One final time: I own nothing.
This is for all of you. Thank you for your company.
Darling, I don't wanna learn
to bear the other side of you.
Oh, darling, I just keep on loving the one,
the one I knew,
the one I knew.
Cloud was lying on his back in the flower bench of Aeris's church in Midgar. It was the first time he had dared to come here after their return to the metropolis. For months he had been successfully avoiding the place, circling around it on his way to wherever he needed to go, or waiting outside for Aeris and Zack. The flower girl had managed to coax the flowers back into full bloom –and then some- and her strengthened connection to the Lifestream had made the church a place where she could now easily talk with her birth mother.
She believed that, if anywhere in Midgar, this was the place he needed to be for this.
The scent of the flowers around him was almost intoxicating. It was so easy to just close his eyes and relax, let every muscle in his body settle down and his mind wander while his fingers, deep in the living earth, anchored him securely into the real world. Let all the nervousness just go.
"It's been a year now, since you left me. It's taken me a long time to figure everything out. What was real, what was Hojo's lies. Where you ended and that… general from ShinRa started. I'd already grieved for you once, before Wutai. So it doesn't seem fair that I'm still hurting. I'm sure you wouldn't want that, but I can't help it. Not today, at least."
His voice was soft enough that a person standing next to the reclining spellcaster couldn't have heard him. The soft murmur from people moving and walking outside the church was louder, even when it barely reached him through the not-so-sturdy walls.
The slums had certainly changed since he'd first come here. The area seemed cleaner for one, even if just a little bit. Apparently the attack on the HQ had brought many of the slum dwellers together like never before, and after returning to their homes they had taken upon themselves to make it a better place to live in. It was a nice change, one of the most noticeable ones in Midgar. But not the only one. Two reactors were working at only half capacity, and two more were scheduled to follow their example within the next month. The company was working towards finding other forms of energy, and eventually they would be closing down all of the reactors. It wouldn't happen soon, probably not in the next decade even, but it was a start.
"I don't blame you for what he did. You should know that, but you were always a bit at a loss on what to feel guilty for and what not. Not like I am much better. But just to make it clear, I don't blame you. I was hoping… I still do… that things could have ended differently. That you would have been real, and stayed by my side. Following you out of this world seems like a better idea some days than staying here on my own. Even when I'm not alone. I mean, Zack and Aeris are with me. Cid, Vincent and Elmyra are here as well. But I'm still alone when you're not by my side."
The way home had turned out to be longer than they had thought. It had taken a long time and many phone calls from Tseng before they could head over to Wutai's capital without fear of being killed. It took even longer to get the ShinRa soldiers to retreat and leave the Wutaians alone. Longer still to get the HQ in order and Rufus flown in, to take over after his father. And the paperwork for getting all the troops out of Wutai… they had thought it would never be done.
Once peace reigned again, the airship had brought Yuffie and the children back to Wutai. The young girl took her position as the leader solemnly, and had soon eagerly started to get people working on bringing the country back to its old glory. Basically all surviving Peacemakers, including their friends, had stayed back to help; the masters had decided to start their new headquarters here.
"We left Wutai a few months after Yuffie returned with the kids. It just seemed to be the time to leave. And it was good to finally get away from… all those… memories. Zack had nightmares for months. Pretty much until we left. So did I, when I managed to sleep. That reminds me. Your mom's doing fine. As well as can be expected, at least. A lot of people were hurt in the battles, but surprisingly few died because Godo surrendered so soon. Rufus, the new President ShinRa, has agreed to leave the island alone. He's not a bad guy, I guess.
"We got a lift to Midgar with an airship. Elmyra was still here, and we wanted to check out what had happened. Tseng had come back the first chance he'd got, to make sure Rufus could come back."
They'd found Cid, Vincent and Elmyra in the house she and Aeris had lived in. The garden was radiant as ever, and the house was freshly painted to light yellow. Cid had pounced on them from the second floor window he had been fixing, taking down both Cloud and Zack in his glee at seeing them again. He had admitted to being a little drunk.
Elmyra had gushed over them all, Aeris the longest, and stuffed them full of tea, cake and cookies while Cid explained their parts in bringing down ShinRa. Zack had then told the three something of their adventures in Wutai, but most of it had still been too painful to be shared. The listeners understood, and didn't push the matter. There would be time to talk of it all.
"Since then we've been living here in the slums, helping with all the rebuilding that's going on. I really don't know whether all this will ever amount to anything, or whether Rufus will forget his pretty promises, and people will be lulled back to thinking that that's the way things should be. But for now, things are changing. So I guess I did something right back in Wutai when I broke the pig's neck.
"It's been really busy here, there's always something to fix or someone to help. So that's why I haven't really gotten a chance to… talk to you. No. That's not right. I've been avoiding doing this. It still hurts, knowing that you're gone. I don't even know if you can hear me. Aeris thinks so. It gets a bit easier, every day. Aeris and Zack are a big help. They're really happy together, and good for each other. With the house so full they don't get too much time alone. I try to tell them to enjoy it when they can, but they still insist on dragging me along to where ever they go. It's… kind of nice."
