BY : Rina76
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 1417
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII Advent Children or any of the characters from the film. I am not making money from the writing of this story.

Chapter 38. Second Chance

As weakened as a newborn child, Kadaj is incapable of walking so Loz carries him through the forest back to the lair, the smaller male's head resting on Loz's broad chest. Kadaj's lips are blue and he's shivering violently, his teeth chattering together. Yazoo stays right beside Loz and the resurrected teen, every step of the way, not letting Kadaj out of his sight for one moment. I follow behind them all, seemingly forgotten about in all the excitement. I'm just as confused and stunned as everyone else, and more than a bit concerned about the youngest clone's unexpected return, but I'm not game enough to say anything and ruin Yazoo and Loz's happiness. Too weak to even keep his eyes open, Kadaj hasn't seemed to notice me and I'm grateful for that. Saying words at a memorial service is one thing, but speaking to someone you thought was dead but all of a sudden isn't anymore, is another thing entirely.

When we get home, Loz and Yazoo fuss over Kadaj, rubbing him with towels, dressing him in warm clothes, drying his hair and putting him into his own bed with extra blankets on. Unsure if I should be helping or not, I stay in the living room out of their way, at least until Loz pops in, asking me to make some hot chocolate for his brother. That's a strange request, because Kadaj never drank hot chocolate before, only coffee. But I go into the kitchen and make it, glad for something to do. When I bring the steaming mug into Kadaj's room, I place it on the bedside table without even looking at the guy. I hear him say a feeble, "Thank you," but I don't reply, just quickly get the hell of out of there.

I can hear murmuring words floating down the hallway and it's disconcerting and eerie, hearing Kadaj's voice in the lair again after so long without him around. It's like hearing a ghost and I have to wonder what, exactly, is lying in Kadaj's bed. Is it really Kadaj himself, back from the afterlife? Or is it some kind of copy? Some kind of replica? The voice I'm listening to sounds like Kadaj but the person speaking sure doesn't look like him, not the Kadaj that I remember. Is this dark-haired boy actually the third Remnant or is he something else entirely? Is this some kind of trick of Jenova's, using her dead son's image to try and worm her nefarious way back in our lives? Is this her creation, or could one of the many tank-bred Kadaj duplicates possibly have survived the laboratory fire? Could this be one of Kadaj's cloned brothers? If that's so, how did he come out of the lake and why is he a brunette? I don't know about the other two men in the lair, but I'd definitely like an explanation. A damn good one. Until I have it, I'm not going anywhere near that creepy brown-eyed doppelganger.

A while later, Loz comes to visit me again, saying that Kadaj wants to see me in his room.

"Why?" I ask with a frown.

Loz shrugs. "Just to talk."

"I don't want to be alone with him. He scares me, Loz," I state honestly and worriedly. "First of all, I don't even know if that IS Kadaj. And if it is, the last time I saw him, he threatened to kill me and take our baby."

"He's different now - you'll see," Loz urges, taking my hands in his, an encouraging expression in his green eyes. "Come on, it's okay. Trust me. I'll be there too and I won't let anything happen to you or the baby, I swear."

The only reason I go back into Kadaj's bedroom is because Loz is with me, his fingers wrapped securely around mine. My hand is shaking but Loz holds it tight, not letting anyone see my fear. Kadaj is sitting up in bed surrounded by pillows, looking much healthier and warmer than he was earlier, his cheeks and lips rosy-pink and his dark hair shining glossily in the lamp light. Yazoo sits next to him, on the mattress. There are two chairs near the bed, presumably for Loz and I.

Yazoo has pushed up both sleeves of his top, revealing the cut-marks on his arms. They are healing, but slowly. With his inherited regenerative abilities they'll eventually disappear completely, leaving no scars whatsoever, but for the moment the cuts still look fresh and painful. Kadaj is touching the scabbed-over wounds, softly and sadly, as if he's just found out about them and what his death drove Yazoo to do. Because they were made with his cursed sword, Kadaj seems to have assumed responsibility for Yazoo's injuries, the younger male appearing guilt-ridden for causing his brother such awful pain. I almost feel as though I shouldn't be witnessing this intimate moment but when we enter, Kadaj glances up, letting his hand fall from Yazoo's arm.

"Good," he says, his voice sounding stronger than before. "You're all here. Thanks for coming, Cate."

Avoiding eye contact, I mumble, "Sure."

"Well, now that I'm feeling better," Kadaj continues as Loz and I sit down in the chairs, "I suppose you all have questions for me."

Yazoo is the one who begins, clasping Kadaj's hand just as tightly as I'm clasping Loz's. "Where have you been, brother?"

