Since it's all done, there seems no reason to hold this back. We've come to the end at last, and I thank you all for taking this journey with me. I always knew this story wouldn't be as popular as Madness, but I wanted it out there and told, and the happy ending there for anyone who wants it.
As always, I don't own these characters except for the original ones, and no infringement is intended. Thank you, Nomura-sama, for letting me play in your playground.
Let's get this thing ended.
"The measure of a man
Stands or falls with what he leaves behind
Gather on the sand
Let your voices carry to the sky
Rise in light
Let the gods look down on this and wonder."
- "Measure of a Man", Heather Dale
THE MEASURE OF MAN
Chapter 18 - Epilogue
Late in the morning, the officers of the Kalm Police Department quietly surrounded a cottage on the outskirts of the town.
Inside, a man in his thirties was drinking from a nearly empty bottle of whiskey, taking swallows as if his life depended on it. Nearby was a framed photo of himself with another young man, both smiling, both without a care in the world. The man looked at it, shivered and took another swallow. This was how he spent most of his days. He had thought the guilt would weaken and disappear over time, but no, all it did was get worse.
There was a knock at the door. "James Nolan? It's the Kalm P.D., sir, we'd like to talk to you."
"Akechi," Nolan whispered into the air, "have you forgiven me? Will you still come for me when I die?"
"Mr. Nolan, please open up, or we'll be forced to break the door down."
Slowly, painfully, as if it took all his strength to accomplish, James Nolan stood up. He was unsteady on his feet, and took a few moments to find an uneasy balance. He took one more swig from the bottle for courage, and wobbled over to the front door. He opened it, wincing from the light that poured in.
"Damn, it's fucking bright..."
"Mr. Nolan, we'd like to talk to you about Akechi Yoshinori."
A few tears gathered on Nolan's eyelashes. He shook his head as if to say no, or that it was too much for him.
"As you may know, the case remains open, and you were and are one of the prime suspects. Now, we'd like you to come down to the station so we can ask you a few questions."
"I did it," Nolan blurted out. "I thought Akechi was foolin' around on me, and I killed him. I started stabbing him and Gaia, I couldn't stop! Akechi, I'm sorry! Please forgive me!"
"This guy's drunk," one of the officers said to another.
"And guilty. Let's get him to the jail. I have a hunch he'll stick to his story even after he's sobered up."
"If you say so."
With some prodding, the officers were able to get Nolan to leave his doorway. He was having trouble walking, so he leaned on an officer as he was escorted to one of the squad cars. There he was, with some difficulty, handcuffed and put into the backseat. As the officers drove him away, Nolan put his head against the rain-fogged window and whispered, "Akechi, please forgive me."
At just that moment, in the Lifestream, a spirit murmured, "I already have."
Shelke Rui's funeral had been a simple one, hosted and paid for by ShinRa. Every member of the Science Department had attended, as well as Cloud and his gang, and she had been buried next to Shalua in a well-tended cemetery. A young priest had stood over Shelke's final resting place and spoke of her singular devotion to her work, her independent and strong spirit, and the courage she must have had to defect to ShinRa's side. And, of course, to have taken on Null the Obsidian by herself.
Those in attendance kept their heads bowed for much of the service. Reno stood between Rufus and Tseng, and both had an arm around him. Tifa held Dr. Kanawa's arm and kept him steady as he wept. Marlene was being held by Barret, crying softly into his shoulder. Yuffie wore a white dress, white being the Wutaian color of mourning. Vincent had stood back, away from everyone else. He had declined the offer to say a few words at the service, but now, weeks later, he approached the simple but stately tombstone and found himself speaking.
"I don't know why I'm here, Shelke. I know you're in the Lifestream now, with your family, and you can hear me no matter where I go."
Nevertheless he touched the headstone, for a moment.
"I suppose I feel closer to you here, because this is where I said goodbye to you." A single tear dripped down Vincent's nose; he ignored it. "Though it's not really you in the ground before me, just a shell you wore for a while and cast off to be free. There's nothing sad in that, is there?"
But he was sad. Shelke, frozen forever in her child's body, had been able to understand Vincent, trapped in a monster's body, better than anyone else ever had. She had known what it was like to loathe your physical form, no matter what advantage it offered in battle. She too had worked tirelessly for ShinRa, and had been made by ShinRa's Science Department into a freak, something akin to a monster. She had shown Vincent Lucrecia's innermost thoughts and feelings, her care for Vincent, her guilt, her wish that he absolve himself of any wrongs he might have done to her.
