"Cloud! Hurry! They're here!"
Cloud heard Zack run down the stairs and down the hallway into their working space where Cloud was working on a chair in wood. The mako in his eyes shone almost to show his excitement as he stood in the doorway, moving his feet restlessly as Cloud put away the chair.
"The survivors from the other worlds!" Zack smiled at him and waved him over when he saw the stunned look on Cloud's face as he gave a slow nod and threw his gloves away to hurry after Zack. They ran rapidly to the newly restored plaza, the only place in Radiant Garden big enough to hold so many people at once. Cloud could feel his mouth go dry when they got close enough to see a wide line of people being led closer to the fountain in the middle of the plaza.
It had been months, almost a year since they had seen Castle Oblivion fall and there had been plenty of time to think of what had happened back then. He had later found out about the people who were being held captive in a room within the castle and even though he had seen the collapse of the castle with his own eyes he still hoped that the people being held there had made it out. There was reason to hope. The world Port Royal had been restored and the surviving citizens had returned to it.
A month or so after the incident, Cloud had received a letter from King Mickey. They had found it on one of their fishing trips and it wasn't until Zack pointed out the royal seal that Cloud thought anything of it and once they got back home he had decided to read it.
Dear Zack and Cloud,
There are many things that were left unsaid the day we parted, and I feel that there are things I need to say. Firstly, I apologize for what my silence caused you both. While roaming in the Dark Realm I heard much about Hojo and how he had influenced Xehanort. I have seen the pain that both Hojo and Xehanort have caused and I was afraid that it would all surge again with the two of you being together.
I have faith in you and I am certain that the power you both withhold will be of great use to keep the darkness and light in balance. I have decided to not keep secrets from you. That is why I will tell you this; Terra, Aqua and Ven survived. You and Kairi restored Ven's heart and gave him the strength he needed to cleanse them from Xehanort's influence.
Together they have restored the World of Departure and with the help of Sora, Riku and Kairi they have found survivors from the worlds that were destroyed by darkness. What I have to ask of you now is a favor. It will take time to restore the worlds, some might take longer than others and in the meantime the survivors will need a place to stay. Disney Castle has opened its doors to these people in need and we hope to be able to count on Radiant Garden as well.
There had been no doubt in whether they should take in these people or not. Cloud and Zack managed to get volunteers under their tutelage and together they built houses so that the survivors would have somewhere to live when they got to Radiant Garden. Aerith and Tifa had gone out on a hunt for old clothes that people didn't need anymore. In their hunt they had received other things like curtains, bed-clothing, mattresses, paintings and much to Zack and Cloud's relief the two girls had found help to decorate the cottages as well.
When they got to the plaza they saw that the rest of the Restoration Committee was already there, ready to greet the newcomers. Radiant Garden didn't have a regent yet. Their priority had been restoring their world and as they did the people of Radiant Garden had deemed them trustworthy enough to have as regents until everything settled down.
From where Cloud stood he could see that there were survivors from both Agrabah and Beast's Castle in line and there was much chatter heard from them as they took in the majestic sight of the grand castle and the picturesque roads and buildings.
Cid got up onto the small stage Zack had put together a few days ago and he seemed pretty confident with the megaphone in his hand as he waved in the people in the back.
"Welcome to Radiant Garden!" He yelled and the crowd went slowly silent as everyone turned their attention to Cid, "We're gonna sign y'all a house and to do so we will need the name of each resident. It might take a while so I beg of you to bare with us. There will be lovely ladies passing food and water. No pushing, we'll make sure y'all get a slice." He looked down as Aerith nudged him and passed him a document. "Oh, right. There will be a meeting on Friday, tomorrow that is, for orientation and there will be a couple of guests there who are able to answer your questions." He was going to put the paper into his pocket when Aerith nudged him again and Cid sighed and looked down at the paper again, "There will be lemonade and cinnamon buns served. And all kids will get an extra treat."
There was a cheer from a couple of kids who still had the energy to jump around after their long trip and Cid smiled as Aerith took the paper and folded it neatly into the file she was holding. "Okay! Everybody get in line – there's one line to all desks! - and we'll go about this as thoroughly and fast as we can."
"Hey, look." Zack nodded towards the queue when he recognized one of the princesses and Cloud tried not to look so relieved when he saw Belle stand by a grumpy-looking prince. Right behind them stood a fat man with a fine and slim mustache arguing with the slender old man beside him while a little boy giggled into his mother's skirt. Further back in line stood a woman with a toddler in her arms and he was crying while she tried to rock him into sleep. She put him down and tried to comfort him but he sat down with a thump and kept crying when the man behind them sat down as well and looked at him. The boy stopped crying for a moment as he looked up at the man curiously.
"You like magic, little one?" He took out three balls with stripes and threw them up in the air and caught them and hid them before the little boy had any time to react, "Where did they go?" He gasped and looked surprised. He then coughed softly and hit his own chest and made it look like he just coughed out a ball. The little boy's face scrunched up like he had bit a lemon and he began to cry again. "No, no, no, little one, I'm okay. See? It was just a magic trick."
