Suzu sat down on the couch, shaking her head. "It seems so strange. It has only been a few months since we parted, in my mind." The twelve year old was very mature for her age, but she was still only twelve. What she'd been through with the four people in the room with her might be expected at their ages - their current ages. Yet, for four teenagers, a pre-teen, and one man in his late twenties... Well. It had been quite the adventure for anyone.

And now here they all were, together again. Almost all of them. Arche had filled Suzu in on Claus' life and his death. She had insisted on going to Japoni to bring Suzu to Cress and Mint's home when they had decided to reveal their relationship to the child, and so the young future Chief found herself in Miguel with her friends. And to think she had just parted from them a few months before when they were seventeen!

"I guess we didn't think about what it would seem like to you, really, did we," Arche admitted as she sat next to Chester. She at least looked almost the same, Suzu thought. Then again, her half-elven blood would have that effect. The other three looked pretty good for their ages, too. Still, looking at Cress it was hard to imagine that she'd imagined herself quite smitten by him just a few months before. How utterly disturbing! The thought made her wince in spite of herself.

"What's wrong, Suzu?" Mint saw the wince and began to worry if their decision had been the right one. It must be enough of a shock to see them look so much older so soon.

"Forgive me. I was distracted for a moment," Suzu admitted. "I'm afraid I was under some very odd influence when we first met."

"Odd influence?" Cress inquired.

Suzu nodded, fighting the odd sensation of heat that insisted on flooding her face. "Very literally when we first met. I thought I might be smitten with you." She made a face at the idea. "It was... Odd. It must have been the electricity." Cress and Mint exchanged a peculiar glance.

Then Mint nodded. "It was in Volt's cave that we first met you," she remembered. "You were up against those Ninja under Dhaos' influence."

"Yeah, and we made Cress help you out," Chester added with a grin. "Didn't go over too well, if I recall."

Cress colored. Suzu giggled; he looked so distinguished but when he blushed... "At least I didn't go spying on the girls in the hot springs," Cress choked out.

"Ha!" Chester laughed. "Yeah, that was awesome!"

"Bad Boy," Arche glowered at her husband. "Always were, always will be."

"And proud of it," Chester chortled.

Cress shook his head. "You shouldn't be."

"At least I had some interesting nicknames," Chester retorted. "They called me Muscle Man too." He got up and strutted around the room. The women giggled.

"Yeah. And Mint got to be a Glamour Queen." Arche said wistfully. They all looked at the willowy blonde who was more glamorous even than she'd been in her youth.

She was also blushing. "But you were so thin, Arche. I was jealous of what a Thin Girl you were."

"Better just thin than a Delicate Flower," the half-elf muttered.

Chester stared at his wife of nearly fifty years. "You? A Delicate Flower?"

Now Arche was genuinely blushing. "I never said that!"

But Mint was nodding, serenity all over her face. "Well, I mind me of a certain voyage wherein someone stayed up until all hours stuffing her face... Then when a crisis struck..."

"Oh, you slept through it too!" Arche countered.

Suzu was giggling openly now, as that particular encounter had taken place before she had met the party of heroes.

"She has a point," Cress agreed. "Don't be such... a SNOB." He snickered, though his eyes were full of fondness. Mint glared at her husband.

"Oh come off it," Chester rolled his eyes at his friend. "At least your wife is a Perfect Lady! Not like the Terrible Cook I married!"

"Be nice, Chester," Mint reprimanded him in turn. "Arche redeemed herself. And she's proven what a True Friend she is time and again."

The archer grinned complacently and slung an arm around Arche's shoulders. "Yeah, I'll keep her for now." He squeezed, and she gave him a look.

Suzu was laughing outright. "I did miss all of you very much, these past few months. It's quite strange to see you all looking so different, but you all act very much the same. Except of course for your openness about your feelings," she said mildly.

Arche smiled suddenly at a fond memory. "Hey, I never told you guys this story. I had a discussion with Claus, that went a little like this one," she said. "He was bragging to Milard about all his dashing adventures and the things he was called..." She painted the scene for them vividly. Suzu closed her eyes and listened, picturing how it must have been…

"And naturally being the most well-read of our group, I was responsible for cataloging all our encounters and all the treasure that we found, so I became known as THE Monster Hunter AND The Item Collector."

"And naturally," Arche turned to Milard, "he carried everything himself, too." She rolled her eyes at her friend, who snorted derisively.

