okay - I've been sitting on this for a couple of months now. First off let me begin by saying - this is NOT a Clerith/Cleris. I repeat, if you're looking for Clerithy goodness, this is NOT the fic for you. I know it always annoys me when I read through a Cloud/Tifa fic expecting something decent and it turns out it's just a Tifa (or Cloud) bashing excuse. While this is not by any means a Aerith/Aeris bashing fic, it will not give you warm fuzzies in the Cloud/Aerith area. Don't read this if that is what you're looking for.
That said, let me make this clear. I do not dislike Aerith. I do not hate Aerith. I would ask that you do not leave general Aerith bashing comments in the reviews (the AU Aerith I've created for this particular story - go right ahead). I happen to be a big Zack/Aerith supporter simply because the guy was obviously head over heels for her and let's face it, anyone that writes that many letters over that long a time, must have been pretty devoted to the Puppy too. I think they're sweet, right, and a dang lot of fun to write together. Which leads me to why I ended up writing this fic in the first place. Anyone that's read 'Maiden Who Travels the Planet' knows what I mean. And while SE has since disowned that story (it was only ever mentioned in one compliation (UoG) and there has, since Crisis Core, been an updated/revised UoG released that has had 'Maiden' removed), they've recently put out 'Lifestream Black/Lifestream White'. While this one isn't as bad as the first, I've got to say, if the translation I read over on lifestream(dot)net is accurate - they sure did take Aerith's spunk, her decisiveness, and her power from her. True, she's not actively bashing Zack in 'LB/LW' the way she did in 'Maiden', but it still reduced her in my eyes to a helpless female that couldn't figure out what to do when left on her own. Sephiroth all but told that 'dang Cetra to get off his lawn!'. This story is a direct response to that - and an incident in the actual game itself. Which means the next part is going to contain spoilers if you've been hiding under a rock for the past ten year. The incident I'm referring to comes at the very end of the game where Cloud has, once and for all, defeated Sephiroth inside his mind and afterward, he finds himself briefly surrounded by the Lifestream. In what is no doubt meant to be a poignant moment, Aerith's hand reaches down for him. He reaches up... and Tifa's hand replaces Aerith's as she calls his name and urges him to safety. It's no doubt meant to be sweet. But the first time I saw it, I thought 'you know, if Aerith had stalled him just a minute more, the rocks he was on would have fallen into the Lifestream and if that didn't kill him, Holy exploding upward directly afterward would have.' While I'm sure that's not what the writers intended and they did a beautiful job linking Aerith's reaching hand in the ACC movie - my twisted mind just finds it a little evil that if he'd taken her hand, he would have gotten killed. With that in mind, I wrote my AU Aerith. No, this isn't intended to represent SE's Aerith. No, I don't think she's really this way. Yes, I think Zack was her real love no matter how confused she got. No, I'm not writing this vindictively. Consider it the Strar Trek Mirror Universe if you want. I repeat - the Aerith in this story is NOT cannon Aerith. It is, however, a very twisted look at what Aerith ' might have been' if things had been just a little bit different.
Almost Had Him
You know how all of your life your mother tells you you're special? I'm sure almost every little girl hears it; in fact, I feel bad for little girls that don't. No one can tell you you're special with the faith and surety your mother can. My mother always told me I was special. The difference between my mother and other mothers however was that mine was right.
I am special. Even as a child I knew I was special in a way that the other little girls couldn't be.
Being special isn't always easy though. Other people notice when you're special and I spent the first years of my life in a white room with a large dark mirror that took up one whole wall. Mother was special too and they often took her out of the room for a very long time. I was so special that they needed my blood and my skin and my hair and my tears. They quizzed me with all kinds of strange questions over and over again and sometimes they put me to sleep for a very long time and I would wake up and not feel good afterward.
Mother cried a lot. I remember that. Being special doesn't mean you don't cry. I soon learned that crying didn't do much but make your face look scary. So I learned to smile. All the time. About everything. Mother never learned to smile. She just cried.
I don't remember how we got out of that white room but we did. I was young, I just remember a lot of noise and being scared and wishing mother would run faster because I had to keep stopping for her. It was the first time I saw a uniform that wasn't a white lab coat.