A young man behind him sighed as he tried to hold back a smile, "Lea, you're just scaring the kid." He sat down beside his friend and pulled out a cute little plastic container with a simile-face from a freezing box beside him and he turned to the mother who was looking at both of them with a wondering look. "Does he eat ice-cream?" He asked and the mother gave a slow nod. Lea watched his blue-haired friend scoop up a little ice-cream with his spoon only to leave it in the container as he turned to the little boy and reached out his hand, "Hello there, little one. My name is Isa. Would you like some ice-cream?"
The little boy paused as a sob was caught in his throat. He recognized the little plastic container and the content as well. He reached out his chubby little hand and Isa put the container right by him so that he could reach the spoon and eat by himself.
Zack followed Cloud closer to the queue and he was thinking the same Cloud was thinking. There was no mistaking the fiery red hair and those emerald-green eyes. Zack didn't expect Lea to remember anything. The Keyblade-wielders had barely survived the attack of light back at Castle Oblivion and Cloud had told him about how he had felt Lea slip away just as they left. He wasn't a religious man, he didn't think he was at least but if there was a greater power that looked out for them then it sure had worked out a great way of giving Lea a true second chance. As a survivor from one of the fallen worlds he had surely the memories of having lost loved ones and that gave him the chance to grieve what he had truly lost. He would be able to go on with his life. Cloud had also told him about Isa and as they approached them it truly felt like he was witnessing a miracle of sorts.
Cloud cast a shadow over them and Lea looked up to see if it was anyone he knew. Cloud gulped as he felt all of them stare at him, except for the little boy who was completely focused on the ice-cream. "Uh, hi." It wasn't the most intelligible thing to ever come out of his mouth but in his defense he felt really strange.
"Hi," Lea said and flashed him a huge grin, "You don't happen to be one of 'em lovely ladies with food, do ya'?" Isa sank his head and shook it lightly as he tried not to choke on a chuckle and not mumble 'God' under his breath. Cloud blushed as Zack snickered too and gave him a shove, "Sadly, no." Zack replied instead, "We live around here and we're on a mission on behalf of Radiant Merchants and we're wondering if you believe in the afterlife." Cloud rolled his eyes and sighed while Zack held him in place. He could always count on Zack going straight to the point instead of easing into it.
"Uh, yeah. I guess." Lea said with a shrug.
"Well, judging by your packaging I'm gonna go ahead and assume that you're opening a ice-cream shop and we figured that we might owe you from a past life and my friend here is a die-hard believer in karma so we insist on helping you out with the building of your ice-cream hang-out."
Lea and Isa stared open-mouthed at them, disbelief written all over their faces as they tried to say something while trying process what Zack was saying. Cloud seemed to be in disbelief as well but he came out of it once Zack nudged him, "Smile, Cloud." Zack said through his teeth and Cloud managed a small smile.
"A-are you serious?" Isa managed to ask after a few moments of silence. This was most certainly out of the blue. They hadn't expected to find much in this new world. Life had been tough and they had lost much but they found some comfort in having each other and their goal had been to start a business of their own once they got here. They had prepared themselves on the fact that it was probably going to be tougher still. They would have to start off by selling ice-cream from a small cart they had managed to save up to and they would have to walk through all of Radiant Garden to make enough money for living expenses. They had been euphoric when they found out that they would get their own house and now two strangers had walked up to them and told them that they would build their shop for them.
"Dead serious. Karma is no laughing matter, right, Cloud?"
Cloud nodded quickly, "Right." He fumbled through his pockets until he found their business cards, which Zack had insisted on getting and truth to be told it was really practical to have. He reached it to Isa who sat closest to them and Isa took it with trembling hands. Lea tried to snatch it away but Isa kept him at an arms length as he read through it. "You're gonna scare the child." Isa told him as he came to the conclusion that this card was probably real and that the two men before them were as serious as they claimed.
"We're gonna be at the meeting tomorrow so we can get together for a beer or something afterward and talk everything through." Zack offered, figuring that it would be too much to take in now and they were probably tired and hungry too. Isa nodded as Lea finally got his hands on the card and nodded slowly as he decided to look up. He stood up and reached his hand out to Zack and then to Cloud. He swallowed hard and bowed his head as he shook their hands.
"Thank you. You don't know how much this means to us. Really."
Isa got up as well and shook their hands, smiling nervously as he too bowed his head, "We haven't even introduces us. I'm Isa and this is Lea. Thank you..."
"Oh, I'm Zack and this is Cloud."
There was a buzz from the fountain up front and Cid got up onto the small stage again, clearing his throat before talking into the megaphone, "Could Cloud and Zack please find their way up here ASAP. We have a group that needs guiding to their houses. Chop, chop, guys."
They decided to meet after the meeting on Friday and as they left they could hear the laughter of joy from the both of them as they jumped around and managed to frighten the child once more. As they hurried up to Cid, Cloud saw the princess from Agrabah hold hands with the young man he had seen with the Genie. Things had turned out for the best it seemed and life was slowly turning back to normal. He had his best friend with him, he had his own memories and he was back home – everything wasn't perfect but he was happy and as it was now, he couldn't see how anything would change that.
A/N: And that's a wrap! Thanks again for all of your lovely and helpful reviews, thank you to all of you readers as well. I really hope that you got something out of reading this story. Much love to all of you!