(Author's Note: Needless to say, the characters, places, and all that are all property of Namco. I don't own any rights here.)
"This is weird," Cress said, smiling. "Avoiding ourselves. Knowing that at this very moment, somewhere else in the world, we're here as kids, discovering our own futures... Fighting Dhaos and kicking his-"
"Cress," Mint smiled back. "But you're right. To think our own children are older than ourselves. Our OTHER selves," she clarified.
"The best part is we know where we went then so we can avoid those places now at those times so we don't meet ourselves," Arche giggled. Unlike her friends, she looked to be in her late thirties; in truth, she was a full century older (give or take two years) than their sixty-seven years.
"I'm just glad you were able to hide up there." Chester wasn't quite feeling the effects of his years, and had recently tried his luck in the Euclidian competitions for the fun of it. He had been confined to his bed, in agony, while his wife and their friends hid out in the rebuilt second floor of what had once been his family's home, and was now restored. Chester had remembered wondering what happened to the second floor when he'd come into the future the first time around. Now he knew: he'd hidden it himself so that it could be used as a place to hide when their alternate selves came to what was now their present.
Unfortunately, he'd allowed himself to get distracted, and ended up having to hide in plain sight, blankets pulled up over his face, praying his granddaughter didn't mention his name in front of himself. Himyoungself?
Mint had healed him, of course, as soon as she'd come downstairs, but he'd been careful not to reveal that to anyone until after they knew that their group would be safely ensconced in Dhaos' castle, preparing for the ultimate confrontation. He'd had to lie in bed for days on end, pretending to be in agony, with the covers pulled up over his face. It had been the hardest thing he ever did, not laughing when he'd told Cress' younger self where to find the Secret Skill book.
Regret tinged their memories a bittersweet hue, for Dhaos had not sought to destroy and conquer for no purpose. Indeed, his ulterior motive had been to save his own world; but despite occasional doubts on Arche's part especially, it had taken his demise for that fact to come to light. Of course, his methods could have been more neighborly...
"We should be hearing from Suzu soon. It'll be even weirder," Arche mused. "I mean, she's still eleven but we're much older than the we she's getting to know right now."
Mint nodded. "Think I should tell her she's our granddaughter?" she asked her husband.
Cress shook his head. "Not yet. Wait until she's ready. Let her get to know us as we are now first."
Mint smiled. "With everything that happened to her, I think she'd be thrilled that while her parents are gone, she actually did know her maternal grandparents - when they were not much older than her, at that!"
Chester sighed and shook his head. "I wish I'd known back then."
"It's better this way," Arche said softly. "If you had known that Claus was going to end up being your great grandfather, it might have altered things. Maybe Suzu shouldn't even find out at all."
"I don't agree, Arche," Cress said. Stretching tiredly, he rose to pace the room. They were all in good shape, but time left them alone no more than it had anyone else. "I think it would comfort her to know the truth. In due course," he added. "How odd is it that we all ended up related, somehow, in the end?"
"Not odd at all," Mint said. "Fate has its own way of doing things. Even if we do have a grandchild in common, and another on the way, it isn't as if we planned things to happen as they did. Who would have thought your eldest daughter would marry my son? And I certainly didn't expect my daughter to run away, change her name, and become a Ninja, no matter her reasoning," she laughed. There was little humor and much pain in the sound.
Knowing that she had already witnessed her daughter's demise before she'd known of her birth had scarred Mint's heart in a way she feared would never heal; as soon as Aloe had contacted them from the village, Mint and Cress knew. They had always regretted the loss of contact, but as Mint often said, Fate is not often kind. Knowing what they did, the couple had opted to let their daughter believe they were too hurt by her apparent defection. She had explained at the time that her heart lay elsewhere, and her duties would be her first priority. Cress and Mint had let her go.
Aloe had fallen in love with a Ninja training near their home. She had told them she would be leaving Miguel to live in Japoni. Cress and Mint had thought nothing of it until their daughter changed her name to Okiyo. They'd talked about it a lot before they severed contact with her. The hardest part was knowing in advance, and being helpless to change what had originally happened. Though for them, it was fifty years in the past, it was also happening right now. Cress still blamed himself. It had been by his own blade, after all, that his daughter's fate had come to pass. He and Mint had raised Aloe and her twin sister Rose, and their younger brother Thorne, with the understanding of what Dhaos' true mission had been; they had never considered the consequences. He often wondered how they had turned out to be so different.
Not that it was anything they could have controlled, or would if they had been able to. Now, they took one another's hands.
"I'm sorry," Arche said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you guys."
"It's okay," Mint replied. "Life goes on. We, too, shall leave this life someday, hopefully far in the future." Her hair, now a white-gold hue, still fell long and healthy down her straight back, but her healer's hands were stiffening with age, ever so slightly. Her face, ever gentle, was beginning to show the map of her years.
Cress and Chester were faring no worse. Unfortunately, and much to Chester's ever increasing frustration, they weren't faring much better, either. Still, knowing what he did, he supposed he was lucky. He had aged, but not quite as much as his friends. As for Arche...
She hugged everyone enthusiastically. She couldn't age herself faster, but at one hundred and sixty nine she dreaded losing her friends more than ever. Though half elves would eventually become accepted by society, she was getting more set in her ways, and even her mother was venturing into her twilight years. Still, Arche had long ago determined not to live her life in fear of losing those close to her. Now that Half Elves were permitted back into the colony, she was entertaining the notion of retiring there and helping to run the inn for a while. But that was in the future - the distant future, she hoped.
"I wonder what Claus would say about all this," Chester mused.
"He'd say he told me so, and told me to tell you so, and that I have no bragging rights because I didn't," Arche groused.
The archer grinned and hugged his wife. "You'll get over it."
"One of these centuries." Chester grinned and ducked.
"Come on, won't you two ever grow up?" Cress teased them good-naturedly.
"Probably not," Mint responded, leaning against him. "Which is fine with me, honestly. Someone's got to keep you young, you old man," she smiled.
"You keep me young," he said valiantly.
Mint shook her head. "No. I keep you healthy. THEY keep us young," she said, indicating their friends. Arche was chasing Chester around the table, waving her broom at him. Mint sighed happily. "Sometimes, change is good. And sometimes, no change is good too."
Cress nodded. "You know, if we looked at ourselves, we'd probably look like kids."
"We do," Chester said, "and we were. When I think about it, I'm impressed all over again. It was like we were on top of the world. We could do anything. We did. It kind of makes the rest of our lives a little anti-climactic, though," he said as he turned and caught his wife, wrestling the broom away from her.
"Just a little," Cress grinned. "But as long as we're healthy, we're having a good time, and we have each other, that's what matters. Still, it's a shame about the Techbirds though. Do you think they'll ever bring those back?" His grin was a little wistful. Mint smiled secretively but Cress didn't notice; she had saved them and put them away. Just in case.
"Get over it," Chester tossed over his wife's back as he hoisted her to his shoulder. "For now, I'm going to take this little girl home and give her a sound -"
"CHESTER YOU PUT ME DOWN THIS INSTANT!" Arche cut him off with an indignant shriek.
Mint and Cress' laughter followed them out the door.