There was a soldier, all in blue, at the end of one of the tunnels we ran through. He looked so big to me. Mother had fallen again and he came up. She started crying and he looked so sorry and so upset. He told us we were going to have to stay with him until the men in white came. But I didn't want to go back and I was tired of mother crying and always being so weak, too weak to talk to me anymore, and so I promised him a kiss if he would let us go. I knew you were supposed to promise kisses because that's what the princesses in mother's stories always gave the men that rescued him. Princesses needed to be rescued a lot. He looked at me and I thought he looked very sad. Then he picked me up in his nice warm arms and he helped mother stand up and, looking around the whole time, he snuck us out of the tunnel.
He let me kiss his cheek before he closed the exit door behind us and stayed inside.
I fell in love. With an idea. With a uniform. With the ideal of safety.
Mother died and I grew up. I was still special. My new mother, Elmyra, said so but she didn't really know. She didn't know about the whispers only I could hear or the way I dreamed things. She didn't know that mother still talked to me, just like all the dead mothers always do in all the fairy tales. She told me things sometimes in the dark of night. She said the Planet loved me best out of all the little girls that were growing up on it. She told me one day a handsome soldier would come and save me and I would never have to worry about being alone again.
Mother said he would always, always protect me.
I learned a lot from my dead mother's whispers. They were much more informative than Elmyra's. Elmyra was too practical. She didn't understand how princesses should be treated. It was all right though. She loved me and wasn't very good at telling me no.
Tseng wasn't very good at telling me no either. He came because he knew I was special too. He was wearing the wrong uniform though and so I knew he wasn't for keeping. He was polite and tall and handsome though and I liked his attention. He liked my smiles and the way I always promised him kisses and never gave them.
He wasn't the only man like that.
The moment I saw him, I knew that I wanted him.
He came falling through the roof of the church I grew my flowers in and landed among the lilies.
For just a moment, I thought he was someone else. It wasn't so much the color and shape of him as the fact he had fallen just the way someone else had fallen years ago. For a moment, my heart kicked up in my chest and I thought my hero, my SOLDIER, was finally keeping his promise and coming back to be with me forever.
Except the man that sat up among my flowers had blond hair that spiked differently and he was smaller. His eyes were also bluer and so serious when they looked at me that I felt…
For the first time in my life I felt naked.
I had been naked before. The smell of crushed flowers and church dust reminded me of the times I'd been naked here before with the man I'd thought was going to save me. He'd left me though. The way Elmyra said all men left you after they had what they wanted from you and he'd never come back. My first, my SOLDIER. I'd been naked for him.
But he'd never looked at me as if my pretty face and my smile weren't enough to hide what I really was inside. Not the way the blond man did for a brief moment, before he shook his head and then rubbed the back of it to feel for lumps.
I wanted him then. With his burning blue eyes and his serious pale face. He was special too. Maybe as special as I was. He would know how to love me and never, never leave.
I smiled. I flirted. I lured. I knew what I was doing. I had always been very good at knowing what men want. No matter how special he was, he was still male. Things went even better than I could have hoped for. The Turks showed up. His hesitation disappeared when confronted with something to fight. I was helpless and frail and he saved me. We escaped and I knew… I just knew… that he was mine then.
Until he mentioned a name.
He said it easily and I listened to the way it slipped past his lips, like melting chocolate and amber whiskey. His face didn't change when he said it and nothing flickered in his burning eyes but…
I'd dealt with women before. Sometimes, they got in the way of what I wanted. There had been that female Turk for instance all those years ago. She'd been a problem. Other women too. Girls who were normal, mundane. Women who envied me because I was a princess and they weren't. Whoever Tifa was, I knew I could make him forget her.
Elmyra almost ruined it for me before we'd even started though when I brought him home. He stayed. I made her let him stay. I made him stay. I wasn't going to let anyone take him away from me. Not when I'd decided I wanted him.
I gave him Elmyra's bed so that he was sleeping next to my room. I turned off my lights and lay in my bed and looked at the ceiling and I remembered.
I remembered all the mistakes I'd made with the last boy I'd had. I had been too open, too honest. Too easy. I hadn't teased enough, I had been too shy and I had let him take the lead in the relationship. I hadn't made him jealous.
I would do things right this time. I would do things right and he would stay.
I left my door unlocked though.
Of course I would tell him 'no' when he snuck in. I would be sweet and shy. I would find him tempting but I would be good and resist. Barely. So that he would know he would have to try harder… and that I was warm and soft.
Except he didn't come.
