Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, save the plot.
Rating: PG -13 for mild language and slightly! Implied adult themes.
Summary: Seated around a campfire, the warriors of Cosmos discuss chivalry, love, and plot continuity. Revelations, misunderstandings and emotional blackmail abound. Bonding has never been more unsettling for Cloud.
Author's Note: I favor the games' original and complex character depictions, so there will be minimal Emo Cloud from AC or Deer-in-Headlights Terra from Dissidia.
By Kasmi Kassim
It had all started with Zidane's idea.
'I think we should all get to know each other' had begun it all. The night was long, as they were all awake on account of reports of a possible attack, and the restlessness could do with some distraction. But after everyone went around the fire briefly (or in the case of certain members, barely) introducing oneself, Zidane found their 'bonding' severely lacking. He thereafter proceeded to launch into a tale of his heroics, or whatever it was that deemed him worthy in Cosmos' eyes.
After Zidane's (somewhat shameless) example, the others were obliged to follow. Needless to say, the conversation this time around entailed much more bonding.
"Wait, so Faris was a pirate? Or was she a princess?"
"Didn't he say Faris was a princess and a pirate?"
"What? I thought Bartz was the pirate?"
"Hey, this time travel thing doesn't make sense. Isn't this what they call the origin paradox or whatever?"
"...I don't know. But Cecil, didn't you need masks or something on the moon?"
"Oh, Edge wore a mask, but I don't believe he really needed it so much as wanted it for that ninja look..."
"No, I mean –"
Or just confusion.
"Why are ya'll looking at me like that? You guys never spent half a day playing ball underwater?"
In the end, the giddiness sank in, the memories washed afresh, and a gloomy silence fell. Tidus stared down at his hands, Cloud ran his fingertips down his sword, and Zidane attempted to hug Terra ('Well, I'm still glad you survived!') and was accidentally shoved aside by Firion.
"Well," Tidus said at last, "let's talk about the good parts of surviving our friends and family, yeah?"
Bartz agreed immediately. "So... did anything happen between you and the sorceress?" he winked. Squall looked away with a mutter of 'whatever.'
And so it began.
As it turned out, happy endings were sometimes predictable.
"...and you know." Squall shrugged. Bartz snickered.
"You became an item. How cute."
But then, there were surprises as well.
"Wait, you actually spent years dragging yourself across the continents to go back to the princess?"
"What? What's wrong with that?"
"Uh, nothing. Just surprised, that's all."
"Hey, just because I act like a shameless womanizer..."
"Which you are."
And then there were the surprises that should have been predictable.
"Wow, congrats, man! So it it a boy or a girl?"
"We don't know."
"What? You didn't check?"
"Tidus. I don't think Cecil's world has that sort of technology yet."
And of course, romance.
"So how long have you known your wife, being king and all?"
"A long time." Cecil reflected. "We were in love ever since we were children."
"Get outta here!" Tidus laughed. "That's so cute it's unbelievable!"
"My, so different from a certain king I know." Terra's eyes danced with delight. "He's a good man and all, but he charms every woman he comes across out of her wits."
"That sounds like a certain king I know," Cecil mused. "Except I haven't seen him successfully charm anyone out of anything." And thank the moons for that.
Squall, looking (or so he seemed to think) disinterested, was listening with intent, unaware of Zidane and Bartz's whispers that 'the kid seriously needed help with romance'. Warrior of Light, with crossed arms and a stoic face, participated with no inconspicuous amount of input. Onion Knight, wide-eyed and dazzled, poked into this conversation and that, as the group discussion broke into smaller chatters. Cloud was not interested in sharing his romantic adventures (that night in front of the Highwind before the final battle would be his alone to cherish, thank you much), and left the fire to hunt for more wood.
When he returned, he found Cecil speaking with Terra while discreetly attempting to save the dying fire. Apparently everyone else was too busy either talking ('and then there was this other girl who totally had a crush on me – ') or listening ('...') to try a hand at multitasking – no one but Terra looked cold besides. Cecil looked relieved to see Cloud's bundle of wood and accepted them with a nod, and immediately went to work coaxing the fire back to life. Cloud had barely returned to his seat on Terra's other side when she turned to him with obvious excitement.
