoshiya, and then to her parents.

Well, at least she had graduated by then, and had secured a job. At least Yoshiya had been more than willing to return home with her upon their engagement...and all the more eager to marry her a couple months earlier than originally planned...

"Ow, ow, ow, OW!" shrieked Kaede, snapping Jessica back to reality as she realized she had pulled a little too hard on a particular knot. "I want daddy to do it!"

"Daddy's busy right now," said Jessica, deciding to gently undo the tangles with her fingers, "He's waiting outside to greet the others when they arrive."

"Are they here yet?" asked Kaede, who was getting wriggly.

"We'll check in a couple minutes, okay?" said Jessica. "Now would you like your hair up in a ponytail or down?"

The entire family gathered in the parlour ten minutes later to discuss all that had gone on since they had last met. As it turned out, they had quite a bit to talk about.

"Mother, I've told you not to spoil the children with candy," said George firmly, ignoring the pleading look in Etsuko's eyes, "They already had something to eat before we left."

"Oh, sorry about that, George," said Eva, though she wasn't quite that sorry. She seemed to have changed her mind about George's marriage once the grandchildren were born. The remarks she made to Sayo now were those along the lines of "Ease up on the salt in the miso soup or else those children will get overweight!"

"My sympathies, George-aniki," spoke Battler, "Isabel is always getting candy out of nowhere. And oddly enough, said candy appears right after the old bastard has paid us a visit."

"Hey, who am I to deny my granddaughter's sweet tooth?" said Rudolf playfully.

Isabel, tired after a long trip, lay her head down on her mother's lap with her eyes closed. Beato smiled and lightly ruffled Isabel's hair with one hand while holding Riku with the other. "At least Isabel is generous enough to share with her mother," said Beato.

"Ah, some things about you never change, Beato!" said Battler. He stood just above Beato and gave her a peck on the cheek.

"Where is Uncle Sento?" asked Ai. "He always gives us candy."

"Mmm?" said Isabel as she opened up her eyes. Uncle Sento...yes, she remembered him quite well. He was the one who would always make jokes about making her French fries...well, she assumed they were jokes anyway, if the way Jessica laughed nervously was any indication. Her parents would just roll their eyes at such remarks.

"Sento's probably with Mayumi right now," said Natsuhi, "That baby has been keeping them both busy." She sighed, "I am just glad he found a good wife who will undoubtedly make a wonderful mother to their son."

Yes...Daisuke had been born only one month ago. Already, he had proven to be quite the handful. Yet Sento appeared to be perfectly capable of handling it with the help of his wife of three years, Mayumi. It had been difficult to move past Jessica, but eventually he managed. As though in compensation for everything he had lacked in his childhood, he had been blessed with a family, a beautiful wife, and a healthy son.

And now, Sento had just walked into the parlour with his cane handy. After the casts had come off he walked with a limp, which the doctors said would probably remain with him for the rest of his life. But as long as he was surrounded by the ones he loved, it didn't matter.

"Uncle Sento!" said Isabel happily. She leaped off Beato's lap and ran up to give her uncle a big hug, which he gladly returned.

"Good to see you, Sento," spoke up Rudolf. The ice between him and Sento was not broken over night, but they were working to something of a civil term.

Sento nodded. "You too." He let go of Isabel and said, "So Isabel, have you been good for your parents?"

Isabel nodded eagerly. "Yes! I help mommy with Riku and—and I help daddy bake cookies and—and—and I'm getting good grades and—"

Battler scooped Isabel up in his arms. "We're a little overtired from the trip," he explained, "And I think it is about time you went to your guest room for a nap."

"I...don't...want to," muttered a sleepy Isabel. She laid her head on her father's shoulder and closed her eyes, similar to how she had her head in her mother's lap a few minutes ago.

Battler smiled and began to walk out with Isabel. After all he and Beato had been through with Isabel...he was beginning to think it had all been worth it.

Sento looked over to see Jessica sitting by the windows. He slowly walked over to her and sat next to her. "So, dear sister," he said, "What do you make of this family conference?"

Jessica was surprised. It had been years since he had called her "dear sister". "I would say that while we may have our little 'issues'," she said, "that we are at least strong enough to pull through them together. That no matter what sort of problem we are facing, whether it's the storm itself, or we are caught in the eye of the storm, we can face it head-on."

Sento slipped his hand into Jessica's. "And that," he said, "is what makes us, in spite of our little "quirks", family."


Quote: "Without love, it can't be seen"

A/N: And so I have to change another story's status to "complete"...*sigh* Even though this was sheer melodrama, I had a fun time writing it (heck, melodrama is just plain fun to write). Even if the characterization was, at times...just above anime level. *wince* It's always difficult to write about a character's reaction to a situation that is usually not in canon, and I am aware some people do not see some reactions as in-character, whereas some people think they are in-character, you know? I hope I at least did okay, if nothing else. The one character whom I for sure had a firm grasp on throughout was Sento; I could easily hear his voice saying this, I could easily picture him doing that, etc. He invoked the reaction I was hoping to see: You're not quite sure if he's truly good or evil, and that's something the reader should remain in doubt about until you get a definitive answer towards the end. It was a fun journey to write him as a Magnificent Bastard and as a Jerkass Woobie.

And if it's easier for me to characterize my OCs than it is to write for the canon characters, then the time for me to leave fanfiction behind is rapidly approaching. However, I don't think I could truly give fanfiction up; I'll still write stories for this site, and there are some fandoms I'd still love to write for once I have an actual idea. And besides which, I have a current good idea for an original story that will most likely take months to develop; heck, this fanfic took five months to flesh out before it was published. During that time, I might as well write more fanfiction to satiate my needs.

Anything else I want to add...first, I am considering changing some names and plot details and converting this to an original story. Don't expect it to happen overnight, though; it will most likely take some time (see above paragraph).

Second, I am amused by the reactions to Jessikanon VS Jessisento. Personally, I believe that if this story were canon—well, Ryukishi would've written it a thousand times better than I did, lol—and the VNs were to be widely distributed in North America, that Jessisento would become insanely popular and poor Kanon would be turned into a wife beater in "Die For Our Ship" fanfiction. Why? Simple: Jessica = girl whom female viewers identify with; Sento = boy whom female viewers want to bang. Get the picture? Don't believe me? Check out the romance fanfiction for "Harry Potter" and "Avatar: The Last Airbender": There are more fanfics for "Dramione" and "Zutara" than there are for the actual canon pairings—and in too many of them for me to round up to a precise number, one half of the canon pairing is vilified. And even if you haven't checked either of these out, there's probably a good example of it within one of your own fandoms.

One final note: Isabel is twenty-three now. They grow up so fast...