And I heard that other woman's name in my head again as I snuck out of my room to check and found his bed empty and him gone.
Tifa, he'd called her and it had slipped like wet skin on satin sheets over his tongue.
I knew where he was going. I took short cuts only I knew about and I found him first. His eyes felt as if they were burning the skin from my bones when they focused on me…
but they didn't say he realized what I was doing.
He wore armor around himself. Not physical armor but something about him tried to keep me from getting too close. Later I realized he tried to keep everyone from getting too close but at the time I just knew that he wasn't melting for me the way he should. I was determined though. I had never backed away from a challenge and, if he was hard for me to catch, something told me, once caught, he would never shake loose and leave. His eyes said he didn't blink when he'd fixed them on someone.
I would find a way to make sure he fixed them on me.
I knew I had caught him when I mentioned my last SOLDIER. His eyes sparked for a moment and he actually spoke freely. Curious. Asking for information. I was coy and didn't give it to him. But I knew I had caught his interest. Until –
"Tifa – "
And he was gone again. To the skitter of clawed bird feet and the rattle of brightly painted wheels. Her name was the jingle of coins on a gold belt and the shiver of tight fabric sliding over skin. In that second, I hated him. I was the princess, the special one, and she… at the time she was still some faceless woman with a name that wrapped like a snake over his teeth and slipped its tongue from the corner of his closed lips.
He wouldn't risk her. Not even to prove he was hard and tough and could take on a house of thugs. It was the only time I even knew him to not simply break down a door and go in with sword drawn.
Because it might risk her.
Two could play at that game though and I felt satisfaction in humiliating him. It served him right, after all. For thinking of another woman when he was with me. For even remembering another woman when he was with me. And I hated his eyes then. Because they were blue and because they were intent and because they didn't blink as he went through every embarrassing and humiliating test I could think of for him. Even dressed as a woman, his eyes were still his. And even though he didn't say her name, I could hear it in that blue.
I smiled and pretended I didn't notice. Pretended I didn't hear it, the same way Elymyra pretended she didn't know when I heard voices. I dressed in red and I was beautiful.
She had dressed in blue.
Like his eyes.
She was beautiful. I knew what beautiful was and she was beautiful. She had large eyes that sparkled and lips that were mobile and hair that men fantasize about being tangled in. She also had a body like temptation and, for a moment, standing next to her, I felt… small. Until she smiled, shy and worried and sweet. It was a fragile smile and it was the only fragile part of her that I ever found.
She wasn't intimidating after that. In fact, I thought I liked her. I liked her because she wasn't sword callused hands on softer skin after all. She was just a girl who wasn't a princess anymore and in her eyes, I recognized the look she gave me. She knew I was still a princess and she knew how the stories about princesses were supposed to go. I knew that she'd given him up then, when even seeing him in a dress hadn't convinced her to do so before.
She gave him up because she knew that heroes always loved princesses.
He kept getting the story wrong though.
It was… frustrating. I was exactly what I was supposed to be. I couldn't have played the role better or asked for better situations. I was helpless and he rescued me. I was frightened and he was strong. I was special and he knew I needed to be protected.
I made sure I was with him whenever I could be. But there were too many situations when he was with her instead. In the prison cell, after he fought Rufus… even in his memories, he was with her, in their burned town. She didn't volunteer herself the way I did, she was just… always there. Whenever he turned his head to look for her, whenever he reached out absently, whenever he looked for support – there she was.
It was irritating. And… and it made me feel strange. Left out. Lonely.
I had never felt lonely before even though I'd always been alone…
I felt lonely because… no one had ever been there for me when I reached out my hand or turned my head… when I'd needed support. It wasn't fair and for the first time I felt… cheated.
For the first time I wondered what it would be like to be… liked instead of loved. What a friend would feel like. What 'a friend' was when all I'd really had before were lovers and people who wanted to be my lover.
I didn't like the melancholy and I didn't like the doubt those feelings gave me. Besides, what was a friend? He was still mine, even if I hadn't managed it completely yet, and once he was my lover he'd forget that he'd ever been friends with the other girl. I'd fill his head and his heart with me and there wouldn't be room for anyone else.
I wouldn't see the glances from his blue eyes that didn't blink when he looked at her and her hand wouldn't be there to steady the back of his shoulder when he'd take a half stagger backward.
I would forget to miss what I didn't have.