"Of course he did. Claus is just so very strong and manly and would never complain about anything being too heavy or unwieldy," his future wife snickered. Both women burst into gales of laughter, while Claus reddened.

"Whatever," he finally burst out.

"That's the best retort you can come out with? Meanwhile, if you're so well read, why am I the one called a True Scholar?" Arche countered.

"Don't start, little miss Negotiator!"

"Oh, do tell," Milard prompted. Arche was trying to look innocent, but Milard was having none of it.

"It's nothing," Arche stepped on Claus verbally.

"If it's nothing, why are you so distraught? I would think being a negotiator is a good thing."

"It would be, if she weren't trying to negotiate with herself as the bargaining chip," Claus chortled.

"Oh?" Milard folded her arms, looking to Arche as though she was on the verge of laying down a heavy reprimand.

"It wasn't like that!" Arche sputtered. "We were trying to get passage to Alvanista, and what with the war and everything, the captain was refusing to go anywhere, and we really needed to travel, so I just sort of tried to talk him into it."

"You implied that you would do him certain personal favors if he'd take us to Alvanista."

Arche's indignation rose. "I was not! At least it's not my fault that you and your dirty mind were thinking that way! And for such a Hopeless Romantic, too!" Turnabout was fair play, after all…

Milard's eyes sparkled at that. "Now this I have to hear!"

"You do not!" Claus suddenly turned sullen.

"Yes, I do," Milard countered. "You, the great macho man, aloof teacher, and adventurer extraordinaire, a romantic? Please, Arche, I have to admit it is hard to believe."

But Claus, being Claus, took that just as badly. "Why shouldn't I be a romantic?"

"So you admit it after all!" Arche giggled. "See, there was... Well, without revealing too much, there was a pirate who had a whole load of treasures. His son wanted to find the greatest treasure of them all, but while he had a map, he didn't really have a way to travel, so he asked us if we could find it. He said we were welcome to any and all of the other treasures we found as long as he could have the greatest." At Milard's expectant nod, Arche smiled, a little crookedly at that memory. Darn Chester anyway. "The greatest treasure was the dress of the pirate's wife. And this big dork is the one who realized it."

Milard looked at Claus, her eyes and smile soft. Claus, so caught up in being embarrassed, didn't notice.

Mint smiled as Arche stopped speaking. "That does sound like him."

"I wish he could be here," Arche said softly. Even over a century later, she still felt his loss keenly at times.

Chester, who still had his arm around her shoulders, tugged lightly on a strand of her hair. "We all do," he said softly. "But look at it this way. If he were, he'd probably be old, crotchety, and yelling at me for not visiting often enough or something."

Cress turned to Suzu. "Did you know that Chester is Claus' great grandson?"

Suzu shook her head slowly. "I cannot say that I am surprised, truthfully. There did seem to be a certain resemblance."

Mint and Cress exchanged a look. "Suzu," Mint said softly. "Chester and Claus aren't the only two people in our party who were related to each other."

Suzu started, then looked carefully at all four of the still-youthful looking people before her.

Cress and Mint were clearly married, as were Arche and Chester, but that was obviously not what Mint meant. While Cress and Mint looked quite a bit alike, both having blond hair and fair skin as well as those intensely blue eyes, Chester and Arche were opposites. ~Could Arche be someone's grandmother? Or perhaps it turned out that she is Cress' great aunt? Still, it doesn't make sense that Mint would look at me that way if such were the case.~

"Suzu, Cress and I had three children. Our son, Thorne, was the youngest, but we also had twin daughters, Rose and Aloe. Aloe changed her name and moved to Japoni when she fell in love."

The young Ninja was usually quick to catch on, but what Mint seemed to be implying made very little sense to her. "Changed her name?"

Cress nodded. He held Mint's hands between his own. "She studied to become a Ninja and changed her name to Okiyo."

"My mother…" Suzu's eyes flickered briefly. "You're saying that my mother Okiyo was your daughter Aloe?"

Chester and Arche each found themselves holding their breath. Suzu's brow furrowed as both blonds nodded.

"I hope you will not think me disrespectful," Suzu said slowly, "but... I do not know if I could call you Grandfather and Grandmother so easily."

Mint smiled and shook her head, but Cress let out a whoop of joy completely unbecoming to his dignity.

