Well, this is my first note to you, the reader, and it will also be my last. That's right. This is the last chapter of my Cleris fanfic. Since everyone has been so supportive, I felt that you guys deserved to see me peak out a little bit from behind the curtain. Yes, there is a writer hiding underneath all the grammar and keystrokes. I'm sorry this part took me so long to write, but I wanted to make sure I got it just right. There aren't many chapters, but they're long, so that makes up for it, right?
Thank you so much, everyone that took the time to read this story. It's not very easy to write a 20,000 word story when you think that nobody is listening. I can't express my gratitude enough to everyone that wrote reviews or added this story to their favorites. All of you made that little difference that pushed me into writing chapter after chapter. Without your support, I might not have finished. Thank you so much. It means a hell of a lot to me (that's probably an understatement).
Sorry for any grammatical errors or typos thus far. I've been writing these chapters as quick as I can, and that doesn't leave much time for proofreading. I hope you enjoy the ending.
P.S. This chapter was edited November 1, 2006.
The moment a sliver of the sunrise peaked over the edge of the eastern horizon, Cloud packed his Fenrir. He was so close to his goal that his determination eroded his fatigue from the night before. Putting his sunglasses in place and mounting the Fenrir, something caught his attention. The first trace of the field: a baby daisy, healthy yellow, among the blades of grass. The flowers were starting to appear, so the field couldn't be too far off. The place where Aerith had promised to meet him if he might ever need her. A little smile now attached to his lips, he turned the Fenrir on, and started down the road.
After she had passed on, Cloud wasn't afraid of Aerith vanishing into memories. All throughout the battles, he had felt her there. She was there with them the whole time, and no one could question whether or not Aerith was watching over them. Back then, Cloud didn't have to worry about forgetting. It was a very comforting feeling for him, knowing that she was still there. And on that fated day, he sensed her love for everything swelling in the Lifestream that gushed over the planet as though her presence was still tangible.
But after the battle's end, Cloud finally found himself missing Aerith. He couldn't feel her like he had before. He feared that she was only existent in his memories, and insecurity made him wonder if she had ever loved him in the first place. All of his life, Cloud had been left alone again and again. Everyone who ever cared for him ended up abandoning him in one form or another, and now Cloud was enduring the pain of feeling like Aerith was lost to him. There were just too many things he was unsure of. Not knowing if she was only a memory meant the difference in whether or not he was alone once more.
Cloud squinted a little. Searching the distance for the field, he saw himself approaching an increasing popularity of yellow daisies. Even though his stomach was using its lining as an alternative food source, the thought of knowing the answers provided enough incentive to override his hunger. Even though he was ready to collapse from drowsiness, the possibility of finally seeing Aerith again gave him the energy to continue onwards. Maybe it was folly to think that she might be in the field waiting for him, but the promise of a slight probability was all he needed. Aerith had promised to meet him in the flower field. He still remembered that day.
He had been on his way back from a delivery, driving down the road on his Fenrir. Cloud was admiring the endlessness of a yellow flower field when an unavoidable impulse struck him. Something was compelling him to stop. Pulling over to the side of the road, he waited for any sort of signal. He closed his eyes, and a gentle vibration oscillated across his mind. It sounded like Aerith. It felt like Aerith.
If you ever need me, Cloud, I'll be here.
That's what he had felt her say. Or was it a dream? His imagination? Cloud didn't know what it had meant, and he didn't know if it was even real. But he had felt something, and that was plenty. The void left with Aerith's death in his patched-up heart could never be filled by anyone but her, and it was too painful to leave it hollow. Just seeing her once more, knowing that she loved him, would promise him that she wasn't wedged as a peg in his past. She wouldn't be just a memory. Her heart would still be nestled lovingly in his. He missed her. He had loved her. He still loved her...
The sun rose higher and higher in the sky as a determined Cloud refused to stop. It was mostly flowers now, so he couldn't have been too far off. Aerith... He was going to have the chance to see her again. Riding down the road, he tried to piece together what he might say to her. Aerith, I love you. I have always loved you. So I need to know, do you love me too? Although that probably would've been the most direct, appropriate approach, he knew that he was never going to mount the courage to actually say that to her. Would words even be necessary? He just wanted to feel her love. Sensing that would assure him that she was never gone to begin with. It didn't really matter. He would figure it all out as soon as he found her.
By the afternoon, all that was visible in every direction were the rolling hills of the countryside, infested with succulently scented daisies. He was here at last. Cloud pulled over to the side of the road, and shut off the engine of his motorcycle. He reached into his back pocket, and retrieved the beaten-up picture, worn down by creases and folds. Unfurling it, the image of the flower field doubled in his vision: the landscape in the picture and the actual one before him. Yes, this was the place that he had felt Aerith. The place he had documented by taking pictures and grabbing some flowers. But what now?
Suddenly reminded of his impending starvation, Cloud ate some of the food he had brought along with him. As he ate, he wondered what he could possibly expect to see here. Was Aerith just going to spring up out of the ground like a stretching seedling bathed in curls of Lifestream? Maybe her voice would enter his mind again. It's not as though it had never happened before, although it made him feel a little bit schizophrenic at the times he doubted her existence beyond his memories.