He'd forget that he'd ever had it in the first place.
Her…? I didn't care if she forgot or not. Once she wasn't a part of his life anymore, she would stop mattering to mine.
I was sure of myself and I was determined. Each day I lured him a little bit closer. Each day I teased and smiled and laughed. Each day I filled the air around me with life and sunshine. But when he was told he could kiss me, he only kissed my hand and he never left his bedroll for mine in the nights afterward, even when no one else would have seen. It didn't matter. I knew I was winning. If he wouldn't move, she would and it was to slowly slip away from him as I edged closer. I knew I was winning because I could see the sorrow in her eyes when she wasn't paying attention. When he wasn't paying attention.
Except everything fell apart.
I was shining. I was at my peak. I was so obviously special and precious that even the buildings recognized me. The air glowed for me. Fountains spoke for me. Ghosts bowed before me in recognition. It was everything my mother had promised even if the castle was a ruin and the servants were mist and forgot what they were. There was no way my hero, my knight, could not recognize his role in my story now and he played his part perfectly. I was never undefended, I was never alone, he followed me wherever I led.
Even the stars were perfectly aligned for us. The strange cat doll said so.
I didn't know that the stars had already been claimed almost a decade before…
The castle collapsed. The stars fell out of place. And my hero turned into a monster.
I didn't… for a long time I didn't know what to do then. Heroes didn't hurt their princesses. He was spinning far from his base, shaken in himself and, for the first time I wondered… was it because he was losing the stability of the girl whose name he said as if it were liquid and steel? Because I was driving her away from him…?
Was she… vital somehow to him?
In the end it didn't matter. I wanted him and so there wasn't room for anyone else in his life. There would be only me and if it broke him a little or left him a little lost, he would still be mine. Those blue eyes would belong to me and they would never, never leave.
Especially not if he was broken.
He would have to learn though. Learn how to treat me. And I knew the best way too. My mother had taught me long, long ago. I would let his guilt eat him and soon enough he would do anything to be rid of it. He was still a mystery to me, I didn't understand him… but I knew that he would accept the guilt if I gave it to him.
He deserved the guilt.
I had learned some things in the ruins of my castle. The drifting memories of my ancestors had whispered secrets to me. I asked my mother and I slipped through the fractures in the darkness around his mind and sent him a dream. I tainted it with everything, my sweetness, my innocence, my beauty… his guilt and his loss. Just as I had every day in real life, I lured and ran from him at the same time in that dream.
And then I left him with his guilt and his burden.
I didn't go far. He already knew where to find me. I wouldn't have showed him exactly where I was in the dream if I hadn't wanted him to follow. It wasn't as if I wanted to be lost… or to give him too much time with the other woman. Absence might make the heart grow fonder but it also made the heart forget. I wasn't about to give him the chance to forget me.
I wasn't about to give him the chance to get away.
He came close behind but I still had time. Time to make myself beautiful, time to set the stage just the way I wanted it to be. When he saw me again, consumed by his guilt and his need to make it right, I wanted to look like an angel, innocent and pure and perfect. I would be magic, just the way the really perfect princesses in the stories always were. I let him wander, looking for me. Let him grow desperate. It made me smile as I thought of it – imagining him above in the dead city, frantic for me. Imagining how grateful he would be when he finally found me, how willing to do anything to make everything up to me he would be. I knew he wouldn't sleep or let the others rest until he was by my side again.
I opened the stairway that would lead him down to me and I settled on my knees, the perfect image of everything a man would want to protect, in my chosen spot. The ancient echoes of power in the place found me there and I let them leak up through me. I felt… peaceful then. I was just where I was supposed to be. The planet, the voices, even my mother's whispers told me so. The power flowed up through me and my mother's materia glowed in my hands. The world settled around me with a sigh and I smiled to myself. I would never look as beautiful, as perfect, as I did in that moment and I knew it.
Let him find me this way…
Somehow I missed his arrival. I should have known when he was near but I didn't. The power surging lovingly through me blinded me to him, I think and when I opened my eyes, I was surprised to find he was already there, looking at me. His eyes were the most beautiful blue and as blank as a mirror. A bit of my magic must have rubbed off on him because I thought I'd never seen him looking more handsome.
The pain startled me. I didn't understand what was happening. And, before I had a chance to adjust, the Planet caught me up, still a conduit of its power, and swept me away.