"I was in the Life Stream. I have tried to contact you, and Loz, but you were both too deep in your grief to receive my messages," Kadaj answers. "The only one who heard me was Cate, through her dream. And in the hallway, when I briefly made contact with her."

I look up in shock, remembering how it felt as though he grazed against my arm. Whispering, I ask, "That really happened?"

Kadaj nods. "The Life Stream is another world, parallel to this one, and the barriers can be crossed, if only for a short while. It's a wonderful place and I was safe there but I still longed to come back as I missed my family. The last thing I remember is hearing your voices. I couldn't quite make out what you were saying but I knew you were talking to me. Then I was being dragged down as if by invisible hands. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see. It felt like I was drowning. The next thing I knew, I was fighting my way out of the lake. And there you all were. You pulled me back to this world with your words, your memories and your love."

"But I've tried calling for you, Kadaj," Yazoo insists. "I've tried willing you to return, many times. You never answered that call before. Why now?"

"You have more power together, brothers, than you do alone." Kadaj looks to me. "Cate and the baby – their energy strengthened your own and made it possible for you to connect with the planet. Gaia must have heard you all and decided to send me back. The Life Stream courses through the lake, making it like a portal to the other side. That's why I came out of the water and not out of thin air."

Piping up, Loz enquires timidly, "Did it hurt when you died?"

Smiling, Kadaj shakes his head. "No. It was peaceful. As I was lying on the rooftop in Cloud's arms, I heard a sweet voice calling to me, telling me that everyone was waiting and that I didn't have to hold on any longer. I thought it was Mother but when I crossed over there was a girl wearing a pink dress standing there to meet me. She said her name was Aerith. She took me into the spirit world where I met Cloud's best friend Zack and a lot of other people, all of them happy to see me. I've never felt so welcomed or so accepted. Without judging me, these people showed me all the things I had done in my life – all the bad and all the good. Unfortunately, I soon realised there was more bad. I knew that if I could go back I would fix the terrible mistakes I had made, fix all the hurt and suffering I had caused to my loved ones. I missed you all so much and knew that if I had a second chance I would be a better brother," here Kadaj looks to Loz, "a better partner," he glances at Yazoo, "and a better person in general. Now I have that chance, I will not let you down. Any of you."

He sweeps his gaze over all of us, finally meeting and holding my eyes. It's startling to see velvet brown irises gazing back at me, with rounded pupils, instead of aqua-green with black slits in the centre.

"I apologise for the way I treated you, Cate, and for the terrible things I said. It was wrong and I'm sorry."

I stare at him, this dark-eyed stranger who resembles the youngest Remnant but doesn't resemble him at the same time. Turning to Loz, I say in a low voice, "Are you sure this is Kadaj?"

"Yes," Loz says simply.

"We know our brother," adds Yazoo.

"Well, why does he look so different, then?"

Kadaj answers for himself. "When I entered the Life Stream, all of Jenova's cells were purged from me. I have been born anew. I am human now, as human as you, Cate."

He smiles at me. His face is completely devoid of the smug arrogance and cruel nastiness I'm used to seeing there. The superiority has gone from his voice too, and when he speaks to me, his words are full of gratitude. "Yazoo told me what you did for him and Loz while I was gone, how you took care of them, and I am forever in your debt for that, Cate. With everything you have done for us, you have earned my utmost admiration and I will never disrespect you again. I will protect and defend you as I protect and defend my own brothers. I know I have failed you before in that regards but I give you my word that it won't happen a second time."

Still finding it difficult to fathom that these apologetic words are coming out of Kadaj's once-nasty mouth, I question Loz again, "Are you SURE it's really him?"

Loz nods resolutely. "I'm sure."

Trying to convince me that he's not someone else, the newly-brunette Kadaj says to me, "Remember what I said to you in the club that night we met? The name I called you?"

"What, 'drunken whore'?" I retort.

"Not that one. The other one - remember? Little Miss Chocolate-eyes?" he prods. "It was right before I tried to kiss you. Right before you pushed me away. Tell me, Cate. Who else would know that?"

"Nobody," I answer slowly, recalling that moment when I sat on the bar stool with Kadaj's hand on my thigh. I never told anyone about that, or what he said, not even Loz.

"Or what about Catey-cakes? Has anybody else ever called you that?"

"No. Just you," I admit, finally understanding that Kadaj is back and he's for real, even if he doesn't look or act the same.

