Okay, so I might have caused a little upheaval without realising, sorry about that. I maybe should've hinted that the story was wrapping up before the final chapter xD
With regards to the future... no guarantees, nothing set in stone, but there's a possibility that I could write a sequel. Strong emphasis on possibility.
Off the back of Rough Drafts' review (class username, btw!) I thought I'd spin up a poll to see how many of yous would like that, because it'd be a big undertaking and I wanna make an informed decision. Should be on my profile, it'd mean a lot to me if you could check it out after and cast your vote!
Will say again, because it's important. If you want a sequel, answer the poll on my profile. Greater interest makes greater motivation, and trust me, it makes a big difference.
...okay, so the title for this would have been a ridiculously clever way to say there'd definitely be a sequel, but that was just coincidence. I cannot be held accountable for my brilliant double meanings xD
Epilogue - Nothing Shall Forestall My Return
The wind whistled in my ears and whipped wispy strands of blue around my face away from my eyes, as I stared out at the murky, polluted surroundings of Gaia's greatest city. The Mako reactors were chugging away as always, puffing clouds of dark, dangerous substances into the air. Looking down, there was nothing but darkness beyond a few windows on the huge Shinra tower spewing out light, beneath my dangling feet.
My oldest friend had warned me more than once, that sitting on the edge of the largest building on the planet was at least mildly dangerous. The railing around the edge had seen far better days, and would probably be rattling and ready to fall apart even without the unrelenting wind, but I couldn't bring myself to care more than just a little.
I frowned down at myself. I was new, revitalised, and stronger. I was different. I was still me; an enhanced and more powerful me, but it had happened so suddenly that it clearly wasn't natural. It felt somewhat... wrong.
As with everything new, I was aware that it would only be a few days before it would be unnatural any other way, but darn if I wasn't allowed to have those first few days of feeling a little bit out of sorts. It was my right, and I was sure plenty others were feeling the exact same beneath my feet.
I felt a little more myself up here. I retreated to the roof for all my little freak-out moments, giving it a mildly calming feeling, and it felt more familiar. It was also a little reassuring; within the building was constant reminders of my enhancements, how much improved I was from Cadet to SOLDIER.
Hearing people approach the second they got off the elevator... accidentally bending or breaking every-day utensils... the dizzying, high-definition clarity of everything in front of me, and behind (I wasn't even sure I had a blind spot anymore, with how much peripheral vision seemed to be unlocked!).
The ever-present sight of the deep darkness within the clouds of pollution, and with none of the lights of Midgar visible beneath, I finally felt like there was something the same about myself from before the treatment.
But I had wasted the trip, because for that one reassurance there was at least three things that reminded me of how different I still was. The wind blew, which must've been freezing cold given the time of night and the altitude, but I had no shivers, no hairs standing on end, no goosebumps. Despite the rickety rail being the only thing between me and falling 'splat!' on the Midgar pavement, I was not dizzy, and felt a complete sense of balance despite how far forward I tried to lean. I was even certain that if I did fall, I'd survive it!
...Well, maybe not the last one.
I felt my ears twitch at the sounds of footsteps echoing on the stairwell, and put my gloved hands over them, embarrassed by the bunny-like action. The pace was steady but not slow, and was taking two steps at a time. Who else but Nate?
Not wanting a lecture, I set my hands on the floor (roof? Whatever...) behind me and leaned back against them, so I was putting no weight on the rail or leaning too far forward, as was his request. Looking out over the miserable sky view of the city, I listened to the door squeak open, and on his approach I called out a "Hey."
"I thought you were on bed rest," came the reply, and I nearly fell off the roof at the statement.
It was not unkind, but held an undercurrent of displeasure, no doubt for disobeying the rules. It was somewhat sympathetic at the same time, no doubt remembering his own recovery however many years ago that was, so I knew he wasn't about to tell me off.
It was the first time I'd heard his voice since the transformation. It was so...precise. Every syllable was carefully chosen and enunciated, flowing off the tip of his tongue like poetry. It was soft and quite kind, rising and falling with practised and perfected emphasis. Lilting and smooth and glittering.
"C-Commander!" I stuttered, screwing my eyes shut and placing a hand over my heart to emphasise my shock, trying to subtly clear my throat and lower the pitch.
I wasn't as much surprised by his sudden appearance as I was expecting, though the effect his voice had on me was much more alarming. I knew his voice...wasn't exactly hard to listen to, but I had no idea just how fantastic it was before.
Apparently being a part of SOLDIER had another unpredicted drawback...
His smirk was obvious without even looking at him as he teased, "What, did the treatment raise your voice as well as your senses?"
In a grump, I squinted my eyes open just enough to glare at him, before over-dramatically (or 'Genesis-y', as it should be known) falling and lying backwards on the roof, closing my eyes and comfortably resting my hands behind my head.
The wind blowing was mildly deafening for about two minutes in what substituted silence at this high altitude. And yet my hearing was able to nearly tune it out entirely, the next time Genesis spoke, as if sensing that his voice was more important. "Why did you come up here?" the Commander eventually prompted.
"I wanted..." I paused, unsure how to answer, and opened my eyes to look at the sky. Or rather, the heavy, polluted clouds overhead. I yawned, and finished with honesty, "...some familiarity."