Without Shelke, Vincent would never have forgiven himself at last.
"I told you once that being human is the most terrible loneliness in the universe. If the stories are true, even Gaia is lonely, and made us to be Her companions until She's reunited with her lover. Now you're with Her, and with all the friends and family you lost. What is it like? To not be human anymore? To not be alone?"
There was only silence in the cloudy afternoon, as Vincent had expected. He wasn't Cloud, after all, Gaia's champion, who had been into the Lifestream so many times that he could hear the murmurs of the dead.
"Tifa wanted me to bring you flowers." Vincent set a large bouquet of marigolds down in front of the stone. "I'm not sure why. You're not here to enjoy them. But she said it's what people do."
Vincent smiled grimly. "But then, you and I are hardly normal people, are we? Cloud may bring some flowers too. He and Sephiroth are creating an enormous garden behind their house. It turns out Sephiroth is as good at making plants grow as he is killing people. It makes an odd kind of sense."
A cool breeze blew by, fluttering the marigold petals. The white sky seemed to intimate an oncoming rain, but Vincent didn't mind. He couldn't catch cold, after all.
"The doctors say the information you collected from the Lifestream is invaluable. We know more about the Cetra now than anyone thought possible. One doctor told me they may even be able to reconstruct the Cetran language. All thanks to you."
Another tear. Vincent shook it away with annoyance.
"My point is that you made a big difference in your life, short as it was. You lived and died with honor, protecting others. That's the least a hero could hope for. And you were a hero, Shelke."
He turned to see Dr. Kanawa coming up the hill, a mass of mixed wildflowers under one arm. Vicent nodded to him, and waited while Kanawa laid his flowers down and quietly prayed a few moments.
"So you too find this place comforting," the doctor said as he stood up.
"Comforting. That is a good word for it."
"It's natural. Having a place to come to and talk to the deceased allows us to keep a connection with them."
"Shelke is in the Lifestream."
"Yes, so we can talk to her anywhere. Why not here, where her friends gathered to celebrate her life?"
"I suppose that makes sense."
Kanawa was quiet a moment. "I heard you got an offer from ShinRa to rejoin the Turks."
"Yes. I turned it down. I will fight side by side with New ShinRa if the occasion arises, but not as one of them. Never again."
"Ah. You know, my colleague Dr. Hunter wants to take over Lucrecia Crescent's work. It would be very helpful to us if you allowed us to study Chaos."
Vincent was silent. He didn't like unleashing Chaos. His dark counterpart only attacked enemies, but he was otherwise unpredictable, and channeling him put Vincent into a dark and depressing place. But, someone was taking over the research Lucrecia had put her heart and soul into...
"I will consider it."
Kanawa was delighted, knowing it was the best answer he could reasonably get. "Thank you. You know, it's getting late. Let me buy you dinner, I know a good place not far from here."
Vincent didn't answer right away. He was thinking of Shelke, of how he had encouraged her to spend time with other people.
"...so I managed to save Reno, but his clothes were covered in slime and he refused to wear them. So we had to take the train back to the ShinRa Compound with him naked except for my jacket."
Tifa laughed long and hard, brushing away a tear of mirth. "You should talk more. I never thought you would be such a good storyteller."
"Most or all of my stories involve Reno being stupid."
"That's what makes them funny."
They were dining in an upscale Wutainese restaurant in the center of Edge, and it was their fifth date. Tifa and Rude had started out talking about work and Meteorfall and what ShinRa was up to, and Rude had what seemed to be an endless supply of funny Turk stories. But now that she was considering going back to his apartment with him, Tifa wanted to know more personal information.
"Tell me about your family."
Rude shrugged. "There is little to tell. I grew up an only child in a little village near Junon. My father left when I was a baby, so my mother worked hard to raise me alone."
"Do you ever get to see her?"
"When I have leisure time and am near Junon. Several years ago, she remarried, to a wealthy carpet merchant, and moved into the city." Rude smiled. "No matter how much I insist the contrary, she thinks Reno and I are together, because he's the only one I bring home."
Tifa smirked. "Maybe I can meet her sometime and convince her otherwise."
He smiled again, a good sign. "I would like that. She will like you. She always told me to choose a classy woman."
Tifa's cheeks went faintly pink. "How'd a guy like you pick up a nickname like Rude?"
"I was very shy as a child," he confessed. "So much so that I could never talk to strangers or even our neighbors. The adults in the village thought I was being rude, so they started calling me that. When it came time to pick a Turk name, I decided to stick to what I was used to."