"You were right: I was a monster. And I'm so, so sorry, Catalina," he says, using my full name to demonstrate how serious he is. "Contrary to what I might have told you in the past, you DO belong here. By loving my brother and bearing his child that makes you part of this family. A very valuable part. You have proven yourself loyal and trustworthy, keeping our secrets and accepting us in spite of knowing what we were and where we came from. No matter how much contempt I showed you or how scared you became, you stayed here and stuck by us. You stuck by Loz, supporting him and making him feel excited about the future. About being a father."

Here, Kadaj looks to Loz. "You made my big brother happier than I've ever seen him in his whole life, and instead of thanking you for it, Cate, I treated you like pond-scum. Because you cared, you tried to warn us of what would happen if we went looking for Jenova and instead of listening, I punished you for it. What I did to you on that last day was unforgivable. My anger manifested itself into a deadly disease, which I then transferred to you. It was unintentional but my carelessness put your life at risk, and the baby's. Thank Gods there is a cure."

Kadaj glances at my arm where the Geostigma used to be, relieved that there is no trace of its cancerous blackness left.

"I remember that I also threatened to cut the baby from you. It was just a scare tactic. I never would have put you or your child through that ordeal, I swear. I only said that because I knew it was what you feared the most but I never would have done it. I love this baby and I can't wait to meet them. I promise to be a good uncle and will take care of the child like it was my own." He bows his head in supplication. "Again, Cate, I'm so very, very sorry for everything I said and did. I know it isn't enough, but I hope you can accept my humble and sincerest apology."

After hearing that heartfelt speech, I shake my head in sheer astonishment. "Wow. Turning into green sparks and taking a vacation in the Life Stream has done wonders for your personality, Kadaj."

"I should hope so, otherwise it's been a wasted trip." He looks at me expectantly. "So, do you forgive me?"

"I guess so," I answer, realising that he has definitely changed in more ways than one. "Thank you for your apology. But you can't blame me if I still keep a wary eye on you for a while."

"I understand that and I deserve it. I will do whatever I must to earn your trust again." Kadaj gazes at me, a softness and maturity in his eyes that wasn't there when he was alive before. "You giving me another chance…it means a lot to me, Cate. More than you know. I really hope we can finally become friends."

"Yeah. That'd be nice." I hesitate. "We don't have to hug now, do we? I know you're a born-again good guy but I think it's a little too soon for that yet."

He chuckles understandingly. "How about we start with a simple handshake?"

To prove that I'm willing to begin trusting him again, I stick my hand out and he accepts it, his fingers cool and gentle. We shake on it. I catch Loz and Yazoo exchanging a glance and smiling, happy that Kadaj and I have finally made a truce. Kadaj seems happy about it, too.

"And what's this?" he enquires, turning my hand around to get a closer look at the sparkling ring on my finger, glancing up to Loz and I with an arched brow. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yep. We're engaged," Loz beams happily.

"Well, congratulations, you two," Kadaj enthuses, grinning at us. "Looks like I made it back just in time to be the best man, huh?"

"Excuse me?" Yazoo protests, pretending to be offended. "I've known Loz longer than you have, little brother. That honour should go to me."

"But I died," Kadaj argues playfully. "Therefore, I should get special privileges."

Looking between his younger siblings and not wanting to favour one over the other, Loz offers, "Maybe I'll have two best men. That's allowed, isn't it, Catey?"

"Of course it is," I smile, enjoying their banter, something I have greatly missed these last few weeks.

"You will be a beautiful bride, Cate," Kadaj decrees, bringing my hand up to his mouth and kissing the back of it, just below my knuckles. It's so gentlemanly and unexpected that I actually blush a little. He notices, a faint smirk tugging at his lips, revealing that although he's a reformed man, he's still got enough mischievousness left in him to play with.

At that moment the baby chooses to kick me, and I wince and rub the spot on my side where a little foot is sticking out. "Ouch, kid," I mutter. "You sure got your daddy's strong legs."

Kadaj looks at my belly. "May I?" He asks hopefully.

Nodding, I allow him to place his palm on my stomach, down where the baby's head would be. The baby reacts joyfully, nudging against Kadaj's hand, clearly delighted to have their second uncle back with us again.

Kadaj smiles. "Do you know if it's a girl or boy yet?"

"I keep saying boy but I honestly don't know," I admit.

Yazoo volunteers, "I could schedule an ultrasound appointment at the Shin-Ra medical centre if you want to find out?"

"It's okay," I tell him, rubbing my tummy. "I'd like to keep it a surprise."

"Shin-Ra medical centre?" Kadaj glances at Yazoo and I in confusion, wondering why we'd even consider going near that place and all our enemies. Jumping in, Loz quickly tells Kadaj about the job offer that he accepted on behalf of himself and Yazoo, securing safety as well as a stable financial future for all of us.

