here we go, second and last part for the fic. I hope this wraps it up just about right. And to think, originally, I was worried that it wouldn't be long enough - heh. Anyway, enjoy, and to all my ff readers that followed this over, thanks for the faith. I've been wanting for quite some time to do a role reversal of the Lifestream incident. Fairheart - may this make you as happy as you always manage to make me.
She woke in darkness
There was a sound. It… it reminded her of rain. When the sun was still out. Like sunshine in rain.
"I want to see her," it demanded, light and sparkling and the sounds it made were words that didn't seem important enough to matter to her. There was a low pause, like the inhale before thunder and a voice, dark and coiled, answered flatly:
"No?" the wind had caught the raindrops and shattered them into smaller drops of sunlight that glittered as they splashed. "What do you – I can help her. I'm a healer. You need me to fix her. I can put her back together."
The threatening hush before the thunder was longer this time and she wondered if it meant that was further away than before. When it answered it was still inflectionless and sounded at just the same low volume as it had before.
When she woke again it was still velvet black. Her body felt sore and stiff. Her chest felt empty and it ached.
It was pressed against something solid and, when she mentally felt for her heartbeat she found two, the one following behind the other in a slightly slower meter. It was confusing because she thought… she was fairly sure she wasn't supposed to have a heartbeat at all, much less two of them. People didn't carry two hearts in their chest. Did they?
It was relaxing though, the two heartbeats. Patta-pum, patta-pum-pum. It made her lips relax and she found that when she nestled in closer to the solid mattress underneath her that it was easier to hear the rhythm.
The wind was sighing through leafless trees outside a window somewhere far, far in and away and long fingers, the most beautiful fingers in the whole world, stroked soundlessly over a long choir of ivory and black.
"When you were five," a low voice thrummed somewhere above her head and through her double-hearted chest. "Your mother used to let you sit in her lap while she played the piano…"
There was a stream nearby. One of those tiny, energetic streams that might not be there next year or might not be in the same place even if it did show up again. It was busy disturbing the forest floor, soaking through moss and mushrooms and cheerfully twirling away around larger rocks that tried to stop it. She listened to it dancing along.
"You have to let at least one of us see her, Cloud. We love her too, ya know. She needs her friends. I mean, for all we know, she could be dead in there and you could just be – "
"God dammit, Yuffie!"
One of the larger stones protested the flirty gush of flowing water and it made her smile to herself.
"What I'm trying to say is you're not the best when it comes to knowing what's sick and what's not, right, Cloud? 'Cause, you know, you're a bit of a head trip too and –"
"&*%## girl!" the boulder was gritty against the water's smoother flow and stubbornly determined to stay that way no matter how long the tiny stream wore at it. "I thought you said you knew just what to say!"
"I do! At least I'm trying to but you keep interrupting! Sheesh! Cloud, you've got to let us in to see her. 'Cause we're worried. And, you know, we're kinda worried about you too. You know, you don't look so good... Like, not mako sick or nothing, but kinda shadowy and – you're not going Jenova on us again, are you?"
The thunder finally rolled, low and steady and inflectionless.
The world was black… but it was a soft black. It was a black that she could rub her cheek against, that felt familiar and a little bit worn but comfortable. Like putting on her favorite sweater after a long, wet, cold day. Her two hearts beat in her chest and she rubbed the heel of her hand lazily over the soft black and listened to thunder in the distance as it grumbled between mountain peaks.
"When you were eight, your mother died. Everyone in the town wanted to be there for you… but you only wanted your mother."
Something that wasn't quite thunder and wasn't quite lightening was rolling quietly somewhere nearby. It was a soothing sound because it didn't rise or fall, instead mellowing along like tall grass growing long in the endless summer of childhood.
"Aerith is pissed," it said and the thunder grunted in answer.
"Yuffie and Cid are worried."
The thunder was a comfortingly expressionless sound and she thought it was a good enough sound to go back to sleep with. The muffled silence that followed brought the drowsy waves of somnolence and her mind bobbed lazily in and out of them. From somewhere far away the grass murmured its sound again.
"You're sure what you're doing is right?"
Even she found herself pausing on the shore of sleep to wait for the answer. Wanting to hear what the thunder would answer…
A grunt was the reply and for some reason it made her smile as she dipped under the waves and sank contently again.
If she lay still when she woke up, she could feel the earth under her breathing.