"So what's your real name?"
"Even Reno doesn't know that."
Tifa smiled. "How is he?"
"Well. The visions seem to come less and less often. He and Rufus are very busy with wedding planning. I hope you'll be my date when the day comes."
"Of course! Marlene is so excited about being the flower girl, she can hardly sleep. I had to read her six stories last night before she settled down."
"Do you want children? More children, I mean?"
Tifa's knees went wobbly under the cloth-covered table. "Yes, I'd love to have kids of my own. What about you?"
"Oh, yes." The softness in his eyes made Tifa melt a little. "Although I'd be bringing them into a strange family."
"Yeah, with lots of honorary aunts and uncles."
"Reno could teach them how to make and disable bombs."
"And Cloud and Sephiroth would teach them how to fight. They've started teaching Denzel how to use a sword."
"They're well?" Rude asked.
"The house they bought is almost completely furnished, and the garden out back is going to be amazing when spring comes. Reporters still hang around, but there's a high fence."
"And they are happy?"
"Deliriously so, in that annoying, new-couple way. It's still the weirdest thing hearing Sephiroth laughing, and watching him look all lovey-dovey at Cloud. But it's wonderful."
"Jenova truly has been conquered."
"It's still sometimes hard to believe. There will always be evil people and monsters to fight, but otherwise, the planet is safe." Tifa smiled radiantly. "We can finally all go on with our lives."
"And am I likely to become a permanent fixture in your life?" Rude asked, with a touch of hopefulness.
She reached across the table to take his hand. "I'd say you've got a pretty good shot, Rude."
He leaned in closer, bared eyes glowing. "My name is Aaron."
"Man, I'd say this place hasn't changed at all, but that would be a lie. It was always kind of a dump, but now it's really decrepit."
The old building's structure was sound, but as Reno said, it was a desolate place. The windows had all been shattered by children with rocks, some of the inner walls were falling down, and much of the floor was broken, the floorboards rotted or missing. Rain had damaged much of the remaining furniture and swollen the few books that were scattered here and there. Yoshinori's Altar of Indiscretions had not aged well in the relatively few years it had been abandoned.
Reno walked around and into the former brothel as though in a strange dream. Once upon a time, he had thought he would die in this place, victim of an angry customer or his own depression. But a kind knight had saved him, and introduced him to a handsome prince. But just what was the prince's intention, bringing him back here?
"Does it bring back memories?"
"I'm sorry, then," Rufus said, and meant it.
"They're not all bad. I had a couple of friends here. And my situation wasn't the worst it could have been. I was good at my job. Yoshinori-sama was pretty good to me."
"Still. You were only twelve."
"My clients weren't men of high morals," Reno admitted. "But most of them were kind to me. As much as the situation allowed, anyway."
"You never told me much about it."
Reno laughed. "Because you get so clingy when I talk about it."
"You like my clinging and you know it."
Reno lightly shoved him. He looked at the decaying building, and his green eyes darkened with solemnity.
"It was hard. It usually hurt. Most of the customers were used to women, so a lot of the time they didn't prepare me enough, or even at all. Thank Gaia it was a rule that they had to use lubricant. Yoshinori had strict rules for those of us who drew in a lot of money. No hitting, no bruising, no marks, that kind of thing. I had a lot of perverts who liked to spank me, but I didn't mind that so much."
You still like it, Rufus thought, but said nothing, encouraging Reno with his silence.
"Some days, somehow, I could keep a smile all day, I didn't even have to fake it for the clients. I could tell myself it beat being at home, where my mom didn't care and my dad beat the shit out of me. Where there were memories of Wendy," he said, speaking his sister's name aloud for the first time in years. "I had a comfortable bed and a place to live. I just had to have sex, a lot of it. I learned to like it, but not the way I had to do it. Do you know what I mean? I knew I could love it, if I could just find the right person to do it with."
"I understand," Rufus murmured, wrapping his arms around Reno from behind and holding him tightly. "You know, our first time, I was so worried I wouldn't please you."
"What? You were amazing."
"It was my first time with a man."
"Could have fooled me. So, was I better than all those floozies your dad pushed on you?"
"I almost didn't know what to do," Reno said softly, "you were so gentle."
"We were bumbling teenagers. Equals, like always."
Reno turned and kissed him, a long, deep kiss that didn't care who stopped and stared. Rod and Elena, on guard duty, merely grinned and nudged each other. Rufus and Reno broke apart to catch their breath, and their usual mischief came into Reno's eyes.
