Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing with them. Please don't sue.

Part one of the Manipulation Trilogy.



She came silently as always, a presence that was more felt than heard. Even when she was alive it was almost impossible for Cloud to predict her movements. Now, with all the spirits of the Lifestream behind her, Aeris was almost an enigma. Almost, because Cloud always knew her actions would be tempered by kindness.

"Aeris." The blond does not look, does not glance from the work in front of him. Even after six months of repairs the church where Aeris once had grown flowers looked like a war zone. Part of it had to do with finances; no one really had the money to spare for repairs on a building that wasn't needed for immediate use. Even with all the money they had found during their chase across the world looking for Sephiroth, AVALANCHE had issues making ends meet.

Of course part of that was due to the cost of having certain weapons forged and bikes made but that hadn't been a waste of money. No matter how much Tifa had nagged him about it when he had ordered them. They had saved his life; there was no question about that.

Aeris settled besides him, watching the young man carefully tend the few remaining flowers besides the still pool of water. They stayed that way for a few minutes until the spirit spoke again. "We have a request."

Cloud knew that when Aeris said "we" she really meant the Cetra. Other spirits rarely demanded anything of him but the Cetra seemed to see him as a type of guardian for the planet. Almost their successor in many ways. No one had asked him if he wanted that title but Cloud was used to just having to do things without being asked. He waited for Aeris to finish.

"It's…not pleasant." Aeris shifted, uncomfortable with her burden. That warned Cloud how terrible this request must be. "After what happened, we gathered together to discuss it. Sephiroth should never have been able to return; his soul should have dissolved. The Jenova cells still alive are keeping him…not sane, but still aware. There is a connection between them. Sephiroth's obsession with her keeps her cells alive and while they live, his wound cannot be healed."

"Then he will return again."

"As long as his connection is with Jenova, yes."

"Then what do you want me to do?"

"Sephiroth had other connections. If the bond was switched, with time Jenova's taint could be removed. Unfortunately, there is only one person left who was bonded with Sephiroth."

Cloud froze as his mind finally processed Aeris' words. "You want me to take Jenova's place in his mind!" How could they ask that! How could Aeris ask that? She of all people knew how much he had suffered under Sephiroth's control. How could she ask him to do that to another person, even if it was Sephiroth? He could never, ever do that.

"Cloud, I don't want to ask you to do this. But if something isn't done, Sephiroth will continue to come back no matter how many times you kill him. It could be tomorrow, it could be in two hundred years. One way or another he will return. Can we take that chance? The Planet has been through so much already; without some sort of control over him it may die next time."

She didn't utter the next sentence but Cloud could hear it anyway. "Will you have the blood of every living creature on the Planet on your hands?"

And yet Cloud couldn't bear to take up the mantle of master. The very though made his stomach churn. It had taken Tifa, the Lifestream, Aeris' death and a great deal of pain for him to break free of his own strings.

What right did he have to ensnare another in the same bonds?

What right did he have to refuse these forces this request, knowing the consequences of that denial?

Taking a deep breath, Cloud turned to look into those dark green eyes and quietly spoke his decision.