Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 18

Gongaga Where?

By Damodred

Zack awoke, at peace of mind with the decision he'd made over the last few days. While they were waiting for Yuffie to recover and the sudden hurricane-like storm to pass, he'd been thinking hard. He'd grown to like them, and care about their quest, but his family and remaining friends in Gongaga were defenseless if ShinRa decided to return. Well, not exactly defenseless, but inexperienced. They needed to be shown what to do and how to do it. He could teach them and protect the village, and help his aging parents with the upcoming harvest. When that was taken care of, he would rejoin the group. He irritably blew away an errant hair that had been tickling his nose mercilessly. It was Yuffie's, of course; she found another way to annoy him, even while asleep. He wasn't sure what to think of the girl; she could definitely fight, had some honor (even if she was a thief), was pleasant enough to look at (if a bit boyish in built), and was currently using him for a pillow. He shrugged mentally; he wouldn't have to worry about it much longer.

"I'm glad to see you feeling better," commented Aerith dryly, awakened by the sounds of Yuffie's denials. "And yes, it was you who muttered something in the night, and then turned over and used Zack as a pillow." Yuffie's mouth dropped open, and her face slowly turned red. Muttering, "Yeah, thanks for fixing my shoulder," she stomped down the stairs. Zack raised an eyebrow, but refrained from laughing, knowing the ninja was still within earshot. His mouth twitched as he faced Aerith, "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to awaken everyone..." Tifa interrupted, seeing some new resolve in his eyes that wasn't there before, "You're staying, aren't you?" She tried to make it as non-accusatory as she could. Zack nodded firmly, "I've been away from here for too long. With the reactor and cheap energy gone, there are thousands of tasks that my father cannot handle. In fact, most of the village's younger folk died in the reactor explosion, as I found out yesterday. At least ShinRa didn't blame the accident on us," he fell silent, remembering North Corel. He continued, "Anyway, they need my help here. I will rejoin you as soon as I can, but it probably won't be for quite a while." They walked slowly down the stairs.

They said their final farewells at the edge of town. Zack wished them all luck, his eyes lingering thoughtfully on the small ninja. She refused to meet his eyes ever since she found out that he was staying. She only said, "Fine," in a frosty tone of voice and walked off into the forest, muttering. He shrugged, and walked slowly back to town. It already seemed quieter here, with her gone.

Tifa walked by Yuffie's side, wondering at how their group had diminished. Driven by responsibilities long forgotten, Zack and Barret had stayed in their hometowns, determined to repair that which they have neglected for so long. She marveled at the changes she had wrought to the lives of these people, by the act of standing up to ShinRa. She wondered if she was simply a focal point of events, or whether she actually had something to do with determining their course. She walked on, musing about the consequences of human actions.

They made it to the truck without incident. Tifa decided to drive today, filled with a need to see more of the world. Reno and Yuffie had a short argument about who would ride up front, which Reno lost when the ninja deftly whipped out her shuriken, slicing off one of his bangs. He went to the back, grumbling and smoothing his hair. Sephiroth took up his usual spot, scanning the skies for threats from the top of the truck. Tifa wondered how he managed to stay up there, but he certainly seemed anchored well. More to her surprise, Aerith joined him. She sensed that someone lost another argument, but didn't delve.


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