"Cecil ordered the two female members of his team to abandon ship before leaving for the epic battle," she gushed. "And they were both indispensable mages in the group! Isn't that sweet?"
Cloud considered. It sounded mildly sexist.
"So you went to battle with no magic?" he opted instead.
Terra was eager to answer for Cecil. "The two snuck aboard! They didn't find out until they reached the moon. Isn't it romantic?"
Um. More like something Yuffie would do. "So what did you do?"
"I considered turning promptly around to head back to Earth," Cecil admitted. Wow, the quiet one was more stubborn than Cid. Cloud would never look at that silver hair the same way again.
"But he vowed to protect her and went with her, I mean his lady queen," Terra finished. She held her breath, as if waiting for a response in kind.
But Cloud was busy drawing up the images in his head. They were somewhat problematic. "So where does the other mage fit in?"
Cecil looked at him strangely. "Fit in where?"
Oh. Oops. "Never mind."
Too much Aeris-Tifa madness in his life. Cloud shook himself.
Terra was by then speaking with Onion Knight, who was gallantly paying attention despite the distance between them and the animated talk going on around the fire.
"It's only right, after all," the boy was hollering gravely, "that we protect the fairer sex with our lives."
"Which is why I made the same vow to my princess!" called Zidane from across the fire, amid his banter with Tidus.
Cecil glanced at Zidane. "I was sincere."
"Hey! So was I!"
Terra laughed, leaning forward and knocking over a log with her foot. Cloud's arm shot out to pull her back from an angry snap, and the fire burst into an array of sparks. Terra gasped.
"Thank you," she breathed, rearranging herself. She glanced up at Cloud. "And thank you... for coming for me earlier. When I was going... out of control."
Cloud nodded. He would know something of madness. And saving one from oneself. "Don't worry about it."
"How do you do it?" Terra peered up at him. "You seem disinterested in everything, but you always appear when it's important. Is that your people's expression of chivalry? Pretending not to care?"
Cloud heard a strangled cough from Squall's general vicinity. "There is no chivalry in my world."
"Oh?" Terra looked genuinely surprised. "Then what is it?"
"Instinct, I guess." Cloud shrugged. "I just don't like to see people get hurt."
Cecil threw a knowing smile from Terra's other side. "Methinks Cloud has a soft spot for ladies."
Cloud opened his mouth to protest, but it seemed dishonest. He shut his mouth.
"There are no knights in your world, Cloud?" Warrior of Light intoned from the side. "Or just no chivalry?"
"Can knights exist without chivalry?" Firion wondered aloud.
Cloud prodded the fire. "There are soldiers, but they're different from knights with a code of honor." He grimaced, remembering his ShinRa days. "Just a bunch of kids that are immune to independent thought, running around with a lethal weapon."
The few sitting near him digested this.
"Is there no honor then, where you come from?" Onion Knight asked.
Cloud paused. "There was." He carefully flipped the logs around. "He died saving me."
Silence. They could hear Zidane and Tidus arguing on the other side of the fire.
Terra looked down at her feet, where Cloud had maneuvered the fire away from her. "But even if it's instinctive," she said softly, "I think the way you pull me away from the fire is just as honorable as Cecil's forcing his lady love to leave him."
Cloud blinked, at a loss.
Cecil nodded. "He says thank you," he offered.
And from there, the topic invariably moved onto honor and chivalry.
"- and I became known as the Sorceress' Knight," finished Squall.
"And I was a Guardian of the Summoner," contemplated Tidus. "I guess the chivalry thing really is still there, despite the difference in worlds. Even Zidane was Princess Protector, albeit self-proclaimed."
"Hey, for the fiftieth time, she wanted to be kidnapped -"
"Whatever, Mr. Creepy."
