Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is property of Square-Enix.
Foreword: Ever wonder what happens to the human mind when it's put in a comatose state? Do people dream or do they remain defunct? When Cloud gets shot by Yazoo in Advent Children and the entire place blows up, Cloud disappears until he reemerges, floating in the water in Aeris' church. But what happened during the state of limbo? Inspired by an extremely talented author that has a story on my favorites, this is a different approach to what might have occurred.
Depth is the key here and nearly everything is laced with meaning, metaphor and symbolism. If you're willing to swallow some obscurity, then this is for you but if you're looking for quick, denotative thrills, go elsewhere. The writing style will be completely different from the rest of my stories, written in the present tense, with a limited third person narrative to give off a dream-like state in which I'm trying to capture here.
The House On Top Of the Hill
PRIMUS – Turbatio
Blue eyes sparkle and emanate various intricate degrees of emotion and thought. They blink once, the cascading twilight allowing them to drink the surroundings in all their nightly glory.
The pale white crescent suspended peacefully in the sky reflects back, acknowledging the man, the lone observer, awake in this silent night as he watches from the confines of the warm house, behind mute, transparent glass.
Another single flutter of the eyelids as he continues gazing silently at his surroundings ahead.
It is another one of these nights for him. Another full of questions. Full of uncertainty. Wonder. Bewilderment. Confusion. Curiosity.
A thirst for answers to many overriding questions. Questions that continue to gnaw in the back of the young man's mind as he struggles for some purpose. For some explanation. For some reason. For understanding.
The quaint little town sits bathed in the glow of the peaceful, nurturing moonlight as it breathes softly, for the day has passed and the night takes its current turn to provide watch over the slumbering community.
Behind the glass, he continues to watch the simple, delicate streets with homes lined up side by side. All dark now. All housing their respective tenants. All resting peacefully.
It is then that his eyes travel up, over the surrounding homes and far off towards the hill in the distance, resting on the house. The lone and mysterious, one story, simple gray brick house that seems to stand far and away from everything else. Isolated from society, it emits a powerfully unnatural aura, as if attempting to lure and draw him in with its viciously toxic scent.
He brings an open palm up against the smooth glass, as if reaching out to touch the house. For as long as he can remember while being here, the tiny home has fascinated him. He has always wished to venture inside but the town has made it perfectly clear that both the hill and the house perched on top are completely off bounds for anyone and it is strictly forbidden to make the trip to the area.
He does not know why for the warnings are vague and very general. He is simply told to stay away as with the rest of the citizens. It has become a standard the town has come to accept.
His brows furrow for a moment as his unblinking eyes take in the sight of the house. There is something strange about it. He knows it, yet is helpless to find out.
A voice is quick to break his thoughts.
"Cloud." Her concerned tone is apparent as it shakes him out of his reverie. He slowly turns around, his outline barely visible to her in the darkness of the house.
"You should go back to sleep Aeris." He attempts to ease her worries.
"I will if you will Cloud. What is it sweetie? Is it the nightmares again?" She cocks her head to the side and he can make out a worried expression on her perfect face.
"Yes." He replies quietly with no hint of emotion. It always is the same story. The nightmares, they never disappear. They are a normal occurrence.
Random, fractured images of undecipherable events that always shoot him awake in the dead of night. Most of the time, they are new and different but some are a common occurrence.
A great warrior brandishing a long sword, standing amidst flames in a burning village. His face is always blurred however.
A dark, spiky haired soldier capable of hoisting a metallic blade far too large for a normal human, sitting in the back of a truck talking to someone. His face, blurred as well, is obscured from view.
An abomination that appears to have human characteristics, yet isn't quite.
A giant meteor looming overhead in the sky. Soon, it crashes with a great white light, accompanied by a strange green mist.
Three striking silver haired men on motorcycles.
For as long as he can consciously remember, he's suffered from these attacks on a daily basis and night after night, he finds himself in the same place by the window, staring outwards towards nothingness. Towards perfection.
And there lies the problem he realizes. What has been causing this uneasy temperament that has been itching in the back of his mind for as long as he can remember while residing here. That suffocating vibe that has grabbed hold of him and is unwilling to let go, to grant him peace and complacency and truly set him free. He feels the roots that have chained him down, unwilling to ease up on their iron grip.
Why is everything so perfect? Why? He strives for an answer to that and yet it drives him on edge to be unable to find any closure to that riddle.
Most people would be content with their current state, blissful in this setting one would deem a paradise. So why isn't he?
Because something is wrong. Something is off. He knows it yet doesn't know where to begin to combat this invisible force blinding him from some unforeseeable truth.
