Title: Balance of Time
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy 7 characters, just using them for reading pleasure.
Note: I used some things from Advent Children that I found interesting; for example, his wardrobe was much better in the movie than in the game. I also liked the sword, but don't worry, he will still have the Ultima Weapon.
Summary: Gaia needs Cloud's help, but not in her world; an alternate reality needs Cloud to keep from experience the pain that the people pf Cloud's world suffered. Especially the cause of all the pain, Cloud's arch enemy, Sephiroth. As a plea from Aeris, Cloud must try to help Sephiroth as well, before he falls into darkness. Eventual SephirothxCloud.
Chapter 1: Reluctance
He arranged the flowers around the make shift memorial he erected for her ten years ago. The area around was quiet and peaceful, contradicting the actual physical appearance of the Forbidden City. The surrounding trees were glowing eerily, brightening the darkness. The utter feeling of being alone in such a place never occurred to him as he turned his gaze away from the memorial to the sparkling water a few yards away from where he knelt.
The glowing blue eyes observed the gentle waves lapping at the shore with hidden pain. After ten years, after the war with Jenova, he could still feel the aching pain where Aeris friendship held him together. He felt empty, wanting nothing but silence that New Midgar could not provide. Being here, he felt closer to the only person who truly understood and accepted him.
Brushing away the cloak that covered his left arm, he untied the ribbon he always wore to remember. It was dark pink, one of Aeris hair ribbons, which he took for himself the day after she died. He stared at the ribbon in his hand for a moment before he reached forward and tied it around one of the flower stems. He didn't need to remember anymore, he was going to see her very soon.
Thinking about what was to come made the pain in his chest recede. The longing was gone, only anticipation was left for him. Eagerness to see his friend and companion once more, for a fleeting moment a small smile graced his handsome face. This world didn't need him anymore, he was finally ready to rest, to see his friend in the Promiseland.
There was no fear or hesitation as he moved to stand. He pulled his massive blade from his back and stood there staring as the light reflected off it's shining surface. He was reluctant to separate all the other blades that made up the whole, but he wasn't going to leave his sword where anyone could find it. He planned on placing it back on Fenor. And if one of his friends found it, they would know what to do.
He was about to move away towards his motorcycle when a voice he hadn't heard in many years started to call.
"Don't you think you're overreacting just a little bit, Cloud?"
He stiffened in alarm. Turning back, he almost cried out in surprise as stared into the green eyes of one called Aeris. She was standing there next to her memorial stone smiling at him in amusement. She wore the same outfit of pink and red with her long chestnut braid resting upon her back. Her hands clasped behind her as she leaned forward to peer at him.
Stumbling a little, usual grace gone, he ran towards her. His hand dropped his sword just as he wrapped his arms around his laughing friend.
"How is this possible? You died as I held you in my arms, pleasetell me I'm not dreaming. Don't be cruel. I beg you."
The sadness and absolute despair in his voice wrenched at Aeris' heart. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held on. His frame trembled in her embrace as she looked upon his glowing blue eyes. She smiled as she kissed his cheek softly. "It's not a dream Cloud. I did die. But I can't let you do what you are about to do right now. Someone needs you right now. Don't throw it away."
Cloud's knees buckled and gently they both sank to the ground. She held his head in both her hands as she tried to make him understand. "I know you're hurting my dearest friend. But we need you."
The ragged breath he expelled was loud and hot against her face as he continued to stare at her. The confusion began to disappear from his face, as he finally understood what she meant. "We?" His voice was full of bitterness. At her hesitation, he tensed to move away from her. An underlining anger and impatience simmered within his chest. "We?"
Her imploring green eyes held his gaze, silently asking, begging for him to listen. He detached himself from her and rose to his feet. He ran a hand through his blonde hair, trying with all his might not to scowl at her. He felt betrayed, the one thing they knew he wanted, she was denying him. Again, for the planetalways for the planet.
"Haven't I given enough to this planet? Don't I deserve to die in peace? It's been ten years Aeris! I still look like a twenty-one year old boy. I still lookstill look like that boy who came crashing into your church garden." His voice carried away into silence, the fighting spirit in him defeated as he watched the tears run its path upon her cheeks.