"What were you called, Cloud?" Terra asked Cloud, who was trying to split firewood with his sword.
He stopped mid-movement and blinked at the flying wood chips. "I was just a trooper." And someone's designated personal hero. "Only so I could be someone's hero," he admitted.
Terra lit up. "My friend Locke's like that. He promises every damsel in distress that he'd protect her, except he keeps his promises and it's all platonic -"
"Only one." Cloud stared into the fire. "There was only one."
Terra blinked. A slow smile spread across her face. "That is so sweet, Cloud." She hugged her knees. "It's almost unbelievable that you have no chivalry in your world."
Cecil reached out and took the half-splintered wood from Cloud's hands. "Eras and worlds aside, Cloud is a knight at heart." He split it with his own sword and blinked at the wood chips.
Cloud grimaced. "Yeah, well, she always ends up saving my ass." And my soul. "I don't think I ever managed to be her hero."
Terra peered up at him. "Then," she whispered, "you can start when you go back."
Sometimes it's heroic to just come home every day, Cloud.
Cloud realized why he continued to protect Terra from herself. He could see himself in those glowing, haunted eyes.
And Tifa too, when those eyes shut tight to avoid flying wood chips.
Eventually they cornered Cloud, because he alone refused to comment on whether he did or did not have a 'lady love' waiting at home.
"Come on, either there is or there isn't," Bartz said. "But there is, isn't there? Even Zidane has a girl."
"Hey, what's that supposed to – "
"She's not 'my girl'," Cloud said curtly. Firion made a little smile that Cloud did not want to interpret.
"Ooooooh, I get it." Zidane peered into his face. "You're in denial."
Cloud had half a mind to yank that tail of his when Onion Knight pressed close to his elbow. "So what is she, then?"
Cloud looked down at the sword by his feet, currently under Onion Knight's knees and half of Zidane's tail. "She was the reason for this." He swept his hand across his armor. "Everything that I became was because of her." He ended his gesture with a pointed stare at his sword.
Silence fell. Bartz whistled softly. Tidus shook his head. "Wow. That's impressive, Cloud."
"Unbelievably romantic." Cloud did not need Firion interpreting that smile for him. He noted with (only partial) satisfaction that the two kids had scuffled self-consciously off of his sword.
"That is so sweet!" Terra nearly squealed. "I don't know anyone who would go such lengths just to impress someone. Edgar would just hit on a girl shamelessly."
"Or worse," murmured Cecil, "Edge would hit on her and try to impress her with his ninja stances."
He didn't think he would ever forget that look on Rydia's face when Edge accidentally knocked over that gift from King Leviathan. Or the thunder spell she cast on Edge afterwards.
Then they zoomed in on Terra, because some of them (more vocally than others) refused to believe that someone so lovely had no beau waiting on her hand and foot (absolutely inconceivable, Zidane had insisted).
"But I have no one, really," Terra said, flustered. "I have never... does that make me abnormal?"
"Nonsense," Warrior of Light rumbled. "Surely you have great love for life, or else you would not have been able to fight off that...clown."
"Well, I do have children," Terra admitted, brightening. "Orphans. They call me Mama. I love them."
"You, a mother? Damn." Zidane shook his head. "What a waste."
Terra blushed while Firion cuffed Zidane's head. "Is it weird, that a young girl like me raises kids?" she said timidly.
Cloud shrugged. "I have kids too. Tifa and I have two." He looked around, noticing the sudden silence. "What?"
"Is that what it was?" Tidus' voice was incredulous. "That's why you refused to say -"
"Wow, you bastard," Zidane swished his tail side to side. "Even a guy like me never did that!"
"I don't understand," Onion Knight piped in.
Cloud didn't either.
"He's keeping her to the side, for future purposes," said Bartz.
"Dishonoring a lady," Firion said gravely, "and further dishonoring her by refusing to lay claim on her, despite the children. Shame on you, Cloud Strife."
"Hey, shouldn't this topic be adult-rated?"
"Wait, wait!" Cloud held up his hands. "We're not married!"