It was such a shock and such a surprise that it took me forever to realize…
I was dead.
I… was dead.
My soul solidified in the Lifestream and I was dead.
Everything I had planned, everything I had been promised…
And I was dead.
I don't know how long I screamed and tore at the ether around me in rage. Cheated! I had been cheated! And… lied to! My own mother had lied to me! That witch – how she must have envied seeing me alive and healthy and young and beautiful while she was nothing but a whispering ghost in the Lifestream! How she must have plotted this for years, determined not to see me happy – determined not to see me with him! Lies, it had been lies all along, and too late I realized her betrayal.
I went hunting through the Lifestream for her but now that it had me, it hadn't wanted her anymore. She had dissolved, stealing my chance for revenge away from me. Content in her triumph now that she'd ruined everything for me. With nothing to lash out at, I think I might have gone mad…
It surrounded me with flowers and beautiful white walls like the ones I remembered from my childhood but I didn't WANT that. I wanted Cloud! I needed Cloud! He was supposed to be mine! He was supposed to take care of me! Without me he was a hero without a princess, without me what was his point? Without me –
Without me, he'd shatter. My death would shatter him. Like a fragile eggshell. The idea calmed me. It made me feel better. That was right. Cloud loved me. He couldn't live without me. He'd fall apart, lose himself. My death would destroy him. It was –
It was romantic.
So romantic and devoted. It calmed me down, realizing it. We would be a tragic love story. Those were always the most heart wrenching anyway. I would be his angel, his guiding light, his reason for living and without me… without me he would be nothing at all. What was more romantic than losing the will to live and fading away when your true love died in front of you? Suddenly, dying wasn't so bad. Cloud, usually so controlled and calm and stoic, would waste away pining for me.
I wanted to see it.
It wasn't easy but I was determined. My soul needed to see him suffering because of me. I wanted to see his burning blue eyes lose their fire and shatter like colored glass. All for me.
I needed to see that.
Somehow that determination saw me out of the white room with its floor of lilies. I found the real Lifestream, all green winding threads and whispering and screaming voices. It was scary but I found that I could push it away, that I could make a safe, quiet spot around myself. There were other souls in the Lifestream, unwilling or unable to dissolve into nothing. At first they startled me but I soon realized they weren't special the way I was. I was a Cetra, the last of the Ancients. They were just lost, confused souls that didn't have the decency to let themselves unravel and fall apart. I could sense that the Lifestream wanted me to make them disappear, the same way I used to be able to sense when the planet wanted me to do something, but it had tricked me into being here and I wasn't going to help it. Not until it gave me what I wanted first.
It wasn't the Lifestream that gave me my view into the world beyond though. It was my first love.
Zack Fair, SOLDIER 1st Class.
He found me in the green and it surprised me. Somehow I'd known he was dead but I still hadn't expected to ever see him again. He had refused to dissolve however and I heard his voice saying my name in surprise before I felt his presence in the flowing green next to me. I said his name and he was happy to see me. As if we could pick up where he had left me all those years ago.
As if I would have waited for him.
I was dismissive of him. He was old news and I had newer, better things on my mind now. I called him a womanizer and a braggart. I wasn't interested in him anymore. He was too simple, too easy, too young inside. I wanted what I didn't have. I wanted Cloud.
So Zack showed me Cloud.
And my heart got big and wide in my chest because… Cloud was falling apart. I didn't even try to stop the smile or the cry of pleasure to see him writhing. His mind and his soul were shattering right in front of me and his beautiful eyes were losing all their sharp edges and brilliant glare to go wider and weaker. He really had fallen apart because of me! I was delighted!
Until I realized… this wasn't just after my death. This was… this was days and days after my death. And… he wasn't talking about my death in the mumbles that left his lips. He was talking about – himself? And… being a puppet? A failed experiment? In fact, he didn't mention me at all. In the Northern Crater, on his knees, hands clenched around his head in pain, he wasn't even thinking about my death. He was –
He was thinking about himself?!
About himself. When it was his fault I was dead. When he should have been wallowing in guilt and remorse at my death, when he should have been pining away at my loss… he was thinking about himself. That selfish –
Then he said a name. And it was the desperate pull of strong, sword callused fingers and raw need. 'I'm sorry,' he said.