She's perfect. The house is perfect. The whole town is perfect. Everything is…
"Perfect…" He mutters absent-mindedly, a wave of uneasiness sweeping over him.
"Cloud?" Aeris steps closer, her hand reaching out to take his as she rubs it gently. "What's perfect?"
His haunted wide eyes look up from their clasped hands and towards her flawless face. "Nothing." He immediately realizes his leaked thoughts. "Nothing at all." Putting on a fake smile that succeeds in fooling the concerned female, he squeezes her hand softly, assuring her that everything is indeed fine. "Nothing at all. I'm fine. I just wanted to be alone for a while."
Aeris studies him for a moment before responding. "Cloud, I think you should go see Yuffie tomorrow and talk to her about these dreams of yours. She can help you sort this out. What do you think?"
He smiles hollowly. "I'm fine. Really. Just a little tired."
Aeris nods, bringing up the other hand to cup his cheek. "Come back to sleep then."
He nods as well. "I will. In a bit. I'll just be down here for a few more moments."
"Oh." Aeris appears thoughtful for a moment. "Would you like me to stay with you in your room tonight? I can keep you company if you're having trouble sleeping. After all, I am The Fidus Achates."
"No." Something in those last words triggers Cloud to reply abruptly. Perhaps a little too abruptly. He realizes his harsh tone and immediately apologizes to the surprised woman. "I mean, no thanks Aeris, I'll be fine by myself. I'm sorry. I just haven't slept well in a while so if I sounded harsh there-"
She hushes him by putting a finger to his lips. "It's alright Cloud. You don't have to explain to me. I just want you to be happy. Aren't you happy here?"
He finds the lie he is about to tell far easier than originally anticipated. "Yes. I am."
She smiles sweetly and reaches up, planting a gentle kiss on his cheeks. "I'll see upstairs in a few minutes then okay?"
He nods silently as he watches her figure disappear as it ascends up the steps before turning back towards the window.
He now realizes that there is something wrong for sure.
When she asks him if he is happy, his body goes numb from the sudden realization that he is struck with. When has he ever been happy? In fact, when is the first memory he can conjure of this place?
There is no childhood to reflect back on, no past events that have taken place. Nothing. He is simply here and he cannot recall how or why, nor can he find a definitive moment of when he arrived. The thought disturbs him and he feels as if he's on to something but he is simply too tired right now.
Feeling a powerful migraine emerging from the various, complicated thoughts swimming inside his head, he decides that it is perhaps best to simply go to sleep for the night. A state of relaxation will possibly do him good and ease up his disheveled mind.
He glances back out towards the encompassing silent town bathed in the moonlight.
Everything is perfect. No, not everything. Nearly everything.
Except for one tiny small blemish…
The house on top of the hill.
Cloud comes down in the morning to find Aeris sitting alone by the table, quietly sipping on a warm mug of coffee as she gazes blankly out the window.
"Good morning." He interrupts her thoughts. The words, he doesn't truly mean them. It is just a formality on his part.
Aeris turns to peer at him, her lips curving up into a radiating smile. "How did you sleep afterwards?"
"Good." He lies once more.
She nods in acceptance. "Coffee? Tea? Would you like me to make you some breakfast?"
He is slow to reply, in an almost mechanical way. "Sure." She gets up and begins preparing the course of the meal, her back turned to him as she moves around the sink. Cloud stares at her, slightly enamored, slightly perplexed at the confusion hounding his mind. He breathes in a deep breath, sighing outwards with the same weight. "Aeris?"
She doesn't bother turning around. "Yes?"
He is tentative to say what he will next. "Does- do you ever feel as if, as if this place, all if it, is fake?"
She immediately pauses what she is doing and turns around slowly, a disturbed expression on her face. "Fake?" She cocks her head to the side in question. "Fake? What do you mean? Fake how?"
There is no use in walking away now. He has already come out with it. "I mean, as if the world you're living in isn't real. Maybe it's…" He snorts slightly at the silliness of the next statement. "As if it's all a conjecture of your imagination?"
Aeris appears taken aback at the content of the question. "N- no. I mean, why? Why would it be?"
He pauses to collect himself for the upcoming question. "Aeris, do you remember how I got here?"
She laughs nervously, her eyes shooting back and forth between his. "Cloud, don't be silly. We all grew up here. You and I are best friends. We've been living together since we graduated from grade school."
Arching an eyebrow up in wonder, she chuckles again. "Cloud? I asked you to live with me when you were 18. I was 19 and everyone was talking about it because of how I was older."
The next question seems to startle her. "How old am I?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"How… old… am I?" His words seem fractured, as if lost in memory. His face appears to have taken on a pained look.