"We know." Squall stared flatly. "It's rather obvious."
"No! I mean, Tifa and I never –" he took one glance at Onion Knight and thought better of finishing that sentence.
"Never...?" Tidus prompted.
Cloud was exercising restraint. Tifa would be proud. "They're adopted."
The group uncoiled, releasing visible amounts of tension. Terra smiled tentatively. "That's...good?"
Cloud was daring a secret sigh of relief when Onion Knight trashed his peace. "Why do you live with her then?"
Expectant eyes turned to Cloud. When he failed to produce an answer, Bartz volunteered. "You see, kiddo, even if you don't necessarily commit, there are some grownup things called benefits -"
"No!" Cloud jerked, sending sparks of ash Bartz's way. It was vaguely satisfying. "It's not like that!"
"Come on, Cloud." Zidane looked grave. He covered Onion Knight's ears. "We just want the truth; we're all adults here. We won't judge you."
Cloud found himself missing Sephiroth. At least he could kill the guy.
"Let me summarize," rumbled Warrior of Light from the other side. "You reside with a lady and raise children with her without joining her in matrimony, and have never given thought to what this would do to the lady's honor?"
"Hey, no honor in that world, remember?" Bartz said, ever helpful.
Cloud groaned. Had Cosmos really dragged him across dimensions to an unknown universe to throw him into this? If this was what she meant by 'new adventures'...
Wait, that was it. These people were from other worlds, other customs. He tackled the cultural route: "Where I come from, people live together all the time." He considered what he said. "I mean, unmarried couples live together all the time." Wait. Rewind. "No! Tifa and I aren't a couple –"
"Nice try, Cloud," Tidus said.
In his peripheral vision, Cloud could feel Cecil's silent disapproval growing more pronounced by the second. Not that he was looking.
"I don't know, man." Tidus shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at Cloud curiously. "This honor thing is a little far-fetched for me too, but I can't wait to propose to Yuna and see her in a wedding dress and say 'I do'." He scowled, as if remembering something. "And it's gonna be a far better wedding than that circus."
Cloud was at a loss for words. Even city-boy Tidus wasn't on his side! "You don't understand," he said, hating how desperate he sounded, "Tifa and I have – an understanding."
"Understanding?" Onion Knight had wiggled out of Zidane's grasp, and was now looking up curiously. "What understanding?"
What to say? That they had burned and bled together? Buried Aeris together, fought Sephiroth together, lived a lie together? Wait, scratch the last bit.
"Perhaps," Warrior of Light mused, "the understanding is that they will engage in a blatantly illegitimate union while dancing around the underlying intentions."
"Oooooooh." Zidane peered at Cloud. "So you guys are both in denial."
Cloud began to recount the sins he had committed to deserve this.
Firion laid a sympathetic hand on his arm – hadn't he been a campfire away? Oh wait, the fire was dead – and gestured to the rest of the members, who may or may not have been sitting closer than before. "Look at us, Cloud. We dress differently, we speak differently, we even come from different worlds. But we all fight to protect something, we cry when we lose something dear, we fall in love and get scared. None of us are exempt." He looked back at Cloud. "As different as we think we are, we are all human. There are some things that will always be constant."
"But -" Terra spoke up hesitantly, "what if you are exempt?"
Heads turned. Terra lowered her gaze. "I'm only half-human," she whispered. "Maybe that's why I have never fallen in love."
Cecil's expression softened. "So am I, Terra. My father is from the moon."
"I'm not even half human, my lady!" Zidane swished his tail. "Just look at my tail!"
"Or his brother's face."
"Hey," Cloud warned.
"Oh, sorry, Cloud." Bartz grinned. "I really have nothing against cross-dressers. I'm real close to one of them."
Squall coughed into his hand.
But seeing his chance, Cloud latched onto the new topic. "Look, Terra, I have enough ancient alien cells injected into me to make me half a monster. And look how -" Wait. Crap.
