Life 59: Incentive

"In August of 2018, a journey began in an old fishing town in Oregon. Fate came to pass, and the storm raged.

In February of 2019, the skies cleared and it all came to an end at a bittersweet summit, but the end was not true.

For another life began in it's stead, similar but distinct.

Where the vortex calmed and all knew the joys of a brighter sky.

Now, two days and a year after the story was closed, a view into what was to come after.

The life beyond the epilogue."

Have you ever seen someone, perhaps an old friend, that you haven't seen in ages?

You look at their face, and it calls out to your memories, you see their eyes, the light in their pupils as you embrace the thought of them.

Likely, the first words you say to them are questions about how they've been, where they've gone, and assurances of how much you missed them.

However, I wasn't meeting an old friend, or seeing family again after ages apart.

I was looking at my face, not that of Maxine Caulfield, but my own face.

That damn hair, always so untamed, those emerald eyes so piercing that one would think you could see them burning in their sockets.

And that irredeemable grin of mine, the one that always surged forward when I saw someone I liked, or when I threw words with someone I hated.

It had been over a thousand years since I had seen this face, and it was from the outside at the time.

Now, I was back to my old self, basilisk scar and all. Phoenix tears still surging through my veins in a paradoxical concoction.

However, I was still here.

I had sacrificed myself to save Arcadia Bay and its people, Kate Marsh among them, and I was content to move onto wherever Death wanted me next.

I had learned my lesson, accepted the responsibility of being Death's Avatar, and all that entailed.

And yet… I was still here, waking up in a class at Blackwell Academy, taking classes with Nathan, Victoria, and the like.

It was almost like I had never been here in the first place, everything had been reset to square one, but it was all different.

It started when I looked into the history here, and found that Mark Jefferson had overdosed ages ago, and had never become a photographer in the first place.

Which set things apart in a grand way, considering my art class was shared with Chloe and Rachel, the two together in a way they had never gotten the chance to in my last life, true happiness in their eyes as they walked past me in the halls.

As well, Max Caulfield was her own person here, but in an twist of fate, she wasn't a Caulfield.

Instead, I had a hipster little sister who loved to get on my nerves, and wasn't that a shock as well…

My parents were alive, James and Lily Potter.

They were in Seattle, my father working at the same practice as Albus, but they were alive and well… I got to speak to my mother finally, and it wasn't just a trick of the damn Stone.

I had never thought I'd get to know them, but they were so much more human than the stories I had been told of them.

Once again however, the Magical world was fractured, still a series of tribes, but held in better relations.

While they were nowhere near the civilizations and ministries of my original life, they at least worked together on occasion, even if it was entirely greed motivated.

And… it was all perfect to be honest.

My family alive and well, my friends living their best lives, and me?

I was enjoying myself, considering this was supposed to be my reward, and my incentive to keep going.

But not everyone was here, Luna, Neville, Hermione… they all were gone still, their families having been wiped out centuries ago, just as it had been in the last life.

However, it wasn't that hard of a blow to be honest, not after so many lives without them.

I had moved on, in more ways than I imagined

"How's my beauty doing?" I asked with a warm grin on my face as Kate practically fell into my arms, the two of us meeting in the courtyard of the school after the sun had set.

Her smile was a bundle of stars to me, lighting up the dark as we began our walk to the parking lot, my reliable truck sitting comfortably in the distance.

"I'm doing well, but... I felt him kick." Kate said to me in a whisper then, her breath on my ear as I held her closer to me, the winter air beginning to nip away at us.

That had been another surprise, that not only was I living a normal life in this world, but that Kate and I were… together.

It was yet another thing I had gotten used to, from seeing my little sister sneaking out with Warren, the poor kid I had shut out when I was her, to Kate's pregnancy that had snuck up on us both.

It had been amazing, meeting her family, considering it was such a different circumstance this time around.

Rather than her sister catching us in bed, and having only met her father than text messages, it was nice being properly introduced.

Her father had been suspicious of my intentions at first, but over the years I had won his trust over, and eventually he even gave his blessing to us.

We were together.

Now, I found myself years after where my last life had ended, a little studio apartment shared between Kate and I, and the bridge of a new life being planned as we brought our time together at Blackwell to a close.

Her father had even taken the news well, which was a surprise considering I wouldn't have taken the news of a pregnancy at nineteen too well, but here we were with her family at our call.

I held a degree in Art now to match Kate's, and was debating whether or not to take up Principle Wells' offer to teach at the Academy, which Kate and I still debated.

She and I had spent many a night discussing our plans and ideas, and eventually we found ourselves employed and well. I had begun tutoring students at the academy, since it was proposed that it would help me get the experience I needed to teach, whereas Kate had been shocked that her cartoon pitch had been picked up, and she had actually been offered a job with the Disney channel.

Her dreams had been brought to life, and I couldn't help how much I loved to see her smile each and every day.

After graduating, Max had decided she wanted to travel the world, and Warren had merely said he wanted to go wherever she did, the two of them flying off to parts unknown together to document the world. My sister always had been impulsive, but she had found a man that only managed to bring out the best in her, her port in the storm.