He turned away from the scene of his sin, hurting her again with his ongoing pain. He did not flinch away as he wanted to when her small fragile hands rested on his upper arms. The tension in his shoulders eased when he felt the pressure of her face caress between his shoulder blades. The silence that flowed was full of apologies and forgiveness.
"You were never a boy. You were a beautiful man with a thundering spirit that not only captivated me, but many others as well. I need your helpthe planet needs your helpbutbut never at the expense of your happiness. I would never hurt you Cloud. Never." Her voice flowed over him, soothing him with her words. His shoulders slumped in defeated as he turned to look upon her face. Her eyes would be the last battering ram to his fragile resolve.
Green eyes were full of love for him. Acceptance and honesty reflected in their depths. And he conceded. He will plunge into the pits of hell if she asked him to. There was no question of what he had to do next. The final time before resting.
"Tell me." The simple words relayed everything to Aeris and she smiled sadly at him. Relief and quilt washed through her for she knew what measure of effort he would do to please her, to make her happy.
She studied his face for a moment before she sighed, "Do you believe in other worlds Cloud?" The silence that greeted her question prompted her to quietly continue. "Somewhere out there, there may be another worldjust like this one. Another Gaia, another Promiseland, Lifestreamanother Cloud Strife." She paused again to read his reaction. His mako blue eyes were narrowed at her. He was still with his face stoic as ever. She knew though that he was listening even with a hint of suspicion flickering in his eyes.
Trying not to raise his reluctance to help any further she gestured to the memorial. The beautiful white stone that he carved and fashioned for her; it was memory and promise of his loyalty to their friendship that he visited every month. She smiled at the simple carving and simple but elegant letters. 'Be at Peace. My true and precious friend. Aeris.' "Another world whereI'm still alive."
From the corner of her eye, she saw him stiffened in surprise. But she continued, pretending not to observe his shock. "Where everything is at peace. Where we are allhappy." She turned fully back to him and smiled sincerely. Her voice cracked a little as she met his eyes. "Do you believe in such a place Cloud?"
Keeping note of his inaction, she did not move or try to keep the tears from trailing down her cheeks. She did not have to; he reached forth and brushed the tears away gently. Through her misty eyes, she saw the cold glare soften and the tightened lips tilt slightly upwards at the corners. She barely heard the soft response. "I don't knowTell me Aeris. Make me believe."
She nodded thoughtfully after a pause. Her chance to help her friend was being given freely.
"Someone is trying to destroy the fragile peace we have made. That you have bled for. One of Hojo's apprentices has found a way to travel through time. He's name is Victor Tashi. He originally planned on helping Hojo continue his work more effectively, but something happened. When he traveled through time, he ripped open a dimension parallel to this world. Another Planet. He does not realize his mistake, but that planet is echoing its thoughts to us. A mirror image, and yet not quite so. Any event that happens there would not harm us. He thinks that he has changed our history, but he is only writing a new one for a different world."
Cloud frowned at the bizarre tale that Aeris continued to tell. He was beginning to worry about what she really needed him for. "Even if this were true. What's all this have to do with me? If there's another world, than there's another Cloud Strife there as well. You said so yourself. Another Avalanche team. So why are you asking for my help?"
His questions died upon his lips when he saw the look upon Aeris' face. She bit her lip and tried not to tremble as she held his hands in her much smaller ones. "There is no Cloud Strife. At leastnot anymore."
The shock of her statement left him stiff with surprise and confusion. His silence prompted her to continue. "Victor Tashi made sure you died before you even ventured into Midgar to join Soldier. You were the reason that those people became the saviors of the planet, they followed you; even when they knew that they could be faced with certain death in that last battle. That's how much of an impact you had on everyone you encountered."
The news disturbed him more than he care to admit, but he calmly watched her, waiting for her to continue. Something inside him already knew what she wanted of him. In a moment of selfish agitation, he wanted her to verbally confirm what they both knew he would likely refuse. It was brief, but the slight pleasure he felt in her discomfort, eased his mind that she was not trying to hurt him.
"You have to go to that planet, you have to stop Victor Tashi from destroying everything. And maybe" Her green eyes pleaded with him, he met it head on. She murmured, "Maybethings will turn out for the best. You can find peace, Cloud."
"I'm not staying there. After I complete this mission, I'm coming back. This is my home. You expect me to relive that nightmare, and expect me to stay there after all is done and said?" His voice hard steel and ice as he turned away from her and tried to contain his raging anger and fear. For there was fear of facing all the torture and abuse; knowing that he would be alone when everything was finally at an end.