"'Look how much I love Tifa'," Bartz finished solemnly.
Cloud decided he really needed a workout later. With his sword.
"You don't have many friends your age," Warrior of Light suggested, coming to Cloud's rescue for Terra's sake. "Perhaps solitude is to blame for your dilemma."
Terra considered. "Maybe," she said wistfully. "Celes is busy getting ready for her wedding, and... I miss having a girl friend around."
Cloud thought of Yuffie. She was exasperating when she ran off with his materia, but Tifa seemed to enjoy her company well enough. Especially since the girl never ran off with Tifa's belongings (something to do with a 'talk' that was said to have happened in a back alley, but Tifa only smiled vaguely when asked). Yuffie visited often, and seemed to enjoy Tifa's company too, especially when she was having one of those 'girl talks' which covered topics such as who was cute and who was hot, during which Tifa's voice would drop so low that Cloud couldn't hear a single – stop right there, Strife, think of Yuffie, think of Tiffie – Yuffie –
He vaguely heard Squall talking. "Every one of my fellow SeeD's," he was saying, "but Quistis...no. And I don't recommend meeting Selphie. The others are... hm. I don't know any others."
"I'm your age," offered Zidane, rising with a sweeping bow, and Firion plunked him down.
"Actually," Cecil said, thoughtfully, "I know a fine young lady." He stared at Terra, as if she held an answer to his thoughts. "She is a gifted wizard and caller, with familial bond with summon monsters – your equivalent of espers." He hesitated. "And she looks like you."
"No way!" Tidus jumped. "Parallel universes?"
"No," Squall said flatly.
"It's true, all the same," Cecil said, deep in thought. "The resemblance is uncanny, even down to the green curls of hair." He paused. "Temperament is somewhat different, though." Very, rather.
An unsettling silence hung in the air.
"Maybe she's Terra's distant ancestor," Firion said tentatively. "You did say monarchies are disappearing from Terra's world, right?"
"Yes, but..." Cecil frowned. Friendships aside, he did not want to consider who little Rydia might marry. "It'd better not be that hyperactive ninja," he muttered. He suddenly felt restless; he had to finish this fight fast so he could go back home and give Edge a talk.
"Hyperactive ninja?" Cloud repeated.
"Ninjas can be hyperactive?" Terra wondered aloud.
Silence followed again.
"Hey, but wouldn't it be crazy if our worlds were connected somehow?" Tidus rocked back on his heels. "We could just be from different eras! You guys could be my ancestors!"
Everyone stirred at the thought.
Zidane began scanning the members with a critical eye. "Cecil...before Firion. No! After Firion. Cloud...slightly before Squall... Terra... right before Cloud..."
"I did find it strange that so many of us know a lancer named Highwind," murmured Warrior of Light. "A line of dragoons, no doubt."
"Or Cid." Onion Knight frowned. "Or is that a common name?"
"Moogles? Chocobos? Mysidia? Leviathan?" Tidus scratched his head. "We're from different universes that have the same kinds of places and creatures? Way unlikely."
Squall summarized everyone's sentiment. "This is disturbing."
Silence had never been more in agreement.
"Hey," Bartz said abruptly, "did any of you find it odd that the physical descriptions of Zidane's princess, Squall's sorceress, and Cloud's – uh – housemate – seemed similar?"
"Exactly!" Zidane sprang up. "Must be some strong genes, those beauty genes."
Cloud twitched. Squall refused to comment.
"So Miss Tifa is Miss Rinoa's ancestor?" Onion Knight thought out loud. "Then Miss Garnet must be Miss Tifa's ancestor!"
"Which means I must be Miss Tifa and Miss Rinoa's ancestor too."
Cloud and Squall both ignored Zidane.
Firion, who had been deep in thought, looked up with a pensive frown. "There is an alternative possibility to that theory, concerning one of those ladies." He turned to Squall. "Didn't you mention that a friend of yours has a martial arts move that shares the name of Cloud's lady-friend's invention? What are the chances of that?"