Last I saw from her tweets, the two were in Taiwan working on her latest documentary, Warren as her archivist and assistant, my sister a reporter in her own right.

Warren had even asked me if it was alright to propose, which I could only advise him to take his time with. I had been inside Max's head after all, and I knew her ambitions were lofty.

Chloe and Rachel had traveled with them for a bit, but had moved to California to seek fame and fortune. Apparently they had made a promise to each other at some point to make their way there, and they had with a little help from yours truly to get Rachel an interview.

I had been worried for them when they left, but I had taken comfort in the fact they had each other. As well, considering we had gotten tickets to Rachel's latest show in Miami, I figured the two of them were doing well.

However, every time I saw them together, all I could think of was holding Rachel's skull in my hands, and the words of the ritual on my lips as I woke in the morning.

Death had made it clear, that as his Avatar I held many privileges and abilities, but I had crossed a line in bringing her back.

Despite my actions, he hadn't been vindictive, instead preventing the reason why she had died in the first place and more.

However, while feeling nostalgic, I had gone to the junkyard, and had found my feet going to where the shallow grave had rested, instead finding my old pin on the ground, placed right atop where she had been buried.

It was a warning not to do it again, and I accepted that.

It was not my place to bring the dead back to life, to subvert fate itself, but I could do my best to prevent that final jaunt through the jaws of death.

It was odd, as well, considering I had been restored fully to the man I had once been, but I felt my strength waning as I aged into this life, my magic sapping away from me in ways I couldn't have expected.

It had puzzled me for ages, wondering why I was growing weaker, my light dimming…. Until I saw Kate one day, swollen and overjoyed as she worked on a new sketch for the studio… and I saw her pencils floating above her head as she searched for them to no avail.

It appeared that I had forged a connection of sorts, and all I was had begun to bleed through, but I didn't mind it.

I had done much in this life, and others, and I didn't really need my magic to make a difference anymore.

However, I did have ideas in mind about the future. I had easily made a fortune in this world through manufacturing, even going into business with Nathan on several projects, who I was pleased to see suffered no issues in this world.

I had admitted to Kate the truth of who I was, and she had taken it pretty well, even calling me her Azrael in our private moments.

Her angel of Death, she would coo as we talked about the future and what it held for us and our son.

I had talked much with Albus, still the same old renegade as he had been before, but he had let me know that he regretted his years of isolation, and I told him I had an idea.

My father and I had flown out to Scotland the year before, finding a large plot of land in the Scottish wilds, and with a price not too outrageous, but now I felt a tremor through me.

Kate and I had discussed it, and she had even drawn up a crest of encouragement, and to my utter shock, it had been exact…

Godric's Lion, Rowena's Eagle, Helga's Badger, and Salazar's Serpent were reunited once more, and the construction had started in.

Of course, even through my work, I hadn't gotten the funds to build an entire castle, but I had managed to build a facility akin in size to Blackwood, and supervised it's construction.

Albus had even pulled out some surprises of his own, his wife Minerva pledging her services to my fledgling school just as he had, and onward it went as I was reintroduced to those I had known so very long ago, so different yet the same all together.

Thomas had even dragged his sorry bones back over, and I had met him for the second time, and even managed to convince him to teach defense, which was a weird scenario.

The Tom Riddle I had known had wanted nothing more than to teach, yet Thomas Riddle had demanded dental care as a concession.

Despite all that had gone on in my lives, all that had changed, I now found myself back where it all started, a magical school in Scotland, and a place to teach and learn.

And as my wife grew, I could only wait as my son was to come into the world, and I felt the past ache in ways that never bothered me before.

I had been here before, married with children on the way, my future all but set.

It had all come crashing down around me the last time I stood here, yet now I had to accept that it wasn't to be as I feared.

This was my gift, my… reward.

As I stood in the evenings, and watched Kate laugh at me and at my worry, I figured things could be a lot worse.

I wasn't going to worry anymore, nor would I let fear and paranoia consume me.

I had better things to focus on now, and I had people that needed me.

And to think, this all started with a naked girl fighting in the showers…

How things had changed… even despite how they had stayed so very much the same.

However, when do you know the journey has reached it's conclusion?

That you've reached the end of the road, seen the last of your trials pass you by?

When the curtains close one last time, and all you see is the audience.

And you see their faces, and they smile back at you, and all that's left to do is one last thing.

To take a bow, and turn off the lights.

For myself, Kate, Max, and so many others that had stood by me in this life and the last.

We had finally reached our end, the storm clearing as we saw the sun set on us one last time.

This really had been a strange life, but I wouldn't give it up for a single second.

Fifty-nine was a good number.

I can not express how much of a joy it was to write Strange Tidings. I have written many stories in this fandom and others, all different and unique, but this one was my favorite.

I don't know if it was the characters or merely the beauty of Arcadia Bay that made this just a pleasure to write, but I want to take a moment here.

Dontnod and Square Enix? Thank you for what you've done, the world wouldn't be the same without Max Caulfield and her friends.

Now, curtains have closed everyone, and the show is over.

Thank you for joining me along the way.

This has been Oscar, have a good morning everyone.