Slowly, my line of sight was invaded by the Crimson Commander. His eyes were narrowed and his hands were propped on his hips, as he bent over me in what I could only translate to be contemplation.
I was mildly perturbed. "Can I help?" I sassed, my cheek covering my worry.
If anything, Genesis looked more scrutinising; he bent slightly closer, his eyes nearly closed they were squinting so closely. Though the Mako glow was still visible in the miniscule gap between his eyelids. "You look different," he stated simply, and I deflated. So much for familiarity...
I was disappointed with my tutor's assessment, too aware of the simply-put truth. But my eyes had been caught - because I wasn't the only one who looked different. I had always known Genesis was a pretty boy, but good grief, it was like I was seeing him again for the first time. My hungry eyes ate up the high-definition vision in front of me: the half-open eyes swirling with several shades of crystalline blue, the dark lashes above and the slight shadowy smudge beneath only making them brighter. The pale and elegant cheekbones and jawline only looking more defined and enriched. The auburn strands of wispy silk fluttered in the wind, slightly too vigorously and obscuring our vision. His slightly sharp but fitting nose, his pink lips turned slightly downward at the corners, the point of his chin...
"...more refined...prettier..." A breath of air ghosted over my cheeks, and my eyes darted all the way downwards to the mouth that was the culprit. Which was when I noticed that if my eyes were having to look that far down, I was probably much too close.
...Which was when I realised that if I'd felt the breath from those lips, I was definitely much too close.
...Which was when I realised that I was much too close, and leaned backwards, noticing how I'd sat up and had inched far too close to him. And then I registered what was said...
And I realised that I had no idea which of us had said them. And that was alarming. I mean, really bad.
But I was comforted by the fact that Genesis looked like he had just gone through exactly the same thought process, so was likely struggling with the same contemplation and worry. But that got me thinking...
Why would Genesis say something like that? About me, of all people? Everyone knew who he was, he...well, he's not adverse to the company of a lady, let's say. And everyone knew it. But is he... was he... did he...
By the look on him, he didn't know it before now either. But credit where it's due, Genesis didn't shy away. He was confident...probably too confident.
"Well, it's true," he surmised, confirming that he had indeed said those words. An all-too familiar, infuriating grin took its place on his face, as he leaned forward the same amount I had retreated, eyes wide open now and flickering wildly, looking like he was taking in my entire face. "You are a pretty boy," he finished triumphantly.
Feeling playful, and oddly comforted by something familiar (even if it was that frustrating expression) I challenged, "I thought that was your title?"
Genesis' expression reflected my own, and I suddenly realised something odd: I felt better. Genesis had comforted me, and I felt better. I thought all our interactions were supposed to end the opposite way? If history had anything to say, they definitely were. But he had genuinely made me feel like myself again, by some skewed means, and I wouldn't soon forget that. More so because it was Genesis: was this the olive branch our relationship sorely needed, after all this time?
He murmured, sounding lamenting, "Not any longer, perhaps," and straightened up and away from me with a toss of the head; clearly intended to remove those awkward strands of hair from his eyes, but the action sadly failed. If anything, the wind blew more ferociously, as if punishing him for the attempt. He turned to his right, looking out over the roof, and stretched his back - pfft, old man, I chuckled to myself.
I sat upright, and propped my hands at my back, ready to push myself to my feet. And at that point, a miracle occurred.
"Come, Cobalt," ordered my tutor, turning his upper body towards me. His left arm stretched in my direction, palm facing skyward at eye-level.
And I stared. My mind was blank, gaping at the red glove. Is this another Mako hallucination? It would explain a lot, actually.
His fingers twitched, in the universal sign for 'come on, already!' and I snapped back into life, raising my left hand and firmly grabbing his, a grip which he swiftly returned. My eyes rose to his, mouth slightly agape, and saw an expression without any outward emotion, but a twinkle in those eyes of his. And with that expression, I fully expected him to yank my arm completely out of its socket. I mean, come on, you'd be a fool to expect any differently.
And yet, it didn't happen. I heard a faint creak of leather as the muscles in his left arm tensed, and he slowly and deftly pulled me upright. It wasn't what I'd call gentle, but it was strong, and reassuring in its solidity.
In those few seconds, our eyes were locked, and when I was upright, I saw his eyes fall slightly, and his expression turned to a faintly wistful, regretting look. I translated it from Genesis to English as an apology, and one that I didn't want. So I disregarded it, and hit him with what my dad used to call, my 'troublemaker grin'.
The Crimson Commander's face lit up in a smirk as he let go of my hand, and firmly patted me on my helmet with the other. "Let's get you back to the infirmary," he bossed. I pouted and rolled my eyes, but didn't complain, and walked at his right side to the stairwell, his hand falling to rest on the scruff of my neck.
I wasn't a Cadet any longer. I wasn't even sure I was going to be Genesis' student any longer. But I think, Zack and me...we'd always be puppies.
Deep within the bowels of the Shinra building, in an isolated room where dim lights buzzed and test tubes bubbled, a subject floated in liquid solution inside a glass chamber. And it dreamed of a future that might have been, with an almost imperceptible smile.