Cloud did not find this alternative soothing in the least.
"Well," Squall said, glancing at Cloud, "just because Zell has an adoptive mother doesn't mean Zell's real mother died or anything..."
Tidus looked at Cloud's heroically stoic face with sympathy. "It's written all over you, man. You should just marry her."
Oh goddesses, they were back to this again.
"Cloud, don't you love her?" Onion-Knight's eyes were round. Didn't kids have bed times or something? He was sure Tifa had something like that for their kids. He would ask her when he – yes. He was back to square one.
Cloud sighed, resigned to his fate as the gossip magnet for the night. "Look, I'm not marrying Tifa for the sake of this – plot continuity."
"So you won't marry her?" Terra deadpanned.
Why was Terra doing this to him? What had he ever done to her (except spray wood chips at her face)? Cloud sighed again. "Tifa and I are devoted to each other. We don't need a ring to prove – wait, we do have a – I mean, Tifa has a ring."
Firion looked confused. "But you don't?"
"I gave her mine," Cloud answered, and paused. What was this silence about? "Anyway," he said uneasily, "the point is, we obviously don't need to get married."
"Cloud." The disapproval was so sharp in Terra's voice that Cloud almost flinched. She was looking at him with a distinctive frown. Yes, definitely a new (and very scary) experience. "What did Cecil tell you about eras and worlds not mattering?"
Puzzled, Cloud looked at Cecil. Everyone else also looked at Cecil, who was discreetly trying to resurrect the forgotten fire. Still the only one multi-tasking.
Feeling the eyes on him, Cecil looked up at Cloud. "In a world devoid of chivalry, a man will still seek to protect his lady." He nodded at the logs thoughtfully. "In a debauched world devoid of faith or honor, a lady will still long for romantic whispers, declarations of love, devotion in the form of marriage."
Firion broke the silence. "Wow," he said, "no wonder he's married."
"Which you will obviously never be," Terra said in a deadly voice to Cloud. "You don't know anything about girls."
Almost everyone looked guilty. Zidane timidly raised his hand. "Does it count if you only skipped out on the last part?" Firion gave him a look, and Zidane protested, "I was gonna get around to it soon!"
"Oh, I see what it is." Tidus looked back and forth between Cloud and Zidane, and nodded. "Fear of commitment."
With a scowl, Terra stood (Cloud did flinch this time), and with nothing but a pointed finger ignited a blazing fireball onto the splintered logs. She stalked away.
No one dared to move as the fire cackled into the petrified silence.
"I may need to speak with my princess when I return," murmured Warrior of Light.
Cecil looked around. "Am I the only one here married without issues?"
Bartz scratched his head.
The attack did not end up coming after all, and the group decided to make up for lost sleep as dawn broke, as it was unlikely that Chaos' warriors would invade in broad daylight. Warrior of Light and Firion took up first watch around the hideout, and idle chatter began to dwindle as each person made himself comfortable in a bed roll. Cloud caught words such as 'gaudy' and 'expensive' drifting from Zidane and Squall, while himself remaining actively disinterested. He snuggled into his bedroll.
"So is it left or right?"
Cloud raised his head. "What?"
Bartz was sitting up on his bedroll, peering down. Behind him, Zidane and Squall were still whispering. "Your ring. Does she wear it on the left or right?"
Cloud thought for a moment. "Right."
Bartz shook his head. "Just as I thought."
"What?" They enjoyed making him nervous, Cloud just knew it.
"A right-hand ring doesn't mean anything, Cloud." Since when was Tidus listening? "Keeping her left hand free means she's still, you know, free."
Squall and Zidane had stopped talking, and were looking this way.
"But he doesn't care, remember?" Bartz said casually. "She's just a housemate."
"Well, then," Tidus scratched his head. "I guess she could, if she wanted, bring someone over to live with her... I mean, since you guys aren't married or anything."
"Ooh, three parents in a family." Zidane chuckled. "Drama."
Cloud swept the covers off and snapped to his feet. The others ducked as he whipped up his sword, and stalked off into the darkness.