My eyes went huge at the sound of that other woman's name. At his apology to her when it was me he should be groveling to. The rage I'd always tried to hide behind smiles and laughter exploded out of me and swept away Zack and the view through the green and even seemed to shatter the green itself. All I saw was white, glowing, dead, clean, empty white. I might have been screaming in anger. My throat never grew sore or my bones and muscles tired from the claws I made with my fingers.
How – dare – he - ?
How dare he!
I was the princess! I was the precious, special one! I was the Ancient, the Cetra, the girl in need of rescue, the planet's own dream! How dare he say a name that wasn't mine as he shattered? How dare he beg anyone but me for forgiveness!
How – dare – he - ?!
Time didn't have any meaning in the white so I don't know how long I raged until I finally calmed myself down. I wanted to sit and sulk but no one would come and find me to comfort me in this place. Besides – I wanted to see Cloud again. I wanted to see him hurting and broken. The way he'd broken my heart. Then I'd make him see what a mistake he'd made in not concentrating on me. I didn't know how but I'd find a way. I'd make him sorry and then he'd have to come crawling to me for forgiveness.
Yes. That would please me.
I fought my way out of the room of white. Before I could go looking for Zack though, to let me see the world outside, I felt a tug. The Lifestream wanted something from me again. I sulked. What had it ever given me? I was supposed to be alive and having adventures and being loved by a man with gold hair. Instead I was trapped in a room of white, surrounded by lilies with no smell, and wound through with green threads. It wasn't fair. It wasn't even right. Sullenly, I let it tug me along though. At least the Lifestream, the planet, still wanted me, still needed me. It might have tricked me into joining it but at least it loved me enough to trick me.
I was shocked when it brought me to Cloud.
Not Cloud's soul. His body. In a place of ether and spirit, the solid lump of his body was like a thorn caught under the surface of sensitive skin. I could feel the Lifestream trying to expel him… and I could feel the way something tethered him inside the green. I gave a cry of joy and rushed over to throw myself into his arms… except he wasn't there. I collided and then passed straight through nothing more wonderful or romantic than a slab of cooling meat. It made my skin crawl as my spirit slipped through that empty flesh. It made me feel sick. I shuddered in revulsion and suddenly I agreed with the Lifestream. I wanted that dead body out of my sight. And yet, even with my back turned, I could still feel it there, like a rotting animal trapped in the walls of a house. The need to have him gone, to have that awful dead body gone, grew inside me until I was almost frantic and I couldn't even tell if it was me or the Lifestream around me that felt that way.
When I heard a voice beyond the horrible whispers around the floating body, I almost sobbed in relief. Until I realized…
It was her.
The other woman. The girl with the hands that were battered and bruised instead of soft and delicate. The girl with short skirt and the personality too shy to make use of what it did to men. The girl…
The girl that was always in my way simply by existing.
And when she called, something inside the lump of dead flesh behind me stirred and whispered her name in response.
The name was pain and shame and need and determination and hopeless longing and protective.
I hated him for answering. I turned and almost hit him. Except it was only a dead body and whatever had whispered from it wasn't there any longer than the length of his name called by her voice.
I went to find her.
At first I thought it was to hurt her. Or maybe to just yell at her. Maybe I just wanted to stand in front of her and see her face crumple when she realized I wasn't out of the picture. That I was still the princess - no, an angel now, a saint! - and she was still the lost girl without a crown. By the time I found her though, the rot from the floating dead body was making my skin itch. More than showing her up, I just wanted that cold lump of flesh gone from my world. If he wanted her so badly, I'd give her to him. I enclosed her, body and all, in silence and safety so that she would be whole when I gave her to the rotting corpse and then I dragged her back and threw her at it. The two lumps of flesh collided, hers still warm with life and her soul anchored to it and his, empty and lifeless. In the weightless green, the force of my throw made them tumble and I felt vindicated. Let them tumble, tangled together, forever. A dead body and a girl that didn't know when she should leave. She accepted the corpse anyway, her arms winding around his body, her hair like a net around his rotting skin. She whispered his name…
And he answered it.
He answered it…
A corpse that wouldn't respond for me even when I passed my soul through it, but at her touch, her voice, his lips moved and he whispered her name.
A name that sounded like coming home after having been away too long and a warm, comfortable bed on a rainy, lazy morning and fresh baked bread.
