Summary: Perhaps he had given up on everything else, but he would never, never give up on her. He hadn't the right to. Cloud and Aerith speak between the lines at the Bastion.
Disclaimer: KH and KHII, and everything they entail, belong to Disney and Square Enix. I only own this writing. The quotes are taken directly from the games.
AN: So, I'm a huge C/T fan, and I had to do a victory dance and write this after the conversation at Hollow Bastion. I hope you enjoy it.
Cloud pushed off from the wall. It was time to go. He had had his brief reprieve, and he didn't even deserve that much. At least he had seen the other survivors, before he left. And then her voice came, and he found himself stopping.
"Is something wrong?" she asked. He knew her head was cocked to the side, and she wore a half smile, because it was what Aeris would be doing. He squeezed his eyes shut. Aeris was dead. Aeris was one of the countless people he'd failed, and this clone, this Aerith, was a constant reminder of them all.
"Uhh," Sora started, sounding as though he'd rather be anywhere else at the moment. Cloud could understand; he'd had his share of moments like that.
"It's nothing," he interrupted, before Sora had to say anything. She 'hmmed' him. That… that fake, the creation sent to torment him, had the nerve to 'hmm' him. "I don't want you involved." It came out more pleading than he had intended, but he didn't think that he could bear to watch her die again, unable to save her. Just like Zach, Vincent, Barrett… just like everyone else.
"You mean you don't want me there when you go away again?" It wasn't a question, not really, but he found that he couldn't speak for a moment. No, he didn't want her to come, because he would never find anyone if she was there. Whenever she was around, he could only picture Aeris, collapsed on the ground and surrounded by a pool of her own blood, and do anything to keep history from repeating itself.
"I just-" He paused and sighed. He couldn't say it. He couldn't let Sora see how badly he had failed. "Listen, even if I go far away, I'll come back."
"Do you mean it?" He blinked languidly. She knew him too well. Was he really that transparent? He wouldn't come back, not if he hadn't found her. Tifa. He'd finally found her again, back with Avalanche, when everything had seemed so simple, only to lose her again. He would find her, or die trying, and Aerith knew it as well as he did.
He looked away from her, unable to face her as he told the bald-faced lie. "Yeah."
She smiled again. "See? You don't look so sure." He sighed. He didn't want Sora to hear this conversation. The kid reminded him of his younger self, and he didn't want him to know how he, Cloud, had lost his best friend, his Tifa. He didn't deserve the vindication that kept being thrust upon him. He didn't deserve it at all. "Well, okay, I understand. Go-- get things settled."
"Huh?" he asked, turning back to her in surprise. She was telling him… to go? He felt a sudden rush of gratitude to her. Maybe, just maybe, she understood. Understood that he'd give up anything and everything just to see that smile once more.
"No matter how far away you are… once you find your light… I'm sure it will lead you back here again. Right?" She smiled at him, and he felt his lip twitch and his eyes water just a bit despite himself.
He wanted to thank her, to explain that when he found her she would want to come here, if only to see Yuffie and Cid and Squall and this clone of Aeris once more. But he couldn't say it, because Sora would know for sure if he did. He remembered a conversation in a coliseum ages ago…
--"I'm looking for someone. Hades promised to help. I tried to exploit the power of darkness, but it backfired. I fell into darkness, and I couldn't find the light."
--"I'm looking for my light too…"
Sora had found his, if even for a few moments, but he, Cloud, was still searching, and he would not stop until he found her. "I suppose."
Her smile widened. "So I'll stay here—and I'll cheer for you. Okay, Cloud?"
"Okay," he said, and turned into the sunset. She loved the sunset, he mused. We used to sit here, and she'd talk about growing up and opening her own bar and meeting hundereds of extraordinary people every day… Tifa… I'm coming.
Aerith sighed as she watched him walk off. "Do you think he'll be okay?" she asked Sora absentmindedly. If she was Aeris, she knew, she'd be able to help him. But she couldn't. Aeris was dead, and she was all that remained, and Aerith had no place in helping Cloud. She knew it as well as she knew her name, and she hated it.
"Of course he will!" Sora exclaimed, attempting to reassure her.
"He'd better be," she whispered under her breath. "For Tifa's sake."
Far away, a brunette young woman awoke with a start. "Cloud," she murmured, and a slight smile crossed her face.
--"When you find your light…"