Characters: Cloud/Tifa, Denzel/Marlene
Word Count: about 1000
Summary: Life and death are always intertwined. It's just the natural cycle of things...
"Look at the withering mountain grass. Listen to the warble of the newborn chocobos. Look always to the eternal flow of time which is far greater than the span of a human life.... What you see will eventually become a part of life's dream. For my children... And for your children..."
Another September years later…
As the train hurtled through the remains of the city towards its final two destinations, one particular passenger struggled to fight the uneasy sense of déjà vu. He’d avoided taking trains for years for this very reason, even though they were one of the few modes of transport that didn’t aggravate his motion sickness. Memories swam in his mind, some of which he knew were not his own. That strange dichotomy rarely affected him nowadays, but familiar surroundings still sometimes brought them on.
At least the scenery zooming by was drastically different. Only the lights near the track were on now, a far cry from the glow that used to illuminate even the clouds from below. To anyone else peering out of the train, the darkness outside the tracks was no different from that of the countryside they’d passed a few minutes ago. But his Mako-enhanced eyes could still make out factories, plate supports, even shopping arcades he -- or maybe Zack-- had once walked through. What had been the greatest city on Gaia, thrumming all hours of the day with the frenetic pace of its Mako-fueled existence, was now desolate: broken and abandoned. The war with Deepground had been the final step to reducing the metropolis to rubble and refuse. Now all that was left of office towers and apartment complexes were just windowless skeletons, stripped of useable parts and inhabited only by whatever ghosts remained.
Nothing withstood the effects of time, as the recent reunion at the memorial had shown. While basically they were all the same people -- Yuffie with her incessant chatter, Cid smoking and shouting, Nanaki solemn and proud -- they had all been marked by its passage. Even Vincent had changed. He couldn’t age the way they did, but his brooding had given way to quiet smiles, his reticence worn down by the buffeting of the others. It was also interesting to note the sprinkles of gray and permanent laugh-lines on a couple of their friends. And there were other, less visible signs they could tease each other about.
Cloud had first noticed the slight slowing of his reflexes a few months ago. It didn’t bother him too much- he stayed in good fighting condition just by battling his way through encounters on deliveries, and he could rely on his experience to exploit monster weaknesses. It was sobering, but he realized that if his Mako enhancements were finally leaching away, he preferred labels other than “ex-SOLDIER” anyway.
However, the most obvious changes of all were in the blossoming of the children. Denzel had grown up a lot like himself in temperament: dependable and helpful in a quiet way. He took sibling pestering for rides and attention with good grace once he got home from his share of the deliveries. During the ceremony he'd helped with the older ones as they struggled to remain obediently still and quiet, explaining in whispers when they asked about the rituals.
In contrast, everyone agreed that Marlene had taken after Tifa. She’d cheerfully helped Tifa with the youngest as they babbled and pushed toys about, unaware of the solemn nature of the occasion. And after the ceremony, she’d accepted everyone’s congratulations for her recent scholarship win with a pleased flush, chatting animatedly with various members of their extended family.
Actually, they might be more like he and Tifa than they had anticipated. It had caused more than a little consternation to see that their relationship had recently evolved into a fledgling romance. Neighbors had reported seeing the two of them holding hands at the movies, and he and Tifa had seen the furtive looks and blushes. The upcoming birds and bees talk was sure to be awkward.
The chime heralding an announcement distracted him from his worries.
“We will soon be making a brief stop at Midgar, Sector 5. All passengers for Great Gospel Church, please disembark here.”
He felt the usual serenity when he saw it through the window, a colorful beacon in the darkness. People still came from all over Gaia to be cured here, and so her legacy continued. In fact, the Lifestream flowed so strongly here now that the flowers had started spilling out of the church, and green patches had taken root even outside. It made him wonder if Midgar would ever be as lush and green as it had been before Shinra had built its reactors.
He turned when he heard the train compartment door open behind him, smiling.
She smiled back, reassured that there was no trace of that haunted look in his eyes, and turned her attention to the child in his arms.
“He finally went down, hmm?”
“Just had to get out of all the activity. He likes to be a part of things.”
Cloud smiled down at the slumbering toddler, smoothing a hand over those dark brown spikes. If he’d been dismayed by his genetic legacy at first, he was resigned to it now. He supposed the children were the proof of their existence, just as they were for those they had honored in the memorial. Their parents, their comrades in AVALANCHE. Zack, Aeris, and Bugenhagen. The past paving the way for the future in a never-ending cycle.
“No getting off this train we’re on, huh?”
“What? But Edge is the next- Oh, that again?” She smiled and tilted her head. “No, I guess not. But I’ve always thought that the journey matters more than the destination.”
He nodded, taking her hand. “And those who help us move forward along the way.”
She squeezed, feeling his ring against her fingers.
“Yes, they make it all the richer.”
A/N: ...And so it concludes. It’s with both sadness and relief that I’m finally writing this last author’s note. I’m sure you can see just how Crisis Core inspired both the beginning and ending of “Full Circle,” and I’m pretty pleased that I’ve gotten myself to the end. This story has been with me from my wedding preparations all the way through my first year of marriage, and I think it’s obvious how much I’ve grown in that time. So it seems appropriate that this chapter is closing as another one opens for me: my husband and I have actually gotten started on our own little “level up.” (You can blame it for the lateness of the last two chapters. Couldn’t stay awake long enough to write.)
I’ve also detailed all the canon references in each chapter here, if you’re interested.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have!