Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.



Pain is a chasm. It is a deep, dark crack that swallowed me whole. It consumed me and in the end I couldn't have crawled out if I tried. I was trapped in darkness, in cold, barren earth and I didn't know which way was out. It was left to others to reach in, so many hands reaching down into the darkness to find me and pull me up.

Pain is a gaping pit that stole a part of my life. I try not to think too much about it. I try to move forward. I try not to look back. Every day takes me a small step further away. The crack in the ground that would have devoured all of me looks a little smaller, day by day. It's too soon to speak of it being out of sight. I try not to think about it. I must not turn around.

I can still feel it lying behind me. Something so large will not be ignored. It makes its presence known in little ways, like wind whistling up through the void, daring me to turn around and face it. I will not turn around.

It's been a year now. Maybe that's why the urge to sit still and examine it all is reaching around me, tightening its grip like his arms around my waist, pulling me away from my life.

I have no exact date to speak of. There were many days. Maybe that's why it haunts me like this now. It's not one moment come and gone and easily forgotten, but many, stretching far and wide, like cracks in dry, barren, rocky earth, forever underfoot, waiting to open up and swallow me again.

I shouldn't think of that. Not now. I can't afford to. Many hands reached back to pull me out of the pit, but it's up to me to keep from falling back in. I can't afford to slip, not now, not ever.

The house is warm and the fields are green. This is how I remind myself that it is over, that I'm not in that hole, deep in the earth. I once thought that hole would be my grave. I was willing to let it. I didn't have the strength to climb out, afterwards. There was nothing to do but die. I wanted it. I wanted death.

And that would be a sin for a Cetra, under ordinary circumstances. We are creatures of life. But the Planet understood and forgave and was even willing that it be so. It never wanted its children to suffer.

He was rough. Brutal. I fought, don't think I didn't, but what could I do against someone like him? It hurt so much. It comes back to me sometimes, on nights like this one. I remember his voice mocking my screams because there was no one to hear me. I remember his hands tightening like a vice, or curled into fists. I remember his eyes even though I couldn't stand to look at them too long. They were slitted, like a cat's. Many times in that crater, I felt like a mouse, something he would toy with endlessly before he killed.

When he got tired of my attempts to escape, he broke my thighs. I feel it again in my sleep sometimes. It never fails to wake me. It's so hard to shut the sound out, to toss it far behind me where I don't try to look. The memory creeps up and I can feel his hands on me again.

The house is warm and the fields are green out there under the moon. Why do I feel so cold? It's on nights like this, when my dreams are full of ghosts from that cavern that I'm afraid everything will fail, that I'll slip and fall and never get up again.

But I can't afford to fall. Mom would be sad, for one. She's always so sad now and she won't tell me why. Cloud would be hurt too, and Tifa. I owe them all for reaching down to pull me out, even if I had been halfway to the other side by then and happy to go.

Tifa hugged me when I came to, the first time I said her name. I flinched a little but she didn't seem to feel it. I'm glad she didn't or else she might have let go. Her hug was full of warmth and I needed that. It's something to think about on cold, dark nights when I can feel unwelcome hands I know aren't there reaching into my hair again.

Cloud didn't hug me, not immediately, and when he finally did, he was trembling. He's still afraid to touch me. When he visits, he sits and watches me like I'm made of glass. The others are much the same, but none of them wear the pain so naked as Cloud. I wish he didn't hurt so badly. There are echoes rising out of the dark sometimes, a deep voice gloating over my pain because it would hurt the puppet. I don't want anyone to hurt. It's touching to be treated with such care after everything, but I don't need anyone to hurt for me. I've done more than enough of that myself. This pain is mine, not theirs.

I was so close to giving in, after he cut me and left me bleeding. I heard the Planet crying for me. Usually it cried for itself, for its own pain, not mine. It was hurt, its life being drained away, just as mine was, so just then it cried for me. I drifted away to the warm hurting heart of it and it welcomed me home. It promised me that I would never hurt again. I wanted that. I had nothing to return to but a broken body and a swordsman who was not done toying with me yet. The Planet took me in, far away from everything and I almost stayed.

Sometimes, when the dreams are too much and the nights are too cold, I wonder what it would have been like if I had let this life go. It would have been so easy to stay near that enveloping warmth and forget ever having a mortal body, to let it wither and die on a hospital bed. I would have become separated from myself eventually, never mind how hard my friends were working to put me back together again.

I am here because I chose to be here. On nights like this, I try not to regret that decision.