I grit my teeth and watched as his arms rose to wrap around her, as his ruined cheek settled against hers, and as a body that had been lifeless sighed out in relief and relaxed. Around them in the green, sparks flared as minds connected, as memories surfaced, as something happened somewhere inside them that I couldn't see.
Zack appeared next to me and stood silent. I hated him anyway. I had already told him how important Cloud was, how much I preferred him. Now my first love could see what I saw and I knew he thought it meant Cloud had chosen another. The same way I had chosen someone other than Zack. I wanted to drive him away but I didn't want him to know how I felt.
The rot faded from the body and it began to breathe, slow, hesitant breaths. In its arms, she was cradled close and I saw the quiet smile, content and peaceful, grow on her face. Next to me, Zack murmured something about it being 'about time, Spiky' and vanished. Whatever had tethered the blond SOLDIER's body cut loose and I watched both forms rise through the liquid green and disappear out of sight.
For a long time, that was all I did.
But… no. No! I refused to simply let it end that way. He was my lover. Whether he knew it or not, he had been created for me. He didn't get to make his own decisions or not do what he was supposed to do. Cloud was mine, whether he knew it or not and I wasn't about to let some slut in a short skirt get in the way of that. We were destined. I was the perfect, holy martyr and he was the doomed hero. We belonged together. I pushed through the Lifestream and ignored the pull of its need as it tugged at me, demanding I pay attention to something else. Nothing was as important as me and the way my life was supposed to go. And my life was supposed to be with Cloud. Even if my 'life' was already over.
The knight didn't get peace and happiness when he failed the princess.
I found them again and they were fighting the man that had killed me. That appeased me a little. I deserved revenge. Cloud should hunt down and kill the man that had killed me. Maybe he wasn't so far off of the way the story should be. Cloud was cold and expressionless as he ripped into the monster that had once been a man and as the body finally exploded, scattering feathers and gore everywhere, I felt vindicated. Cloud had done that for me. Just me.
And then the Lifestream reached up and sent a single green tendril through him. Something in his soul fell down into it. I squealed with joy and dove after it. The planet was giving me what was rightfully mine. Because I'd wanted it, because it wanted to make me happy, it was stealing Cloud away.
Except… I couldn't find him. That didn't make sense because there was no reason for the Lifestream to draw him into itself unless it was to let us finally be together after all our long months of waiting. I searched but when I finally found him, he was already shifting back into his body from the Lifestream. It didn't make any sense at all but I cut into the thread. It was hard. All I could make solid for him was my hand. But I knew the Lifestream, I could feel it around me, and I knew it was getting ready to erupt. If I could get him stay where he was, so precarious on the small rock in the middle of it, when it exploded upward it would take him again and this time I wouldn't let him go. I knew Holy was bubbling just below the surface of the Lifestream and it would kill him when it exploded. Then we could be together. He reached for my hand and I smiled.
He loved me.
He would die to be with me.
And then his eyes, blue fire, blinked. They focused past me in the green. And they refused to blink again.
I felt the thread of Lifestream leave him and I wailed as it dragged me away with it. The last thing I saw were his unblinking eyes of blue focused on a red-gloved hand and the straining fingers, bruised and battered, that reached for him.
I felt the anger at him starting to build but the Lifestream wrapped too tightly around me. It wanted me, it needed me, and it was desperate. Somehow – that woke me. To the Lifestream I was everything, the only thing, and it struck the cord inside me that always drew me forward to be exactly that. I did what it asked and I felt the power of the entire planet flow through me. I forgot that I was special, I forgot I was a princess, I even forgot Cloud. Somehow, none of that seemed important. Somehow… being – just being – suddenly took up everything inside me and it was enough. It was more than enough. I was triumphant, I was the center of the entire universe, I was everything. When I felt Zack next to me, he was shining like a star, all white fire himself and, for a moment, I smiled at us. Two stars of white fire and everything in the world centered on us alone.
Meteor was nothing to us. Holy was the flick of a finger. The Lifestream itself filled everything.
I was exactly, finally, what I had always been meant to be. I had never felt so exhilarated and so happy and so content. I was finally, completely, triumphant.
Until it faded.
I was back in my white world with its scentless flowers. Zack was there but we weren't stars anymore. He had seen me rejected by a corpse for a bar girl. I didn't want to share my happiness with him and it soured. He faded away. I stood in my world of white.
I had almost had him. Cloud and his unblinking eyes of blue fire. I had been so close.
So close to what I deserved.