Tseng had invited them to visit the HQ one day, and they had got to meet the new President. He looked only a little like his father, and from first impression it was clear the appearance was the biggest thing the two men had in common. All the other three Turks had survived the slum mutiny, even though Reno did walk with a limp and Elena had several burn scars. It had been amusing to see Reno wobbling fast in the opposite direction when he'd spotted Cid and Vincent.
They had also met two of Rufus's executives, a man called Reeve who had been working under the last President but was only too happy with his new boss. The other man, called Barret, had seemed very uncomfortable in his tidy suit, and his swearing after Rufus had left the small group was enough to make several pairs of ears burn. Cid had introduced him as one of the leaders of the slum mutiny; indeed, Barret had been taken into the company to make sure that the people in the slums were not forgotten. He was certainly very passionate about his part, even when he had very strong opinions on where Rufus could stick his dress code.
"We've been talking about leaving. I mean, Zack, Aeris and me. We've been here a long time. Zack's getting bored. You know what he's like. Midgar's not going to need us here. We've done enough. So, umm… since it's been a year, and if we're leaving soon… I figured I can't put this off much longer."
Hojo's laboratory had been emptied as one of the first things done while fixing up the ShinRa tower. All his specimens had either been set free or put down. Most were barely sentient, but there had been a few exceptions. According to Reeve, one of them had been a large red creature resembling a cross between a wolf and a lion, which had actually thanked them kindly when he'd been set free.
ShinRa, as everyone had known it, was no longer.
"When… when you died. It hurt so much, that I think that if I had seen you go, I would have followed. Even when it wasn't you. I'm… I'm still remembering all the things we talked about. All those dreams. I didn't know how I could go on for the longest time. I still… I mean…"
He was crying now, had been for a good while already. This was why he had been avoiding the church. It really was a holy place, and he couldn't hide his pain anymore. Everything was coming out, whether he wanted to or not.
"We never got to say goodbye. So. Umm. If you can hear me… please… Sephiroth… it would mean the world to me, to hear your voice. Just one more time."
It felt like he was drifting, even when his back was firmly on the soft earth. When he opened his eyes a little the flowers seemed to tower over him. They were just brightly coloured blurs in the sudden light that filled the church. There was a warm breeze, sunlight on his skin, sound of water slipping lazily past him in his ears. It was all impossible; he was inside a building beneath the Midgar plate. There was no real sunlight here. No natural water running. No wind.
Cloud blinked his eyes a couple of times to clear the tears away, and the bright world turned green. Green as the Lifestream. Green as Sephiroth's eyes. And for a moment the love of his life was there, laying on his chest, looking into his eyes, smiling at him. Sephiroth's silvery hair fell around them, forming a curtain between them and the flowers, hiding the two of them in their own little world.
"I miss you, Seph…"
'We'll be together again.'
Cloud had no more words, not when those ethereal lips pressed ever so gently on his. He closed his eyes, feeling warm, loved and safe. Happy.
"Cloud? You ok?"
The spellcaster started awake, blinking away tears old and new. Zack's violet eyes were right in front of him, an unsure smile on that tanned face of his.
"Uh," was the blond's eloquent answer. It made the fighter laugh and stand up a bit straighter.
"Sorry. You've been here a long time. Aeris sent me to get you. Dinner's almost done."
"Oh. Okay." Cloud muttered, clearing his throat and wiping his eyes dry. He offered Zack a smile when the taller man pulled him up.
"So I take it that things went well?" the fighter asked carefully, fussing over him, dusting off his clothes, letting his hands linger on the spellcaster a little longer than the simple cleaning gestures required.
Cloud nodded, not ready to talk about it yet.
"Cool." Zack said and grinned. The nod was all he needed to know. "So hey, Aeris and I were thinking. How about we head to North Corel? It's just a small hike from there to Nibelheim, you know…"
"Zack, no. Mom would kick my ass for not getting back sooner." Cloud shook his head, smiling a little.
"Well, all the better to go there as soon as we can then! The longer you wait, the harder your punishment."
"Hmm…" Cloud hummed and they fell silent, pondering their options.
"We don't have to decide now. We're free to go anywhere. Sky's the limit." Zack said with an easy grin as he threw an arm around Cloud's shoulder. The blond nodded and they walked out of the church, back home where Aeris was waiting for them.
Sephiroth had disappeared as soon as he had opened his eyes again. But it was all right.
They would see each other again.
A.N: The end. Wheee! It's… kind of happy, right? Thank you for reading, thank you for the comments. Hugs, flowers, Zack's and cookies to all of you!
Lyrics from 'Darling' by Your Friend George.
Reflections 17.2.2003 - 15.11.2007