"So why did you want to come here? If it's some kind of kinky roleplay you want, I'm game, but it's kinda gross in there, not to mention unsafe."
"No more reckless than that time in the chopper."
"Seriously, what are we doing here?"
Rufus smiled and took Reno's hands. "We agreed not to have any more secrets, so I should tell you I've bought this place."
"First I'm going to have it torn down. Then I'm rebuilding it and turning it into a home for runaway kids."
Reno stared at him, wetness shning in his eyes.
"It's my wedding gift to you. Do you like it?"
This time Reno trapped him in a kiss so passionate it might never end. That was fine by Rufus.
The Altar Room was a place of meditation and prayer. It was usually empty, seeming dusty and old though it was kept extremely clean, the candles replaced regularly. It was by orders of the master that the room was kept ready for visitors, largely because Godo Kisaragi was such a frequent visitor himself.
This early evening found him in this place, where he came to pray at the altars set up for deceased family members. Kirimi, his beautiful and vibrant mother, a peasant girl who had married into the family. Kunai, his noble and proud cousin, who had been the first Kisaragi to fight ShinRa in Wutai's name. His wife Ana, who had died giving birth to their only daughter.
And Goro. The specter of his beloved little brother was never far from Godo's mind, the eternal child, the latecomer baby that everyone had especially loved. He was at Goro's altar now, plain compared to the others because he had died so young, but Godo could often be found there, missing the boy and reassuring him that someday they would be reunited. Gaia's promise to the lives She had made must be true, there must be a Lifestream where the dead existed forever together. After all, the Lifestream had saved them during Meteorfall, his own daughter had been part of the group that brought it on and witnessed it.
The same daughter was now lurking in the doorway, seemingly uncertain about whether or not she should enter.
"Come in, Yuffie."
She obeyed silently, which was usually a bad sign. But Godo knew what she wanted from him, what she had been trying to tell him since she arrived.
Gaia, give me strength.
"All right," Godo said at last, "tell me."
He sat in silence while Yuffie laid it all out for him, just as Cloud had explained it to her. Godo's bringing Genesis to the room of treasures, what they had done together, what Godo had said, what he had thought about before dying, and how the death had been painless. Yuffie explained it all as delicately as she could, and waited for her father to speak.
"And now Genesis is Gaia's champion. Our scribes record his heroic deeds even as we speak."
Yuffie shrugged. "He's not the jerk vampire he used to be. But I figure it's okay to stay mad at him."
"Thank you, Yuffie. It means a great deal to me to finally know what happened."
The ninja girl was silent for a moment. "You thought ShinRa did it, didn't you? That they had some part in it..."
"And so they did. ShinRa made Rhapsodos what he was."
"But ShinRa didn't order Goro's death, or even know it was going to happen. That was Genesis acting on his own."
"That's true," Godo assented.
"And New ShinRa is a totally different organization. They only use their small military to protect the company, there won't be any more invading and occupying. Rufus wants to make amends to the planet, and to us."
"Yuffie, why are you defending ShinRa to me?"
Again, a short silence. "Because I want peace with them, Pop. And so should you."
"Peace is an easy thing to wish for, a hard thing to accomplish. Never forget what we've suffered because of ShinRa."
"But it can be over! If we say it's over, then eventually everyone will listen, they've gotta. And...I talked to Rufus."
"Did you? What did he say?"
"That he has no quarrel with Wutai. There won't be any more soldiers sent, no more banning of materia. Basically, he wants to be friends. He even wants to build a home here for the orphans that have been made by the fighting."
Godo's face held an expression that was unreadable, even to one who knew him so well. Yuffie held her breath, and Godo let out a sigh.
"I guess I had better invite him here to talk."
"All right, Pop!" Yuffie exclaimed, and hugged him. "Up for a spar?"
"Always. Go on, I'll follow you."
Once Yuffie was gone, Godo bowed again to the altar, to the framed portrait of a boy who would never grow up. "Goro, there will be peace," he said, and a cool breeze fluttered through the still room.
"Fuck, I'm all right, do it harder."
"Are you sure? I don't wish to hurt you."
"Strong as you, remember? Harder."
Sephiroth willingly thrust with more force into Cloud, their rocking shaking the two-man tent that they shared. Cloud pulled him close for a long kiss, his flexibility allowing Sephiroth to bend low enough, and their tongues battled, it seemed, for dominance. In reality, they were equals, as Cloud and Sephiroth now were.
"Fuck, that's good."