"I hope you're not angry that I made that decision," Loz says hesitantly.

"Of course not," Kadaj assures him. "You're the head of this family. My return doesn't change that. Everything is different now and it's your turn to lead us, Loz. If you believe that working for the Turks is the best way to support and protect this family, then I won't argue with you."

Looking slightly apprehensive, Loz furthers, "I also gave them permission to destroy Jenova's remains."

"Good," Kadaj says, nodding. "That's the wisest choice you could have made."

"Didn't she put up some kind of fight?" I pipe up, glancing to Loz. "You know, when she was about to be incinerated? Her head might have been cut off but her brain was still intact. Didn't she try to stop you with her powers?"

"No," Loz replies, shrugging. "I didn't hear any voices in my mind. Her eyes never opened and her lips didn't even twitch."

Yazoo adds, "What was in that jar…it was utterly lifeless."

"That's because of me," Kadaj starts to explain, not sounding surprised at all. "You see, every time I connected with Jenova, every time that we spoke, she was feeding off my energy. I was sustaining her, keeping her alive. When I died, she would have grown weak and withered. Now that her legacy – Geostigma – has been cleansed from this world and made extinct, so has she been made extinct."

"She's really dead?" I ask.

"Yes. Gaia made sure of that," Kadaj informs me with the absolute confidence of one who has seen into the centre of the planet and discovered all the secret knowledge held there. "She can't ever come back now, not though you or me or any of us. Jenova is no more."

"I'm glad she's dead," Loz confesses, tentatively meeting Kadaj's gaze. "I never wanted you to find this out because I knew you'd be mad at me but I didn't like Mother when she came to visit us. She was scary."

"I second that opinion," I join in. "Needless to say, I'm glad she won't be using me as a skin-suit anymore."

I shudder, still remembering the black stench of Jenova's foulness and the terrifying, suffocating sensation as that ancient, soulless creature snaked its way through my body and took over. Reaching out, Yazoo touches my hand in empathy, knowing how traumatic that experience was for me. He hadn't been too concerned about my feelings on the night I became Jenova's unwilling vessel but since he snapped out of the spell that brainwashing bitch had on him, he regrets letting it happen now, along with everything else he did while under her influence. I award him a small smile, appreciating his compassion and immeasurably thankful that he's nothing like his mother anymore.

"I had bad dreams about her, Kadaj," Loz reveals, confessing to his little brother even further. "In them, Jenova always killed you. She pulled out your heart with her bare hand and ate it. I was so afraid that she would actually do it one day." My sensitive fiancé drops his eyes, still visibly upset by those violently disturbing images.

"Oh, Loz," Kadaj murmurs in dismay. "You should have told me."

Glancing back up, Loz challenges, "Would you have cared?"

Kadaj thinks for a few seconds, admitting regretfully, "Probably not. Back then, I was too infatuated with Jenova to care what anyone thought. But I care now." An expression of concern crosses his face as he gazes searchingly at his oldest sibling. "You're not still having the nightmares, are you, Loz?"

"Most of my entire life has been a nightmare," Loz grimly states. He looks at Kadaj who despite his altered appearance is very much alive and well, and he glances at Yazoo with his short hair and scars, and then Loz looks at me, my big belly and my healed arm. Each of us has been through hell and back but miraculously, we've survived and are sitting in this room today, together as a family once more.

"But," Loz says cheerfully, "as long as I got all you guys here with me, I don't think I'll ever have bad dreams again."

And he doesn't. That night when Loz is peacefully asleep beside me in our bedroom, I hear Yazoo through the wall next door. He is in his room with Kadaj and he is crying. Unlike the last time I heard Yazoo cry, he doesn't sound ripped apart by grief or pain. He doesn't sound like he's tortured or dying or gutted. He's crying out of happiness, overjoyed to have Kadaj back in his arms again. They are in bed and I can hear how much they've missed each other, can hear it in the way they call each other's names, sometimes groaning, sometimes gasping, sometimes sobbing. In the past, I usually tried to block it out when they did this but tonight I don't. Tonight I listen to their voices rising and joining in elated ecstasy, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. Knowing that the strength of Yazoo's love helped bring Kadaj back from the other side of death just makes the beauty of their Reunion even more poignant and emotional.

Yazoo is not shattered and empty anymore. Kadaj has made him whole again.

Loz is whole again too, sleeping soundly and restfully for the first time in weeks.

The boys' broken bond has finally been repaired.

Little brother is home.

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