She seems slightly afraid. "Cloud, you're being ridiculous. I'm not goi-"
"Aeris how old am I?" He shouts, surprising even himself, sending the woman a step back.
"23. You're 23 Cloud. Jesus, are you alright?" Aeris' face transforms to one of worry as she slowly comes up to Cloud and caresses his cheek with a smooth palm. "Honey, are you feeling okay?"
He shrugs. "Never mind. It's nothing. Just one of those contemplative moments regarding existentialism."
"Are you sure."
A lengthy pause. "Yes."
Aeris lets out a melodious laugh, half bringing music to his ears and half frightening him to the core. "I think you're just hungry and need to wash up." Cloud feels as if she's hiding something but he can't be sure. "Go freshen up and I promise when you come back down, the food will be ready."
He is not even remotely satisfied with her replies but a certain part of him urges on letting the matter go. "Okay." With that, he begins to move towards the stairs.
"Cloud?" She calls back.
He pauses and turns. "Yes?"
A faint smile. "We'll… go out today. Maybe some fresh air will do you good."
He doesn't bother objecting before continuing upstairs. "Sounds fine."
The town is jovial, out and alive this fine morning as Cloud walks side by side with Aeris around the simple paved streets.
He notices several small children running around, enthralled by a game of tag as locals commence with their daily routines, some shopping, some socializing with spouses, friends and family, and some tending to their small shops.
"So how do you feel?" Aeris interrupts his thought train.
He acknowledges her momentarily before his eyes settle forward. "Good. I think you were right. Going outside is making me feel better."
"I'm glad." She smiles, satisfied. "Anywhere in particular you want to go?"
Unconsciously, his eyes peer up, overtop the homes and towards the lone house on the hill. "No." Comes the simply reply.
Aeris, oblivious to his gaze, continues strolling at a leisurely pace, one arm wrapped around Cloud's elbow.
They are not a couple, he muses, but according to her, they are close. He is not sure as to the exact extent of their relationship but does not wish to delve into the matter.
"Morning you two. And how're you doing on this fine day?" A deep voice booms from the side.
Cloud turns to acknowledge the voice, Aeris doing the same and he comes face to face with a giant, dark skinned individual, housing an extremely muscular figure, short hair, and a goatee.
"Hey." Aeris greets with enthusiasm. "How are you Chief?" She lets go of Cloud's arm and envelops the large man in a friendly hug.
"Fine sweetheart." The man's attention turns to Cloud. "How ya doing this morning Spike?"
Spike? The name perplexes Cloud and for a split second, his eyes twitch as a brief flash of an image is incurred inside his head. It does not stay long enough for him to decipher the meaning. He simply remains motionless, utterly perplexed as the tall individual stares back questioningly.
"Something wrong kid?"
Cloud swallows once, staring hard. "I'm sorry, this is going to seem extremely silly but who are you again?"
The man's eyebrows rise up significantly for a moment as Aeris is left standing, watching on nervously. "He's just not feeling well this morning. Hasn't been sleeping properly." She informs him.
"Ah…" The man replies in understanding. He grins. "I'm The Law." He pats Cloud on the shoulder playfully. "But you probably remember me better as Barret."
Cloud feigns a weak smile. "Of course. Sorry, I'm just really out of it today."
Barret nods, dismissing the apology with a wave of his large hand. "Don't worry about it." He looks at Aeris. "So what're you two up to this fine morning?"
"Why, they're probably up to no good as usual." Another rough male voice interrupts.
Turning around, Cloud comes face to face with a scruff looking blonde man with gentle blue eyes. He has a cigarette in his mouth and it is giving off traveling patterns of smoke as they weave in and out of the air, dancing to the tune of the wind.
"Cid. Hey." Aeris greets him softly, enveloping him a hug as well.
He stares down at her warmly. "How ya doing little sis?"
"Cid?" Cloud asks, more so to himself as opposed to the man hugging Aeris.
"That's me." The man replies. "The Mechanic." He stares down at the woman and kisses her on top of the head before letting go. He grabs the cigarette between two fingers and takes a drag, releasing yet another intricate pattern of smoke. "How're you this morning Cloud? Taking care of my sister?"
The utter look of perplexity is only visible for a moment before a feigned playful look takes its place. "I am."
Deciding that it is perhaps best not to draw any more attention to his unusual behavior, Cloud listens half attentively to the three talk, throwing in the occasional reply when addressed.
It goes on for a few minutes before something off the corner of his vision catches his eye.
