A/N: This update is as late as can be. I honestly don't know when I will write a new one. I'm very sorry; I've simply moved on from the FFVII fandom. But I promise not to abandon this story!
Cloud had a dream each time he closed his eyes. In that dream, he was on a flower field that seemed to go on forever. There was nobody else there but him, yet the place didn't feel lonely. If he could, he would stay there forever, in the safe, painless, bright meadow, curled up among the flowers, listening to the comfortable silence that calmed his nerves and eased the guilt in his heart.
Every time he woke up, he wanted to cry and beg for that dream to fall over him forever. He had no tears left to cry, however. He shed all of them during the months that had passed since the Meteorfall, which he should have prevented, and yet he couldn't.
Nobody seemed to blame him, even though this end of the world was his own fault. They didn't understand. They probably couldn't understand, since they hadn't shared that bond with Sephiroth he had, that responsibility to stop the madman. The responsibility was his alone.
That was surely why he couldn't lie down to an endless sleep, dreaming about that secure place that brought peace over his tormented soul. He had failed, and this was his hell, where he had to repent; so he was only allowed to see the heaven in his dreams in order to invoke a longing in him. He supposed it was only fair that he was confined to what remained of the world, infected with Geostigma, depressed and lonely.
'You're looking worse for wear each day, kiddo,' Cid told him.
Cid Highwind was hard person to understand. He could have stayed in one of the safety camps, and yet he chose to journey through the dangerous, collapsed world as a companion for Cloud in his misery. He wasn't infected with Geostigma, somehow, yet he wasn't afraid to touch Cloud, to be in his presence. He seemed to worry about him; sometimes, when Cloud couldn't be bothered to change the bandages on the black, rotten spots on his skin, Cid would do that for him, berating him for his lack of maturity while doing so. At those moments, Cloud felt cared for.
It scared him. He didn't think he deserved it. After all that had happened, he was not worthy of caring, of the warmth that another human being's touch could bring. Once, there existed a time when he used to think he could be happy. That time was long gone, and it was his fault.
He wished Cid could see it. He wished with all his might that the man would finally realize what a waste of time following him was, and go back to where he could live somewhat peacefully. Yet months went by, and Cid was still by his side, journeying through the wastelands towards an undetermined destination.
'Midgar,' said Cloud, after waking up from the flower-filled, peaceful dream once more. He felt a sense of purpose, which was strange. It was as if a voice told him, on the edge of the sleep, just between the dream and reality, that he should head to the destroyed city, that something awaited him there. 'Let's go to Midgar.'
Cid didn't argue. 'Might as well go there as anywhere,' he stated, but his expression said it all: he felt it too. That elusive presence, encouraging, prodding, pointing them to a direction they would never have taken.
For some reason, Cloud felt the sense of security from the dream overcoming him. Maybe, just maybe, his sins could be forgiven, and he would be able to find peace in the ruins of the fallen capital. He had a feeling that back there, among the debris and dust, he would still find a small flowerbed where a church had once been, and the sanctity of that place would give him redemption.
'Yeah, let's go to Midgar...' Cloud said, closing his eyes. When he did that, he could almost smell the distinct fragrance of flowers that didn't belong in this world, almost feel a gentle, small hand touching his face in a reassuring gesture. He could almost believe everything was going to be alright in the end, one way or another. 'Let's go to Midgar. They will meet us there...'
They had seen many places during their purposeless journey. Everywhere was an empty desert of dust and rocks, devoid or almost devoid of life; if something managed to survive the Fall, it became vile, twisted beyond recognition. Cid explained that it must have been caused by the spills of Lifestream, which contaminated the waters and the ground; in a way, the humanity had had it coming. The mindless exploitation of energy that had never been theirs to begin with would have ended in the same result as the Meteorfall, sooner or later.
It didn't matter. The world was on the verge of dying, only holding on to spite the one who arranged its destruction. Inhabited by degenerated creatures that fought over pieces of nothing and devoured each other, mindless of their own approaching extinction.
Cloud had killed many of those monstrosities along the way, with Cid by his side. Things that sneaked up on them at nightfall, things that could or could not have been humane in the past. Blind, covered in rotten blemishes and black, thick blood, the creatures attacked in a fury befitting of something distorted, primal and suffering. With each swing of his sword, Cloud accepted their anger and, blaming himself for their senseless pain, he ended their pointless, hurtful existence.
He had taken many lives, because he was unable to save anyone.
Everything felt different, though, now that he had a purpose in his life. Even though the scenery was still shrouded in impenetrable darkness. Even though shadows out of horror stories still lurked in the night. Even though nothing was right, because there was only emptiness and decomposition.
A light shone in the distance. Cloud wanted to catch it, to hold it and curl into a dream-filled, peaceful sleep.