The Planet cried for me, but it cried for itself as well. It offered me the chance to return to it, to be one with it, just to soothe my pain. I wanted to take that offer. I wanted to forget. But I am still a Cetra and I couldn't ignore the Planet's pain. My death would have left the Planet alone, with no sentient tie to the living, no one on this side to talk to. The long ages would roll by and it would circle the sun with no companion or guardian to tend it. Deep inside, where it thought I could not see, it cried at the thought.

And yet it loved me enough to do that to take my pain away. I weighed its pain against my own in the slow, warm heart of the world. I could not be selfish. What's my one lifetime compared to eons of solitude?

So I came back. It was hard and it was slow. I had pulled so far away from everything by then. It would have been so easy to give up and let the inevitable come, but I'm still a Cetra and I have a duty to the Planet. It took care of me at my lowest hour and I must take care of it in return.

This life, it hurts sometimes. So much. I healed quickly, but the damage was severe. There may be only a few faint scars but the pain went deep. I will walk in pain all my life. But I can function and that is enough. There's more than just my life that matters now. I will not leave the Planet lonely.

My friends have not forgotten me. They hold me up. They are my net. If I stumble, they will not let me fall, but even after all they've done, they cannot help me with my Cetra's duty. It's not their burden to bear and they can't understand it. A few even tried to convince me to abandon it, to erase all the pain. But I can't. For duty, if nothing else. Sometimes, on nights like this, I think perhaps I made a mistake to commit to this life, but it would be so unfair to all concerned, after coming this far.

I have to keep moving, day by day, step by step, till that gaping hole in my life is out of sight. Maybe then I'll be able to look back without these tears.

That day's not here yet, though, not yet. Not when I wake in the middle of the night with the feel of his breath on my neck, when I have to keep rubbing my wrists to be sure they're not bound, when I keep swallowing a phantom taste in my mouth or I have to keep staring at whatever's in front of me to be sure I'm not deep underground. That day isn't here if I can see his booted feet beside my head, if I wake in the darkness still hearing his voice, if I can still feel him on me and inside me and the way the rough floor grated against my back as he moved.

That day isn't here yet, if there are still nights that leave me like this, struggling to look away from that darkness, shaking and crying beside the cradle. I can't even bear to touch the one in it on nights like this, when the moon reflects so brightly off his silver hair. I can only whisper to him that everything is going to be all right, don't be sad, don't cry, even though I'm the one with tears running down my face.

No one really understood how the doctors could have missed it. There were none of the signs people usually look for. My half-Cetra body is a mystery. It was months before anyone realized and I had awoken enough by then to stop them, for duty. I will not leave the Planet alone. He saw to that.

It saddens them that I chose this but they don't understand. It drove Cloud and Mom to fresh tears and stunned the rest to silence. It is hard not to look back at the void when I've brought a living reminder out of it with me. Mom tries her best but sometimes I think it is too much for her. More than once, I've seen her standing over the crib with a pillow in her hands, maybe just fluffing it. Maybe not.

My friends are still unsure how to deal with my child.

With his child.

Cloud stares. Tifa sighs. Cid stays outside and smokes. He says he doesn't want to smoke around a baby.

Marlene is happy though. She doesn't understand yet. She's cheerful and happy to see him. She plays with him while her father watches. She makes my baby laugh. I'm glad someone does. It's hard for me sometimes.

Vincent tried the longest and the hardest to make me change my mind, when there was still time. He meant well, I suppose, but I wouldn't presume to make this choice for anyone else and I could not let anyone choose for me. Vincent was pained at my decision. I can't imagine what he feels, thinking he could have stopped this from happening. I can't think of anyone's pain but my own.

I do the best I can. There are times when I am afraid it's not enough. It's hard to be warm sometimes, when I look at my child and see his face. I keep telling myself that it's not fair to the little one, that it wasn't his fault.

It's not his fault his hair is that shade of pale. It's not his fault that when I try to nurse him I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not being bitten and clawed. It's not his fault that on nights like this, when I'm rocking myself back to sleep beside the cradle, I keep praying he won't wake up and see me like this, because I wouldn't be able to stand having those eyes on me again, glowing at me through the darkness. It's not his fault. He's not to blame. He's a baby and he needs love just as much as any other child.

But I have no love to give him.

I did this for duty. The love I had when I chose this was for the Planet, not him.

And this is not fair.

There is a rift there that I can't heal yet, but this is what I've chosen, for better or worse. A Cetra's responsibility to the Planet and a mother's duty to her child. Perhaps one day duty will eventually become love. The best I can do for now is shield him from the pain, from the dark and the cold, so that he grows straight and warm and knows something other than causing others pain.

My son will not become his father.

The pain will end with me.