Standing outside what appears to be a bar, is a young, striking lady with brown hair running down her shoulders, dressed in a white top and a short black skirt. She is beautiful, like Aeris but something about her gives off a powerful, independent aura, as if capable of taking care of herself. As with Cid, she too is smoking a cigarette as she gazes out at the town in bored fashion.
It is then that their eyes lock and while she appears to look disinterested, Cloud becomes more fascinated with her. Something about her is familiar and he can't quite figure out what.
Discarding the stub of her cigarette, she casually glances at him one final time before heading back inside the bar.
"Excuse me." Cloud interjects, drawing the attention of the three. "I'm just gonna head in there for a while." He points to the bar.
"Cloud?" Aeris questions worriedly.
"Cloud you're not thinking of drinking in the morning are you?" Barret questions.
He shakes his head. "No, I just wanna be inside for a bit. Besides, this smoke is kind of bothering me."
Aeris gives Cid an irritated look as he glances away sheepishly. She turns to Cloud. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No." Another abrupt reply that slightly startles her. "I mean, you just stay here. I'll only be gone for a few minutes."
She seems skeptical as she steps closer. "I'll come and get you when I'm done."
He nods in acknowledgement before proceeding towards the bar.
The inside is dark, and dimly lit with maroon red wooden walls encircling the area. The bar is simple with several scattered tables and the bar itself, containing about ten stools all spread out evenly. Currently, it is only populated with about four customers, all situated away from the stools.
He notices her standing behind the counter, drying up several beer glasses. Calmly, he approaches the counter and seats himself on a stool.
Glancing up momentarily, she averts her gaze back to the drying of the glass as she asks without emotion. "What can I get you?"
A wave of emotions sweeps through him and as if automatically, without thinking, he utters the next words. "Give me something hard."
A quick flash of a vision involving a man seated inside a bar with a female behind the counter suddenly emerges. His body shudders violently and he fiercely grabs for the counter with trembling hands to steady himself, waiting for his rapid breaths to calm.
The woman stares up at him in puzzlement. "Something wrong?"
His wide, quick flashing eyes scan the surface of the counter for a second before he looks back up, smiling weakly. "Just… had a strange sense of déjà vu. As if this has happened before."
The woman shrugs. "Don't know. Don't care. Not my place to discuss this. I'm simply The Bartender."
Her formal introduction of herself prompts slight shivers up and down his neck. "Do you have a name?"
She arches an eyebrow. "Why do you want to know my name?"
He shrugs as she begins mixing a drink for him. "Curious."
"Little too curious huh?"
"I know who you are." She immediately cuts him off, slamming the glass containing his drink down in front of him with force. "You're Cloud. Aeris' friend."
"You know me?" Surprise etched on his features as he takes a sip of the strong liquor. It tastes good and relaxes him slightly.
She studies him for a moment sternly before leaning over the counter, propping up an elbow, and positioning her chin on her palm. "Nearly everyone knows everyone around here. It's such a small town. That's what I hate about it. There are no secrets."
"Secrets?" Cloud breathes out, taking another sip of his drink as he gazes at her studiously. "What about you? Do you have any secrets?"
She scoffs. "Me? Maybe I do. Why would I tell you?"
He shakes his head. "Never said you have to. I was just asking." Another sip is taken. "You still haven't told me your name."
She peers at him penetratingly for a moment before sighing and pushing herself away from the counter. "Tifa."
"Nice to meet you Tifa." He feels a certain sense of peace around her presence. "So… you don't like it here then?"
Rolling her eyes, she picks up another wet glass and begins to dry it. "You talk too much."
He blinks in thought. "This place is pretty perfect no? Very clean and spotless. Kind of like your drinking glasses."
She stops what she is doing and peers at him firmly. "Is there something you wanted?"
"What's in that house on top of the hill?"
Taken aback at the question, she is quiet for a lengthy period and the awkward silence seems to arouse the tension further and further. Finally, she shakes her head tactfully before the opening of doors to the entrance of the bar is heard, momentarily flooding the room with white light.
The scattered bar patrons shield their eyes from the unwelcome intensity as Aeris walks in, approaching Cloud, all the while giving Tifa a questionable glare. She turns from her to him and smiles before her eyes settle on the drink. A small frown surfaces.
"I thought you said you wouldn't drink."
Cloud is quiet for a moment and decides not to opt for an excuse. "Changed my mind."
Aeris sighs. "Are you ready to go?"
He isn't but doesn't say so. "Sure."
The two of them make their way towards the exit and Cloud shoots one final glance back at her.
Tifa is standing with her arms crossed over the counter, her body leaning against them as she peers at him intensely before disappearing from view as he crosses through the doors and into the light.
A/N: If you don't know what 'fidus achates' means, go look it up.