Final chapter, thanks for reading everyone! I modify the entrance to the temple under the City a bit, but it's for dramatic reasons. Enjoy!

Never Left

Chapter 4

Cloud furrowed his brow as he became aware of the world around him again, slowly opening his eyes. A curved ceiling met his view, and he felt soft bedding under his bare arms.

"So, you're awake."

Cloud jumped and sat up, looking to his left.

"Vincent?" Cloud asked. "What are you doing here?" Vincent lifted his eyes and crossed his arms.

"I saw the airship. Was wondering what was going on," he replied. "This place doesn't get many visitors."

"Yeah…sorry if I alarmed," Cloud sighed, figuring he really hadn't.

"I found you asleep in the back of the city," Vincent said.

"Yeah. I just…looking for some answers," Cloud shrugged.

"Aren't we all?" Vincent murmured, looking up at the ceiling. Cloud was silent for a moment.

"Vincent…do you think there could be a way to revive Aeris?" he asked. Vincent lowered his eyes.

"I doubt it," he replied. Cloud sighed and looked around the small house.

"What time is it?"

"It's almost night."

"So I've been asleep all day…" Cloud whispered.

"You looked peaceful," Vincent told him.

"I felt peaceful. Harm, safe…" Cloud admitted. "I haven't felt that way in years." The two stood in silence as Cloud stood up. "Then enough rest. Time to do what I came here to do."

"You think you can bring Aeris back," Vincent muttered. It was a statement, not a question.

"Yeah. I have to hope for that," Cloud nodded as he collected the First Tsurugi from a table.

"Be careful though," Vincent warned. "Hope can turn to hopelessness a lot easier than you'd think." Cloud nodded again as he left. Vincent had never been one to talk, and when he did he usually had something important to say. This occasion seemed to be no exception.

The Forgotten City was bathed in moonlight as Cloud emerged into the ruins and started down the path. He reached the fork and turned down the path leading into the center of the city. Taking a breath, he began the walk.

The path curved down into a shallow pit surrounded by trees and offset by a large pool of water in the center. Cloud reached the water's edge and forced his eyes to look past it at the building on the opposite side. He had no desire to look into the water and see or not see something horrible. He quickly crossed the banks and enter the building that covered the entrance to the temple below the city.

The house spiralled down into a staircase, and Cloud took the steps slowly, breathing heavily. Flashes of the last time he taken this path entered his mind and he willed them away as best he could. The stone and dirt walls soon gave way to open air, and Cloud looked down.

Far below, the red and violet spires of the temple loomed in the magnificent chasm under the city, sparkling clear water filling the area below the balconies connecting them. A single pristine white altar lay in the middle, connected to the main structure by a series of white stepping-stones. Cloud inhaled and kept walking down the crystal staircase, keeping his eyes on that altar.

After an eternity the crystal steps ended. Cloud's boots padded down on the stone walkway surrounding the temple, and he closed his eyes.

"Soon the girl will become part of the Planet's energy."

"The cycle of nature and your stupid plan don't mean a thing!"

Cloud took a breath and circle to the line of white stones dotted across the water. He took them slowly, and finally reached the altar. The small flight of stairs he took in two steps. Finally at his destination, Cloud waited for a moment, then fell to his knees.

"Please…" he whispered. "Aeris…come back…I need you…" Not entirely sure what he was expected to do, he kept going. "I miss you, god…so much, and…it's not getting better. Come back to me…I need you. I…" Cloud swallowed for a moment, a single tear running down his cheek. "I…love you…please…there has to be a way…I…"

Cloud's mouth went dry as he tried to continue. He coughed slightly, and winced as a jolt of pain shot through his body. Another, and he fell forward on his hands and knees, gasping. Waves of agony washed through him, and he screamed into the calm serenity of the temple. Clenching his eyes shut at the pain, and tossed his head forward a few time and vomited on the altar stone, coughing and rolling to lay limp beside the puddle.

Eyes closed as he whimpered, Cloud slowly rolled back to his stomach and put out a hand, grabbing the edge of the altar and pulling himself up. He was still for a moment, panting and gagging on the taste of bile. Head low, he didn't notice the spectacle above his head. Small, miniscule particles of dark green and purple from his bare skin and through the fabric of his clothing. Joining into a small ball, the particles flashed for a moment. Purple and dark green brightened into blue and light green, and the ball floated above the altar high into the dirt ceiling high overhead.

Cloud winced as he pushed himself to his feet. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this weak, except for when he had had Geostigma. Not entirely understand, he took a moment to compose himself and looked down at his own vomit. His hand clenched into a fist and he threw his head back.

"Why do you do this to me!?" he roared, not entirely sure who he was talking. "Why do you have to take everything important from me?" Cloud closed his eyes and let the tears fall free, three years of pent up rage and sadness dripping to the altar. "Zack, Nibelheim, Aeris…why do I lose everything important? I fight and I be the damn hero and I sacrifice…why? Why do I have to give up everything I want? Because if sacrificing everything you love is what a hero is, I don't want any of it! You hear me? If this is what it means then forget it!" Cloud lowered his head after his outburst and clutched his face, sobbing softly.