They exchanged looks. "Huh," Tidus summed. The rest silently agreed.
"Well, whatever." Squall turned to Zidane. "Give me another option."
"I tell you, it's the best option there is!" Zidane waved a hand. "Garnet loves it! And if a princess loves it, it has to be good."
They went back to squabbling quietly while a sleeping Terra knocked a sleeping Onion Knight's nose with her hand.
It was some time afterward that a figure emerged from the dark. The four reached for their weapons, but relaxed when they saw the familiar sheen of a crystal blade. And crystal armor. And crystal shield. And pale hair flowing beneath a crystal helmet, falling over bright, iridescent eyes. No wonder the guy preferred his dark knight getup; he was practically a walking beacon.
"I thought you weren't part of the first watch?" Bartz said. Cecil shook his head.
"I'm going to stay up a bit longer. I need to think."
Didn't they all. A mulling silence set in.
"Did you see Cloud on the way?" Tidus changed the subject.
"I did," Cecil said slowly. "He went off to hunt manikins, saying he needed money." He looked at them strangely. "What happened?"
The others exchanged glances. "Nothing," Bartz coughed.
"Cecil, is that diamond?" Squall said abruptly, pointing at a sparkle of light between Cecil's fingers. "Or cubic zirconia?"
Cecil glanced down at his wedding ring. "Crystal," he answered, puzzled.
"He's trying to decide on which stone to get," Zidane explained. "You see, he's suddenly feeling antsy because his girl wears his ring around her neck -" he trailed off as Squall shot him a withering glare.
Cecil smiled. "Well, going with the lady's preference is always a safe choice."
Squall frowned, deep in thought. "Rinoa likes light blue."
"Aquamarine?" offered Tidus.
"I was thinking topaz," admitted Squall.
Zidane sat up with an exasperated sigh. "For the fiftieth time, Squall, royal red is the true color of love and passion -"
"For the fiftieth time, Zidane, I am not putting a garnet on my wedding ring."
"Are you gonna stay up?" Tidus asked Cecil, who was leaving.
"Yes," Cecil said, not looking back. "Go to sleep."
Leaving the clamor behind, the holy knight made a wide loop of the camp grounds. He couldn't sleep; the fireside chat had reminded him of home, much more than he would have liked. Cecil sighed, and ran his mind over the 'what to do after returning home' list once more. It didn't compare to the real thing, but it at least provided some comfort in the sea of dark possibilities.
He would go straight to Rosa and hold her, drink in her sight and breathe in her scent, until he was absolutely convinced that she was real and safe in his arms. And then he would tell her everything that had happened. And he would listen to the baby's heartbeat, and feel it kick – it always kicked more when Cecil was there to talk to it – and he would finally settle into his routine in the castle, at last convinced that he was home.
Yes, he would also send out greetings – communication had grown sparse among the former war comrades, but being transported to another world and another peril had been a wake-up call to keep in better touch. He would check on Rydia in the underworld, ask if Yang and Edward needed help with rebuilding their castles, and Edge... well, he hoped Edge had been keeping in good shape. He was going to be invited for a spar.
The campsite was quiet by the time Cecil returned from his walk. Dawn was breaking, a cold dark blue. He was settling into his bedroll when he saw glowing eyes emerge from the dark.
Cloud blinked when he saw Cecil looking at him. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
"I was just about to." Cecil glanced down at Cloud's belt. "Earn much?"
Glancing down at his heavy pouch, Cloud scratched his head. "Yeah."
Cecil refrained from further comment as Cloud disarmed himself. Shedding his armor onto his bedroll, Cloud paused.
Cecil looked up.
Cloud scratched his head again. "Do you think you could, um..."
With a glance at the sleeping members, Cecil rose reluctantly from his bedding. "One last time, then; it will be bright soon."
Cloud nodded, and positioned himself in front of Cecil. Cecil waited patiently. Cloud sucked in his breath. "So, Tifa, I've been thinking..."