Watching the sun move steadily down the second half of its daily course, the hours passed in agony. He waited and waited until dark. Nothing. Not a voice, not her presence. What an idiot he was being... waiting for a ghost to show up in the middle of a flower field. He was so ashamed. How could he have been so stupid?
It was getting late, and he was very tired. As Cloud set up to camp for the evening, he battled with the cruelty of his fate. The fate that doomed him to fall in love with the most wonderful, amazing woman he had ever known only to have her taken away for eternity before he could even let her know how much he cared. He hated these thoughts. He hated what was now appearing to be the truth: Aerith was really gone. He was sentenced to forever live alone. She was only a memory now. Only a memory. Aerith existed only in a memory.
His vision couldn't penetrate anything through the dark by the time he lay down to sleep. She was gone. It didn't matter that destiny brought him crashing through a church roof to land upon her. It didn't matter that he had promised himself to cherish her that evening by Cosmo Candle. It didn't matter that they shared a night of fantasy and enchantment together below a glorious display of fireworks. It didn't matter that Cait Sith had predicted a future of romantic perfection for them. It didn't matter that she had entered his dreams to make a broken promise of her return. And it certainly didn't matter that he loved her. All that mattered was that Aerith was gone. Dead. Her spirit must've returned to the planet. Of course it had. How could he possibly think otherwise?
Benumbed against the torment, Cloud forced himself to fall asleep.
Follow my voice.
Don't let go. Follow my voice.
I hear you, Aerith. Where are you?
Follow my voice.
He was drawn into a blank world, colored only by the white and yellow lilies at his feet. The white sky pulsated with life. Brightness clouded his vision. This couldn't be genuine. It was too surreal. Was he... dreaming?
An ethereal hand grazed the pale surface of his cheek with its long fingertips. Cloud's entire body quivered with ease as all the pain released itself from the knots of anxiety twisted in his soul. He felt... warm, captivated by the unforgettable feeling of the angel affectionately caressing his anguish-tainted heart.
The blinding light subsided, and Cloud found himself wading through an ocean of Aerith's flowers. He had been here once before but only briefly. His eyes focused, and she was there. She was there, looking just as beautiful to him as she always had, wearing the same pink dress with the same satin ribbon in her hair. She smiled that same comforting smile she had shown Cloud countless times in the past, and she leaned in playfully, her hands clasped behind her back, that same way she always used to do it. This wasn't an ordinary dream. Aerith was really there.
Finally seeing her, he impulsively pulled her into an embrace. He hugged her, never wanting to let go, hoping to spend an eternity this close to her. Cloud couldn't have ever hoped for anything greater than to just be in this situation, holding her against him, her curves fitting against his shapely muscles perfectly. Aerith laughed cheerfully, and wrapped her arms around him in reply.
"Aerith..." he breathed into her honey-brown hair. A single tear seeped into the twisted strands of her braid. It was nothing but pure joy. His mind was cleansed of every thought except how much he had missed her. This is what he had been aching to do since the day he realized how much he really loved her. And now, they were finally together, holding one another as no force could pry them apart.
"I know, I know," she crooned lovingly. Her silver bangles clanked together as she rubbed his back, assuring him that it was alright. "You didn't think I would come for a minute there, did you?" He laughed in an uncharacteristic, jittery way. Cloud released his tight grip on Aerith, and examined her every inch with his eyes.
"It had been so long since I felt your presence. I thought... I thought you were just a memory," he said, choking on his nervousness. Smiling in empathetic pity, she cupped his face in her hands.
"What part of 'I know, I know' didn't you get?" she giggled. Aerith knelt down, and tended to the tender petals of her lilies. As she hummed that same melody she had hummed the day Sephiroth took her away, Cloud crouched down to her level, and sat in the flowers with her. Searching his mind for the words, Aerith spoke first.
"The flowers are beautiful, aren't they?" she whispered in admiration. "They grow because there's so much Lifestream in the field here."
"Is that how you're here now?" he asked. Wiping the pollen off her hands, she turned to face him.
"You don't understand, do you, Cloud?" she remarked with a bright smile. "No, I guess you wouldn't. If you did than you wouldn't be so upset all of the time. It's so like you to just doubt yourself." She reached out, and gently placed her hand over his heart. "I'm still here because... we're bound to each other. Haven't you felt it?"
"I thought I was bound to the memory of you," he said. He averted his eyes from her gaze so as to avoid his embarrassment.
"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of." She held the side of his jaw in her palm. "Hey... our bind can't be tarnished by anything... not even death. We'll be together one day, in the Promised Land. Until then, you know that I never really left you."
"I miss you every day," he confessed. The reminder of how it felt to not have her around made his voice crack slightly.
Aerith smiled at him, and she crawled into his arms, nestling her head against his chest. She held one hand close to her, and rubbed his arm with the other one. Cloud's cheeks burned as he felt her warm breath against his neck. It felt so comforting to have her there, but he still felt awkward receiving her affection. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close.
"Poor Cloud. Always forcing himself into darkness, right? Hey... why don't you just live the life we all care so much about?" she whispered. Cloud wasn't completely sure what she had meant, but his focus was on her warm body huddled against him.