"A man in his late sixties, no matter how fit and vigorous, ought not to jump around as though he were still seventeen. Just because he could still fit into his armor from his old adventuring days…" Mint teased her husband. "And you were so worried she'd not take it well."

The petite brunette was smiling, her eyes shining brightly. "I am quite pleased," she said simply.

"Ah, Cress, old buddy, I told you you were just being a worrywart."

At that moment, a fanfare the two couples hadn't heard in decades echoed in their heads followed by a voice, much as it had the day Arche had redeemed herself as a cook, but this time it was clearly directed at Cress.

~*You have earned the title, "Worrywart".*~

Four friends exchanged glances. Cress sat red-faced as his family and friends burst into laughter around him.

"It's about time you got some nickname that isn't all about your heroics," Chester gibed.

"Yeah, you know, you were the only one never to get called anything exciting about your personality or something," Arche realized as she looked at Cress.

"I never set out to be anything special," the blond man muttered.

"It's okay," Mint said. "You're special to us."

Cress shook his head. "I don't know. Of all the things to be called, a Worrywart? I know I'm no Piano Teacher," he said while looking at Mint, "Nor have I ever been accused of being either a Selfless or a Fervent Man, and clearly I couldn't be a Kind Brother," he added while focusing on Chester.

"You could as easily be called a Hard Worker as he is," Mint came valiantly to his defense.

"Or a Lucky Man, as was Claus," Suzu added.

"Or a Happy Fellow," Arche added.

But Chester shrugged. "Nah. Everything else Cress ever got called was all about his heroic deeds and stuff. It's good to be taken down a bit. It'll keep him humble."

"Humility was never a problem for Cress," Arche pointed out, "unlike SOME people I could name."

Chester shrugged again. "Come on. When you look like me, and shoot like me, and are just as generally awesome as me…" He never completed the sentence, since Arche had seized a throw pillow and had begun beating him over the head.

"It's good to know some things never change," Suzu giggled, brimming with quiet happiness.

"Actually," Mint said to Suzu, ignoring Chester and Arche for the moment, "Your uncle, Thorne, married Dhaosine, who's the eldest daughter of those two. Their son is Harrison."

"The same one we met?"

"We think so," Cress said. "Of course, when those two weren't fighting, they were busy trying to repopulate the world or something. They have two other daughters, Rhea and Ami, and two sons, Alaistair Edward and Claus Trinicus."

"We haven't decided what to name the next one yet," Arche giggled, sticking her head out from under Chester's arm. "Whether it's a girl or a boy, we're starting to run out of names."

Three jaws dropped. "Um, Chester, aren't you a little old to become a dad again?" Cress said hesitantly as he figured out what Arche had just said.

"You're only as old as you feel, and I don't feel old at all," the trim archer said. Indeed, for all his face had a few lines, and his blue hair was beginning to be streaked with silver, he moved like a man in his late thirties. Once afraid of being seen as weak, Chester had pushed himself beyond the limits and had built up an amazing physique back in their adventuring days. Hard work and a lively wife had given him every incentive to keep up his regimen. Arche looked to be almost as old as her thirties, but her half-elven blood served her in good stead.

Cress and Mint themselves were in excellent health. Cress was still in shape, and although he had taken an active role for years as the Master of the Albane school, his pure human blood had him and his wife at a disadvantage over their friends. His heavy musculature had not turned to flab but his gentler lifestyle had not driven him to push himself the way Chester had.

"I wonder how Harrisson will feel about having an aunt or uncle younger than he himself?" Suzu wondered idly. She didn't seem at all fazed by Arche's announcement.

"He'll get over it," Arche said blithely. "He was always pretty resilient."

"We're going to get in touch with him soon." Chester looked a bit saddened, and the weight of his years lay a bit more heavily for a moment. "We had to separate ourselves from him for some time in order to avoid the paradox."

"He did well, though, not revealing that he knew who we were when he came to our time to find us when we got back from the past," Mint pointed out.

"That's true," Cress nodded. "And we did get in touch with Suzu, so you should get in touch with your grandchild too."

The young ninja shook her head and smiled. "This is going to take some getting used to."

"You look exactly the same to me," Chester said innocently. He pulled his ostensibly pregnant wife onto his lap. "In fact, everything seems to be the way it should be."

Cress and Mint, still holding hands, were smiling at one another, lost together for a moment in their own private thoughts.

Suzu nodded. "You know, I do believe you're right."

-,-'-{ Fin }-'-,-