Path of Repentance

Chapter 1: Prelude

By Vermillion Dragoness

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine! Everything relating to Final Fantasy VII belongs to Squaresoft. New world is my twisted version ;)

Feb/16/06: Edited

Sept/22/06: Editied again. And I'm back:) And After finally coming back, I've fixed some nagging problems that having a more objective view gave me. Hope this draft is better! (and my last! )

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He was floating. Weightless. That was the first feeling he became aware of. His arms were loose at his sides and his legs bent slightly at the knees. It was both soft and comforting, this feeling. Soothing his weary mind. In relief he also noticed he wasn't in pain anymore. No muscles burning with exhaustion, no wounds burning where he'd been cut, no lungs burning in their need for oxygen.

Why was he suddenly reminded of fire? And a figure in the flames...

Wait.

What had he been doing before this?

He remembered a fight, though he didn't know whom it was with. The fire-person maybe? He'd been angry, that was undeniable. But he'd also felt sad? Or was it pity? And also ... excitement? Had the resentment really been that strong? He didn't know. Determination had overwhelmed all his conflicting emotions.

His train of thought was derailed when he realized he was falling, hair brushing softly against his forehead. But at the same time, it still felt like he was floating on something. Was it water? No, it was too thick for that. Could it be...?

What happened to the man he'd been fighting, anyway? How had he ended up here? There had been an explosion. Right. Then … shouldn't there be pain? Or was he … dead? With that last thought, he felt sick with fear that he'd really died, that he'd lost, that he'd failed to protect them. Again.

His whole world suddenly exploded in burning, white hot pain. It hurt everywhere. He couldn't think, let alone scream. If he so much as twitched a finger the pain would shoot up his arm. Burning. His very skin was on fire.

The panic passed. He did his best to push the pain to the back of his mind. He was pleasantly surprised when he forced it to a slightly manageable level. Enough to think, if not move. When had he learned this trick? The pain was too familiar, even the floating feeling was familiar. The only difference was the comfort he could still sense, even through the sudden pain. He forced his eyes open in a desperate attempt to distract himself, hoping for something (or was it someone?) whose presence would ease his pain.

Who he was hoping so desperately to see? … He couldn't remember.

White. That was all he saw. Not a blinding white. Just… White. Shouldn't it be green? No. This was different, he reminded himself. And that someone he'd been hoping to see was no longer alive. So why did he think he'd see 'him.'

At least he remembered 'him' now.

He closed his eyes again, struggling against the sudden rush of emotions and memories. Memories that he'd tried so hard to bury. Of glass cages and Green. Always Green. Of needles and of pain. Of cold, prodding hands and of a cold, calculating voice. He'd blocked it all out so well last time. A little too well, really. Because he'd lost himself to the voices in the mako and … and he'd also forgotten 'him'. His first true friend. Although he wasn't sure if what he'd gone through to get that friend was worth it. They'd only been friends in passing before 'then'. No… that was unfair.

Zack had always considered him a good friend.

His train of thoughts was derailed again when he suddenly felt a hand on his forehead, and the pain that before was only slightly manageable, faded into a dull ache in the back of his mind.

Suddenly remembering the boy who'd died in his arms. And who'd called out to his mother as he became part of the Lifestream, Cloud questioned, "Mother?" Afraid to open his eyes and prove the lie.

"Again?" a hauntingly familiar voice answered. "I wonder, how many times have I been called 'Mother' today." How he'd missed that playful, teasing voice. I'm sorry, he tried to say. But he was too chocked up. His throat refused to work.

"What's wrong with it? Being dearly loved and all." A different, but just as painfully familiar, voice said. A voice that he never thought he'd hear again. I'm sorry. I tried. Please, forgive me. He wanted to beg. Now afraid to open his eyes, when before he'd been so desperate to open them.

"I don't need such a big child like him." She said lightly.

"Too bad." 'His' voice teased, "She said, there's no place for you here."

At that, his eyes shot open in surprise. No! Please, let me stay with you! The hand on his forehead was taken away, and he stared desperately up at her, pleading with her not to send him away. By sheer force of will he was able to remain, frantically fighting the pull that was trying to take him away from them.

There's no place for me back 'there' either, he tried to convey with his eyes what he couldn't with his voice.