"Better be," Sephiroth groaned, and flashed a smile that made Cloud grin back. He was fairly certain he'd never get enough of his partner's smiles.
They had been traveling for nearly a month, joking often that they had bought and furnished their home only to leave it for the wilderness. Cloud had put his delivery business on hiatus for a while; he had his share of the money they had made before Meteorfall, and Sephiroth had had his ShinRa accounts restored to him, so money wasn't a problem and never would be. Sephiroth said he might become an elite monster hunter sometime in the future, but he wished to never again harm a human being. The greatest killing machine the planet had ever seen was retired young.
Cloud liked the idea of monster hunting too, envisioning the two of them roaming the planet and making it safe for people. For now, he was content to teach Denzel the sword, to watch Sephiroth garden and spend every night wrapped in his arms. Intimacy came surprisingly easy to Sephiroth, considering what he'd been through, and Cloud thanked Gaia and Angeal every day for that. In loving each other, both men had come to know a peace that neither had thought possible.
"Seph, Seph, Seph..."
"Cloud," Sephiroth whispered, and came in a sudden rush. His ecstasy and busy hand sent Cloud over the edge at the same time, and he collapsed into his lover and continued spurting for a few moments.
Cloud ran his hand through Sephiroth's hair, which he could never get enough of touching. It was so silky and strong, and never knotted no matter how much Sephiroth moved. Rather than finding it unnatural, Cloud accepted it as another wonderful quirk of Sephiroth's, like the way he never got dirty and the orderly way he emptied the dishwasher. Cloud was always finding new things to love.
Sephiroth gently pulled out and rolled off, curling up next to Cloud like a large cat. "Awake?"
"Good. We only have a few miles to go."
They packed up the tent together (removing blobs of ejaculate where they found them) and moved out, enjoying the peaceful forest around them. The only danger was the Touch Mes, small frogs that cast Frog with a jab of the needle on their heads. Both travellers kept their White Capes close, and had brought a good supply of Maiden's Kisses just in case. They had stopped for a rest (and a romp) in the afternoon, and now very little stood between them and their destination. ShinRa would have lent them a chopper, but the two of them agreed that they needed to make this journey together, and on foot.
"Did you read Genesis's last postcard?" Sephiroth asked.
"The one where he said he's gonna make a line of dildoes that resemble the Midgar Zolom?"
"No, another arrived just before we left. He said he saved a minor Wutaian noble from a Schizo, and was offered the daughter's hand."
Cloud smirked. "Let's hope the guy doesn't have any sons. So Genesis is still in Wutai?"
"Yes, he plans to visit Godo. I'm a little worried," Sephiroth admitted.
"We can always save him if he gets in trouble."
Sephiroth smirked. "He would hate that."
The afternoon was bright, and unusually cool for this normally humid part of the world. It felt strange for Cloud to be back; he remembered little of their pre-Meteorfall visit, except for the confusing images in his head. Now that he remembered everything, remembered Zack, he felt nostalgic to be near the place where Zack had grown up, where he had run and played. As they walked the well-worn paths leading to Gongaga village, Sephiroth halted as the buildings came into view.
"Zack spoke highly of this place," he said with fondness.
"Yeah. We're agreed, right?"
"Yes." Sephiroth nodded. "We will tell them about Angeal. But no detail about how early it started between him and Zack. Only that they were together, and they're together now."
"Exactly right. Typical Zack, making us do his dirty work," Cloud laughed, then quickly looked solemn. "And nothing about the labs."
Sephiroth took Cloud's hand and squeezed it. "I have said all I wish to say about them," he said softly.
Their first few days together had consisted mostly of sex broken up by long conversations. In one of them, Sephiroth shared some of the horrors of his early life at the hands of Hojo, and Cloud had spoken of his own awful recollections of the cruel man. He was surprised to hear Sephiroth apologize, to hear that Sephiroth blamed himself for Zack and Cloud ending up in the lab. Cloud had insisted it was Jenova's fault and Hojo's, and Sephiroth had finally accepted that. He said it was strange to be able to think for himself again, and clearly, without Jenova in his head muddling everything. He'd even spoken, with affection, of Dr. Gast, and was pleased to know he'd see him again someday.
"Ready?" Cloud asked softly. The door was only a few feet away from them.
"If you are."
Cloud knocked, and it seemed ages before someone opened up. It was a pretty woman, aged by time and loss, with a familiar-looking man behind her. She looked at both visitors with surprise, then smiled, and opened the door wide.
"We came to tell you about Zack," Cloud forced past the lump in his throat, the unshed tears.