"I don't live my life?"
"You don't share anything with your family. Not with Denzel, Marlene, Barret, and especially not Tifa. Why do you insist that you're alone even when you have so many people who care about you? That's not much of a life." Cloud bowed his head. He knew it was true. He reached up, and scratched the back of that spiky, blond head of his.
"I'm sorry. I just... miss you. I guess that's not much of an excuse." Aerith looked up at Cloud, still comfortable in his arms. He could almost see the memories of their time together swarming across her emerald eyes.
"If only you had spoken like this when I was alive," she mused with a laugh. "I've always been here. I've always been bound to you. Open your eyes, and you'll see that a lot of people care about you. Don't blind yourself to it." Entranced by the bewitching glow of her green eyes, Cloud reached down, and brushed a lock of her bangs away from her face.
"How can I tell them how I feel about you?"
"And how do you feel about me?" she teased. His face blushed a deep red hue, and he looked away from her. Aerith only laughed at his shyness. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Can I ask you something?" he said.
"Always," she whispered, her eyes shut as if she was drifting to sleep.
"What did you mean, we'll reunite in the Promised Land?"
"The Promised Land is different for everyone. You can't be told what or where it is, you just feel it. And you've felt it before, maybe you just don't remember. You will though. When you eventually return to the Planet, and we're together again, you'll know what the Promised Land is."
"I hope you're right," he said quietly.
"And now," Aerith paused as she got to her feet, Cloud following her example. "...You have to go back."
"No, not yet. I just... is this the end? I still need to... I need you," he said as he hid the desperation of his plea. Aerith smiled again, staring into his mako-infused eyes, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"There you go again, acting like I'm going to disappear. We'll be able to be together one day, I promise."
"You promised in that dream that you'd come back from the Forgotten City..." he mumbled.
"And I did. I was always with you. All I want is for you to live. Do me that favor... okay?" Cloud's head sank in agreement, but there was still something that had been lingering on his mind for many years now.
"Aerith, I... I..." He couldn't bring himself to say it. He was still far too nervous, even after all this time he had been wishing that he could tell her. She smiled weakly.
"I love you too, Cloud," she said. Cloud's eyes shot forward, and his heart melted. This was the solace he had been waiting for. She... loved him.
Aerith pulled him close, and kissed him softly. His eyes eased shut, and he wrapped his arms around her waist. He felt the world disintegrate, and all of his senses withered away.
I'm always with you...
Opening his eyes, Cloud found that it was morning now. The daisies smothering his vision were moist with dew, and the sunrise turned the sky into a pale pink watercolor painting. He sat up, and sighed. It was time to go home now. He packed his things, and left the flower field.
Cloud rode with the wind in his face. Aerith loved him. He loved her. That alone was all he would ever need to keep going. He had never been in the absence of his flower girl because their love had always bound their hearts. Cloud had a life to live, and he would share it with his family and the woman he loved, her consciousness still active inside his own. No boundary could sever the bind between them.
Still blissfully numb with the dream from the night before, Cloud suddenly remembered a moment so irenic in his past. A moment he could fall into all over again...
The journey was done. The battle was over. Sephiroth's will broke apart, and melded with the Lifestream. The burden slushed, and slipped off his shoulders. His mind was soothed and his head was turned up towards the sky, watching the last gasp of Sephiroth's red energy sputter and splash into the darkness.
It was all done now. He had defeated Sephiroth. After five years of searing with hate, his conflict was done, and he could be at peace. Yet, he was still alone. And Aerith... was still gone.
Green, almost azure, beams of the planet's energy encircled Cloud, wrapping around his entire body, and bursting into effervescent dust. Bubbles of Lifestream fluttered about him.
"...Lifestream?" Cloud whispered to himself. The waves of spirit energy vanished, and the everything turned pale. Lost in a sea of white splendor, he felt a loving presence reaching down to him, trying to guide him back to reality. His chest felt hollow, and his lungs were satiated with his melted heart. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked, but he felt warm and calm. Every wound he carried, from the battles, the moments of desperation, and his smashed love, was soothed and polished by warmth. He recognized this feeling instantly, and his heart filled with hope and promise. Aerith...
He reached upwards, happily and desperately believing in this impossible dream. Her long, feminine arm broke through the fog of his mind, and reached down to him. And he smiled.
Reality shook under him. Tifa was there, calling his name, trying to tell him that the ground beneath him was collapsing. The ground under her crumbled. Reacting as quickly as he could, he ran and caught her, grasping onto the edge of the cliff to save them both.
They dangled there for a moment, Tifa clinging to his side.
"I think I'm beginning to understand," Cloud said, his head bowed.
"What?" Tifa asked. For that brief moment in which he and Aerith reached for each other, Cloud had felt completely at peace with everything. There for that brief moment, he was swallowed by absolute serenity. Maybe... the Lifestream had carried his mind into the Promised Land, a land of eternal happiness and lushness. Maybe... the Promised Land brought Aerith to him. Maybe... Aerith was all he needed to be happy.
"An answer from the planet..." he began. "The Promised Land... I think I can meet her... there."