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Last Stop

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It was with a mixture of great reluctance and bone-deep exhaustion that Cloud slumped against the worn wooden pole, Buster Sword nearly tumbling from his grasp as he clumsily unstrapped it from his back. He let his head fall until his chin was nearly against his chest, the bent spikes of his hair shading his face from the long, slanting bars of amber and crimson sunlight. He'd been walking all day…all week, all month maybe…he almost couldn't remember. There was a traveling pack slung around his hips, but he was pretty sure all his food was gone, and his water, and anything else he might have thought to bring…which hadn't been much in the first place.

After his defeat at Sora's hands, after his confrontation with Sephiroth, and Sora's triumph over that lunatic…Cloud had just started walking. He'd gathered up his few effects, offered a single telling glance to Hercules, and simply left. With no idea where to go, what to do, or how to even leave this world, he had just…gone.

Truthfully, Cloud didn't know what he was doing. Or where he was, for that matter. Rolling hills coated in high, thick swathes of golden grass spread in all directions, punctured only by the occasional clump of flame-colored trees, the advent of autumn. Leaves of every shape and size had littered the beaten dirt roads, crunching and crackling beneath his boots with every step. It had certainly been a change from the dull pounding his feet had made back at the Coliseum. It seemed…too loud, too open. Just like the wind; it almost felt as though he was being intruded upon as the cool breeze caught at his cape and hair, tugging insistently at his clothing like a child. The sunlight hadn't helped, warming him with its smile where the wind's whisper had cooled him, glinting happily off the various metal pieces that covered him.

It felt like he was coming alive again and Cloud…he didn't know what to think. He was just…so tired.

That was why he was sitting here, doing nothing and wondering if he should be doing anything at all. He'd been angry for so long, cold and distant and wounded…it was so strange to be anything else. To realize that he wasn't like that anymore, that he didn't have to be…that had been Sora's doing, he knew, though he still had no idea how, or more importantly, why. Why save him, why help him, when his goal seemed so impossible? When he wasn't sure if he wanted her to see him like this, changed and scarred and barely aware anymore of what it meant to live…

It made the idea of simply sitting here and never moving again sound very good indeed. Cloud was aware he hadn't eaten in days, perhaps a week…and his mouth was so parched and dry that he could barely breathe without pain. Even his altered body could take only so much abuse and, without crossing blades with anyone on this winding, apparently endless road, he was already knocking on death's door once again. Hades would be just thrilled to see him…

But, surprisingly enough, Cloud didn't feel like dying at the moment. True, he was pretty sure he was dying from weeks of doing nothing but walk and walk and walk, never stopping, never resting, never eating or sleeping or thinking of anything else. However, it was an astounding thing—however distantly he felt it—for him to realize that, despite it all, he still wanted to live. Even with black stains on his hands, on his heart, in his eyes and in his words and thoughts, he wanted to keep going.

Life was still worth living. His light was still out there, and if he just kept searching for her, then maybe…maybe…

It was stupid, really, to become aware of all these things sitting against a pole in some forsaken area of a foreign world, exhausted and alone. It had been stupid to up and leave like that, to not even accept the offers for help, for friendship, for rest and companionship and a hint of what he had lost what felt like lifetimes ago. It had been stupid to let that boy go off on his own, into an abyss Cloud had come so close to losing himself in. It had been stupid to forget who he was, and why he couldn't let himself die.

"Yo, kid…you still alive?"

If Cloud had had the strength, he would have blinked in uncharacteristic confusion, but he focused all his will on simply looking up. At first he could only painfully squint into the brilliant sunset, gold and scarlet light flaring around the man bending down over him. After a moment, however, the rugged, shadowed face became clear, a relieved, angry grin and piercing blue eyes the color of the sky coming into view.

"Been lookin' for ya everywhere, runt," Cid said gruffly, offering a gloved, dusty hand. "Seems there's someone waitin' for ya back at Hollow Bastion."

Cloud wasn't sure if he smiled or not as he took Cid's hand in his own.

…Fin…

Fluffy? Yep. Perhaps a bit sappy? Oh yes. Is that alright? Why, yes it is. Cloud deserves a little happiness now and then, don't you think?

Rem-chan, 24th of December, 2005