She looked back at him in surprise, clearly not expecting his sudden resistance. Beside her, he could make out the faded, washed-out image of a man; the large sword strapped to his back standing out, clear and sharp.

"Go home and rest, Cloud." she soothed, "Your family is waiting for you, you know." He didn't want to be reminded of that, because as Tifa said, you couldn't call them a real family. Although, sometimes… sometimes he wondered if the feelings he had when he thought of them, were what someone from a real family would have.

"Did you think we wouldn't wait for you?" the other voice teased, bringing him out of the depressing turn his thoughts had taken. "You still owe me that sparring match!" Sympathy softened his voice as he continued, "Don't tell me you forgot!"

Cloud cringed at that. He had forgotten. On the way to Nibelhiem, Zack had promised to tutor him. To help him get better so that, even though he could never become a Soldier, he could still protect people. So that he could one day return home and fulfill at least part of his promise to Tifa.

"Just worry about yourself now, Cloud." He knew she was trying to put his mind at ease, to tell him it was over. But ... Was it really over? Despite Aerith's assurance, he just couldn't accept it. He still felt like he hadn't settled his past. 'His' final promise echoing too strongly in his mind.

The force he felt on his mind, trying to draw him away from them abruptly cut out. Leaving him slightly disoriented as the world around them took on a light green tint. A colour that, oddly enough, reminded him of what Holy had looked like as it swept over the Planet towards Meteor.

"What?" Aerith said. Her voice, full of confusion and shock, brought his attention shooting back to her. Watching in concern as she stared intently at some point in the distance.

"What's going on?" Asked Zack, sounding just as confused as himself. When Cloud glanced in his direction, he was shocked to see Zack's form fading away.

"No! He belongs here!" she exclaimed, speaking to a voice only she could hear, and moving to cradle his head in her arms as she said it.

"Aerith! What's happening?" he heard Zack, unable to see him at all now, besides a faint outline of his sword.

"It's Holy!" She was desperate now. Clutching him as if his life depended on it.

Holy?

"They're using it," Who's using it..? he thought in alarm, having to struggle to focus on her voice. "Using it to pull him to them." But Holy's only purpose was to protect the planet from Meteor. Wasn't it? If an Ancient's prayer reached the planet. Right?

"Them?" Zack questioned, voice now as faint as his image, despite the panic in his voice. "Pulling him to where?"

He could feel it now. A gentle tug on his mind. Asking (or was it begging?) for his help. He was struck by how sad and lonely the voice felt, as if it had no hope. Something in the voice conveying to him that, after this, it would have nothing. Except despair. There was something else about the voice, something that made him struggle to listen, even as his mind started to feel like it was becoming lost in a fog.

"No! Cloud, hold on! You don't belong there! They're lying! Don't listen to them!"

Them? He didn't understand. All he could hear was one voice. One startling and painfully familiar voice. Not promising him anything, just begging him to help it. To save it. I already failed the two people I care about the most. He told the voice. Why do you think I'm fit to help you? It didn't answer, but he felt the pull suddenly gain strength. A feeling of desperate hope and need driving the sudden increase.

"Cloud!" Aerith called. Her voice almost lost in the haze his mind was in. It was desperate, and he could faintly feel her trying to maintain her grip on him. It was then, when he heard her cry out to him, that he realized why the other voice was so familiar. The last of his resistance to the other voice faded away with this recognition, and he vowed to help the owner of that voice. Protect it if he could. Save it if he could. And, if he succeeded, maybe he could finally forgive himself.

"Cloud!"

Because the voice that he now felt himself spiraling towards, and the voice that was calling his name, rapidly getting fainter and fainter with each call...

Were the same.

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A/N: I was going to call this "Otherworld" but then I remembered Jade Tatsu's "The Other World." Which is also a Parallel U. fic, and that just felt too much like copying. "The Complete Opposite" by Duchess of Darkness, is what also inspired me to write this (caused a plot bunny infestation that just wouldn't go away!). I'll be using elements of her story that caught my imagination and I recommend you read both stories; if you haven't already:)

So what do you think? Caught your interest at all? Any constructive criticism (like rewordings, or general tips for example) would be very very very appreciated! Or just let me know if I was able to get something across well. Pretty please! puppy eyes

This is my very first story I've had the guts to post so let me know what you think!