"It's not fair…" he whispered. "Everyone else gets love…a home…why can't I? Can't I have just one thing to hold onto without it being taken away? Or am I just supposed to be alone and unloved? Maybe that's it, huh? I'm just destined to be unhappy…"

The revelation of what he perceived as his fate came calmly, and Cloud just let out a breath.

"So…it was a waste…" he muttered bitterly. "All of it…just a waste. I save the Planet, twice, and this is what I get? Alone in a temple underneath a forgotten city in the middle of nowhere talking to my own puke."

Cloud turned and walked back to the temple exterior, looking back at the altar sadly.

"I guess it really was just hope…" he said, starting up the crystal staircase. The glowing blue steps seemed to go on forever as he climbed up them. He entered the part of the stairs where the crystal joined the dirt basement of the structure overhead, and slowed.

Another set of footsteps echoed through the small hall, and Cloud looked down. There was no one down in the temple who had followed him. Someone was coming down.

"Vincent?" he called, knowing the man who answer if he was called. There was no response and the steps kept coming. Cloud narrowed his eyes and unsheathed the First Tsurugi, holding it behind him. He hadn't fought in this type of closed space before, but whomever it was, he wasn't in the mood for conversation. Besides, no one besides Vincent could be out here and have pure intentions.

Cloud saw the head of a shadow reached down over the stairs, and he tensed, ready to defend himself. The footsteps stopped.

"Well, show yourself!" he demanded. There was no response, and Cloud lifted his foot to walk up the stairs. Then…

"Cloud?"

Cloud froze, his eyes wide. The shadow moved as the figure finished coming down the stairs. Cloud stared as a soft brown boot covered in bright pink cotton touched down on a step in his view. The First Tsurugi slipped from his grasp and slid down the stairs, falling down into the temple below as it fell off the crystal staircase. Cloud began to shake as a small hand came out and held the wall as she stepped fully into his view.

"It…can't be…" he whispered. Aeris stared back at him and stopped in front of him, raising a hand to his face.

"Cloud…"

"Tell me…" Cloud begged. "Tell me…this is real…" Aeris smiled softly and nodded.

"It's real," she promised. Cloud nodded back, content to trust it. His hand came up to cover the one on his cheek, and he took in a shaky breath as he felt warm flesh beneath his fingertips.

Rushing forward, Cloud wrapped his arms around Aeris' shoulders and pulled her into a kiss, tears running down his face anew. Aeris squeaked at the surprise assault, but the shock wore off quickly, and she grabbed his shoulder.

"I've missed, I've missed you so much!" he cried, pulling back slightly and kissing her cheek. "Don't leave, don't go again!"

"I wont," Aeris whispered, putting her hands on his head to stop him.

"How?" Cloud asked, staring into her eyes.

"You helped me," she explained, smiling. "In more ways than one." Cloud smiled back, unfamiliar with the expression after so long.

"Aeris…I…"

"I know," she interrupted. "I heard you." Aeris kissed him on her own this time, but it was short. "I love you too." Cloud laughed and hugged her tightly.

"I've never letting you go. Not again," he whispered in her ear.

"You won't have to."

"We have to see everyone," Cloud said, pulling back. "Cid's picking me up tomorrow, you can see everyone!"

"Yeah, but first…" Aeris giggled. "I think we need to go back and get your sword." Cloud looked back and remembered the First Tsurugi falling from his grasp.

"Nah. It's a good trade," he shrugged.

"Oh, so I'm just a trade am I?" Aeris teased. "In that case I'll just go back to sleep and you can get your precious sword back."

"Like hell."

Any response or comeback Aeris might have had was cut off by another kiss.

- - - - - - - - - -

"I thought he'd be here waiting," Cid muttered, looking around the valley outside the city the next morning. "You think something happened?"

"Maybe he got hurt," Barret grumbled. "I told you you should have let us come with him."

"Shut up, I ain't his keeper," Cid shot back.

"Maybe he was attacked," Tifa thought aloud. "We should go take a look." Tifa started jogging to the path to the center of the city, Barret slowly following behind her.

"He's fine." Tifa stopped as Vincent emerged down the right fork, walking past her and Barret.

"Vincent, he's ok?" she asked.

"He is now," Vincent replied, walking past Cid. The three turned to the building Vincent had come from as a loud laugh came from inside.

"Oh my god," Tifa gasped, bringing her hands up to cover her mouth. Cloud and Aeris walked towards them. Cloud said something Tifa couldn't make out, and Aeris pushed him, grinning. Cloud stumbled off the path and hit the dirt with a laugh, grabbing her arm and pulling her down with him.

"Son of a bitch, he did it," Cid muttered, shaking his head. "Ah, good for him."

"I ain't see him this happy in years," Barret said as the two stood up and noticed their audience, waving. Tifa smiled and looked over her shoulder.

"Something tells me we'd better get used to it," she advised.

fin