Alaine smiled again, and in the expression, both could see him.
"We've been waiting for you."
Angeal always started out his thrusts too gently, and could not be dissuaded from doing so, despite the fact that there was no pain in the Lifestream. At most, Zack argued, there was a stretching sort of ache, and he liked that, it reminded him of their first time together. But if one word could sum up Angeal, it would be "protective", and he always prepared Zack carefully and fucked him the same way. It took some effort to make so strong-minded a man lost control.
Zack batted his eyes cutely as soon as he could keep them from rolling back. "C'mon, a big strong SOLDIER can do better."
"Oh, really?" Angeal grinned, not taking the bait.
"C'mon, I want you hard tonight."
"I think I'm plenty hard."
"Very - oh, Gaia! - funny. C'mon..."
"I don't know, Pup, I think you like it slow." Angeal stroked Zack's hard, weeping cock. "And I've got evidence right here."
"Of course I love it slow, it's you, but c'mon! Take me hard!" Zack's voice dropped into a sultry tone. "Who do I belong to, Angeal? Don't tell me. Show me, show me so hard I never forget."
"Oh, you know who you belong to." Angeal punctuated his retort with a sharp thrust, and Zack's bent legs spasmed.
"That's what I'm talkin' about."
But Angeal could hardly resist the impulse to take it slow, to take Zack for as long as both of them could stand it and watch pleasure fill and roll around in those beautiful pale eyes. Sliding into Zack was like falling into some exquisite oil, only hot and tight and opening up like a flower to the sunlight, only for him. No one else had ever had Zack and no one ever would. It was a thought that pleased Angeal immensely. And eventually he would give in and give Zack the hard fuck he wanted. He couldn't refuse his Puppy anything, after all.
Zack was close, but it was common for him to come several times before Angeal did. Angeal chalked it up to Zack being so young again here in the Lifestream, and his own almost supernatural ability to hold orgasm off. Honestly, he wasn't sure how he did it. Nothing had ever turned him on like Zack. Even in this Heaven, he walked around hard all the time because of Zack.
Angeal laved one of Zack's ears with his tongue, then bit it gently as the boy sighed. "Good, Puppy?"
"Are you kidding? Always, with you. Fuck, Angeal, I'm gonna - "
"I know. Come for me."
He always watched Zack's eyes as it happened, how they went wide and their pale blue glowed as if electrified. They would shift wildly, then roll back as pleasure shot through Zack like a wave. He was always beautiful, but something primal in Angeal especially liked the site of his mate during orgasm. Zack's whole body seized up, and then let go, like the easing of a cramp, and he went limp as a boned fish, so easy to collpase on top of and cuddle against.
But not yet. Angeal continued to thrust, though he nearly came when Zack did, and patiently stroked Zack's eager flesh back into hardness.
"Hard, now!" Zack pleaded.
This time, Angeal didn't argue. He sped up his thrusts and pumped in and out of Zack forcefully, holding onto a leg with one hand and the other grasping one of Zack's. Zack squeezed his hand and smiled lovingly up at him, and that sent Angeal over the edge. He filled Zack's insides with hot semen until it leaked out of him in ropes, and Zack came with him and squirted his seed onto Angeal's muscled stomach.
They both lay gasping for a bit, then Angeal maneuvered them into their favorite position - him lying flat on his back with Zack curled up on top of him, head resting on the broad chest. Zack nuzzled the flesh of Angeal's neck with his lips and tongue, and felt warm lips placing a kiss into his hair. They lay like that for a while, basking in the afterglow, before either of them spoke.
It was Zack. "I went to see Genesis today."
"Sorry, old habit. I mean, how is he?"
"Enjoying playing the hero. He had just finished finding an escaped pet rabbit for a little boy."
"Is he happy?" Angeal asked, smiling.
"He says he is. Still planning Cloud and Seph's wedding, he told me it was hard to get mail delivered to the Lifestream, but we're both invited."
"Same old Gen."
"Also..." Zack paused to yawn, another old habit. "You know how ShinRa's publishing an edited version of my memoir, to raise funds for charity?"
"Yes," Angeal said, unconsciously holding him tighter.
"Well, Gen thinks it doesn't tell enough of our story. So he's writing his own version, in between adventures. He says it'll outsell Loveless."
"Really?" Angeal looked both amused and touched. "What will he call it, I wonder?"
"'Loved'," Zack said softly, resting his head against Angeal's strong heartbeat. "He's calling it 'Loved'."
August 18, 2012