Disclaimer – Well, ah do disclaim.
A/N – This fic is a lot more positive than I expected it to be, considering it was a result of watching the creepy-as-hell One Hour Photo. Post-game, possibly post-movie as well.
© Scribbler, March 2008.
Photographs are little stands against the flow of time. Some people realise it, but most don't understand how they're trying to stop tick changing to the inevitable tock when they use a camera. They just think they're taking a picture, not fighting fate, nor actively preserving a moment that will never happen again. Taking snapshots isn't a philosophical crusade. Point and click. Whirr and whoosh. Hey, you got red-eye again. Aw man, just look at my hair. Whoa, the camera really does add ten pounds! Shoot, I blinked. We'll have to take another. That's all there is to it, right?
If photographs have anything important to say, it's only words that rightly belong in the mouths of those they show. A photographed face doesn't change; it's forever fixed in the instant the shutter opened and committed it to film. Yet a photographed mouth can still speak. It can say, "I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and for this moment, at least, someone in this world cared enough about me to take my picture."
Mouth pulled into a grin. A shock of black hair. Hand buried in counterpoint blond, other arm hooked around a squirming figure, giving the hardest 'friendly' noogie ever experienced. A carefully set-up photograph ruined in an instant, rendering it useless for sending home to Mom to show off the distinguished friends made in Shinra.
Zack never could hold still for a serious picture.
Cloud stared at the photograph. The hardest part was that he genuinely couldn't remember it being taken. The edges were rough and there was a crease right down the centre, worn white from being taken out and refolded many times. The paper was slightly corrugated to the touch. At some point it had gotten wet and been dried –
Cloud's head snapped back in a sudden rush of memory.
A hazy Zack hurdling a boulder, grabbing for what the wind had torn away when a lizard dislodged the rock holding it in place. "Come back, y'bastard thing!" Then a hand ruffling his own hair, gloved, gentle, not at all like a noogie. "Couldn't let this thing get away. Not like those miserable hobos at the lab left me with much else to tempt you back to the real world, eh? See this picture, Cloud? Sure you've seen it, I show it to you every day. You're probably sick of it, but you know how to make me shut up. This is what we've got to get you back to. This is what we're aiming for, buddy. It's no fun mussing your hair if you can't complain and fight back."
Slowly, Cloud tipped his head forward again, allowing the images to settle.
A scrap from the year they'd spent running from Shinra. He still got them sometimes. What he hadn't been able to process at the time had been filed away, and then the key for them snapped off in the lock when he entered Midgar. When he finally returned to himself they started returning. He couldn't summon them on his own, however much he wanted to. Most times it was something innocuous that inspired them to rise into his conscious mind: a scent, a noise, a word said in a certain tone of voice.
Getting Zack back piecemeal was a double-edged sword: good because Cloud needed to remember the man who had sacrificed so much for him, and bad because rediscovering fragments of what had been was like losing his friend over and over again. With every recollection, Zack stopped being a story and fleshed out into a real person in Cloud's mind – but that was the problem. Those who knew Zack as more than a legend were dead or not talking. Even Tifa had to think hard, and conjuring up Nibelheim's burning building was painful so Cloud didn't push her. Cloud had promised to make sure the ripples of Zack's passing didn't fade away to nothing, but Zack existed now in only Cloud's mind and that was hardly the most reliable place for his memorial.
So, no pressure.
Cloud didn't have any pictures of Aerith, but at least he knew his memories of her were real. The warmth of her hand, the shape of her smile, the sound of her voice raised in delight, fear and anger. The way she cupped her flowers so gently it was like she was stroking a newborn's cheek: these things Cloud knew to be true.
He had pictures of Zack. He had Zack's sword. Still, he doubted what his own mind told him.
Carefully, Cloud folded the photo and slipped it into his pocket. It felt right there, like slotting into place a jigsaw piece thought lost under the coffee table. He pulled down his goggles and punted his bike's kickstand with slightly more force than necessary.
Maybe he'd ask Tifa to dig out her camera when he got back.