Aeris bit her lip and breath softly through her nose. Trying not to break down in sadness at the pain she felt from her link to Cloud was unbearable. "If you goyou can never come back. There won't be any way to return." She watched as he clenched his fists at his side but said nothing. "It's a choice that I would not force you to make."
She was forced to stop speaking when a harsh and cold laugh cut through her with a vengeance. "A choice? I never had a choice to begin with." She wanted to protested but he continued.
"If what you say is true. No one will remember me. I'll be taking this road alone, forging a different path. I'm to make a sacrifice Aeris, to accept means to never return to this existence. To refuse, I would be plunging a world into darkness that I could help save. A burden I never wanted, but unable to escape." He knew that his frustration was not directed at Aeris, but he couldn't help but be a victim to his own fears. "If I join that world, I could prevent Tifa from losing her father. Neilbeam wouldn't fall, lives won't be lost. Vincent can find salvation-"
She spoke so abruptly that he fell silence at her response. "Sephiroth will find peace. He deserves a second chance, don't you think Cloud?"
The mere mention of that name made Cloud stiffen in rage and loathing. He turned to her with absolute shock and fury burning in his eyes. "How could you say that! He ran his sword through you for the mere pleasure of it. How could you forgive him? How can you ask me to do so!" His composure was gone, or maybe he never had it as he continued to grit his teeth.
Aeris cocked her head to the side and watched him with a gentle smile upon her face. She raised both her palms in front of her, asking him silently to move closer. She beamed when he complied, but without meeting her eyes. "Everyone makes mistakes. Sephiroth's was admittedly a very big one, but he still needs to be forgiven. Why? Because, he's just like you Cloud."
The blonde stiffened and tried to move away from her in denial when she grabbed both or his wrist to prevent him. "We are nothing alike." Spoken over a mere whisper, the anger was still visible.
"Yesyou are. Even if you refuse to admit it. But back before he turned against humanity, you saw it too. He was alone in a room full of people. Fear and self-loathing buried underneath the cold indifference that everyone came to see as the General. He was drowning in his pain, needing something he could not name" Aeris' eyes misted with sadness as she tried to continue, "Hojo's manipulation was the last straw, Cloud. Sephiroth wanted to reach out, but no one could see that, all except a young boy of fourteen who defied all obstacles to be there. Deep down, you knew how he felt; you saw the same pain in his eyes that you tried to overcome in yourselfRemember?"
Cloud inhaled sharply when flashes of his past rushed through. "IIremember. I was just a child, a mere recruit. I neverhad the chance to help. To damn nave and embarrassingly shy; soweak."
Aeris shook her head in denial, "You weren't weak. There was just too much there before you. A barrier that you could not breach as a child. But you can do something now. You're not that child anymore. You can recognize it more clearly. You can make him see it as well, before he falls." The uncertainty she saw in his eyes did not discourage her yet.
"He needs your help, Cloud."
The mako enhanced eyes turned back to Aeris and slowly gentled, regarding her with affection and apology. She smiled when she saw it, "You won't be alone. I'll always be with you. Here." She laid her palm against his chest as she beamed up at him.
Sighing heavily he knew that his fate was sealed. But really, he would be making a difference somewhere that he wasn't able to accomplish here. Besides, everyone was at peace now. Everyone had moved on with their lives. Tifa had settled down with Barret and happily raising Marlene. Cid had finally married that shy assistant of his. Yuffie is content running Wutai along side her lazy father. Nanaki had return to his grandfather. Reeve was helping rebuild their world, and was quite content with his work. Vincenthe finally found peace and passed through this world into the Promiseland to be with the woman whom he loved above all else.
But maybe before they found their callings, I could erase their pain. Vincent could know his son, and not the man who tried to destroy the world. So many possible things. Vincent was a great friend. His silent presence was calmer than any verbal assurance. Maybe could help both father and son. Vincent may have lost Lucrecia, but he could still have a connection to her sontheir son.
Aeris didn't have to ask if Cloud wanted time to say his good-byes, she could feel his pain that prolonging his departure would only hurt him. Seeing their faces as he tried to explain that they would never see him again was unbearable.
Keeping eye contact she tried to convey comfort and reassurance.