'Getting there will take time, kiddo,' Cid warned him. Cloud knew he was right, but said nothing in return. What was there to say? That he was no longer that impatient, carefree man that he used to be back in the days before the end of the world? There was no need, since of course Cid was aware of that.
Cloud supposed that his older companion was just trying to get him to talk. Their journey had been a silent one since the beginning. They rarely had the need to communicate with words, since in the days – months? - they'd spent together, they learned to guess what the other was thinking just by reading small signs, like gestures and expressions. Their bond was something Cloud didn't really understand, but he cherished it all the same. Without Cid, this journey would have ended long ago, fruitless and and devoid of meaning, with Cloud dead in a deserted place somewhere in the darkness, devoured by creatures that no longer bore a resemblance to what they had been. It was Cid who kept him alive and helped him go forward.
In time, Cloud got used to it and accepted it as something natural. He knew that he didn't need to use words for Cid to support and follow him. He liked it this way.
Sometimes, though, it felt lonely. Cloud was convinced that Cid missed the lively conversations and human voices from the life before the Meteorfall; for the older man's sake, he would sometimes let himself be involved in a long conversation about nothing in particular... about friends they had left behind, about lives they used to have. About things that wouldn't return, no matter what they did. About the lands that changed beyond recognition and would keep changing until nothing alive could survive there. About lost dreams and lost companions.
He was about to speak, when he heard a strange noise. It sounded like... an engine running? But that was impossible. Not only were those wastelands completely deserted, engines required fuel, and he really didn't imagine there being much of that left after the Meteorfall, especially not in the deserts surrounding the epicentre. As far as he knew, most of the remaining fuel supplies could be found in Wutai and were heavily protected, used only for purposes essential for living.
And yet, the sound was unmistakable. The drone of an engine was getting closer, but the source was still invisible, impossible to find in the desert that carried the sound so well in the emptiness. Cloud was vaguely aware of Cid standing at his back, attentive and observant as he always was when he sensed something dangerous approaching. He was grateful; even though they hadn't determined yet whether what was coming was indeed harmful, they needed to be prepared for the prospect of a battle.
Finally, Cloud saw it. Far away, in the distance, blurred by the mist, was a huge motorcycle with a rider in black. It was hard to tell anything specific about both the machine and the rider, since it was long past daytime and even during the earlier hours, sunlight didn't reach these parts of the continent. In the darkness, only thinned by the motorcycle's headlight, nothing could be seen but one thing.
The rider, who had stopped his machine and got off, had silver hair.
'Sephiroth...' Cloud hissed, his grip on the hilt of his sword tightening. But something was different about this person; he, who had known Sephiroth like nobody else in the world, could feel it instantly.
There was no madness, no intent to kill and destroy in the person now heading in their direction. No aura of power and arrogance. Even if he looked similar (of which Cloud couldn't really be sure; throughout the journey, he had learned to depend on his senses other than sight, since the latter proved almost useless in this new, corrupted world), he was certainly not the madman who had single-handedly brought about the end of the world.
Still, feeling the silent support from Cid, Cloud attacked. He had to make sure. He couldn't afford to depend on his instinct, on distinct feelings that could be easily tricked; what good would it do him if he died in such a place because of carelessness? So he attacked in a swift motion and was surprised when his attack was stopped easily by the rider's double-bladed sword, as if he had anticipated it.
Feeling a rare rush of adrenaline, Cloud swung his weapon again and again, only to be countered skilfully by his opponent; despite the situation, he found himself slowly calming down. This fighting style had nothing to do with what he had experienced from Sephiroth in the past. It was not him.
Sephiroth was dead.
He needed to believe it.
Breathing heavily, he backed off, his grip on the hilt of his sword slackening. He could hear his heart beating wildly. His Geostigma-infected wounds hurt, but it didn't matter. The fight, however short and one-sided, made him feel more alive than anything in the many months following the Meteorfall.
Something was changing.
'Who are you?' He asked softly, although now that he had confirmed the rider was not Sephiroth, he didn't really care anymore.
'You will know soon enough,' said the rider. He sounded young, like a child that hadn't finished transforming into a man yet. 'I was told to bring this to you. He seemed to think you would appreciate it,' he added.
On his outstretched hand sat a bright flower. It seemed to radiate a strange light, ephemeral and beautiful in the threatening darkness. Unsure, Cloud took it and a sense of peace filled him instantly when his fingers closed over the stem. The flower was the same as the ones on the meadow in his dream... the same as the ones she had in her small garden in an abandoned church.
'It will guide you on the way,' the silver-haired rider's voice said from the distance; Cloud hadn't even noticed him moving, but he could tell the man was already mounting his motorcycle. 'We will meet again in Midgar, big brother.'
With those parting words, the rider rode off into the darkness, leaving Cloud and Cid behind in the darkness that seemed less dark than before.
They both had many questions. Answers awaited in Midgar.