It was so slow and so mild that she hadn't noticed it at first. Lying there awake listening to the rumble of thunder overhead and the sound of her dual hearts in her chest though, she'd finally noticed the steady rise and fall. It was… comforting. Like being rocked or like the sound of waves on a shore or like the steady feel of rain on the window shutters. It lulled her and soothed her at the same time and she pressed her face into the familiar, soft darkness to be closer to that feeling.
The earth under her was breathing and she slowed her own breaths to match. It made her feel a little boneless but she didn't mind. She felt as if she were almost there. That soon, any time now, she would melt entirely and disappear into the wonderful dark under her. She could even feel the thunder in her own chest as somewhere far away stars appeared in an endless sky and the cool autumn air snapped at her nose and the tips of her ears.
"When you were thirteen, I asked you to meet me at the town well. You wore blue." For the first time, the thunder paused and she felt it in her own hollow chest. She found herself waiting, unable to go back to sleep or disappear into the night again without the guiding sound of thunder. After a long moment in which the earth forgot to breathe under her and she forgot to breathe as well in mimic, the thunder began again. Except it sounded strained and the usual melodic rumbling flow of it was broken.
"You always wear blue when you dress up. I – like that – "
The sun shower was back.
"I brought you these. Yuffie said it looked as if you hadn't been eating. Cloud… you can trust me. You do know that. Right?"
Thunder rumbled somewhere far away and offered nothing solid. That too, made her smile in the dark. She seemed to remember something about that. About no-answer-at-all answers…
"Everyone's worried about you two. I'm worried about you two. You need to let someone else help. Cloud… you can't keep doing this alone. Let me help."
There was no answer from the thunder but… she realized that she recognized that too. Because… there would be a certain shift in the eyebrows and a little tuck of the chin you had to watch for to spot –
The sunlight and raindrops scattered with an explosive, tinkling sigh.
"You're not alone, Cloud. We all want to help. You don't have to keep hiding away from us."
It was quiet – and then she heard something solid shut softly in the dark, heard something metal drop into place, heard the soft thud of boots that paused near her. Quiet, close, the thunder murmured:
"I'm not alone," and she felt herself lifted in the dark and the warm earth settled back under her so that she could breathe again.
"By the time you were fifteen, you were taking tourists up Mount Nibel as a guide."
The thunder was rolling along pleasantly near her ear and in her chest and she sighed out in pleasure. The rumbling stopped briefly at her sigh but she had been listening to it for a long time now and her chest was content and full. The pause didn't frighten her as it would have before. After a minute she felt something move against her back and realized it was a weight lifting from where it had been laying across her waist. It must have been there a very long time because she didn't remember it beginning or even think she'd known it wasn't a part of her until it moved. Gone though, she found she missed the weight and was just about to press down into the solid darkness under her for comfort when she felt it return. It was lighter this time, but she recognized it, somehow, as the same heavier weight as before.
Tentative, it touched her back and she made a humming noise to coax it closer. It was afraid, she could tell that, and she didn't want it to be afraid. She wanted it to know it was safe, that she would keep it safe. That when it was with her, it didn't need to be afraid.
The weight sank against her a little bit more, pressing between her shoulder blades and that felt nice too. It slipped down, heavy enough to be reassuring, to drag against the fabric that was over her suddenly lonely skin. It felt good, so good. Solid and warm and heavy. She liked heavy. Heavy pressed her down, just a little, into the warm under her too. Heavy meant it wouldn't leave or be blown away or lost accidentally. When the weight lifted, she made a quiet protesting noise in her throat, skin suddenly feeling cold, body feeling empty and achy. Thunder hummed in her chest in reassurance and the weight returned, starting at the top of her head and sliding so slow and solid all the way down until it reached the small of her back. She felt the crackle of static under her skin and sighed out long and slow until it drained all the old air out of her lungs and she could fill them with new air that was suddenly warmer and better and fresher.
The weight lifted and began another slow stroke down her body.
In the dark, her lips relaxed into a smile and she let herself go liquid and melty under that wonderful, wonderful weight.
"You had the longest, most amazing legs I had ever seen and you balanced on them like a mountain goat the first time you took me up the mountain." The thunder rolled softly in accompaniment of the slow trailing sparks. "Like you were dancing while we trudged along like mud clods."
"That does it, Cloud! I'm telling Merlin!"
The tiny stream had rerouted and headed back this way. She listened to the bubbling energy and smiled. Her arm reached out though because the soft ground under her wasn't hard enough, didn't move, wasn't warm enough and she missed what should be there. Her fingertips were dull in their recognition of what they whispered over however and it didn't make sense. Just that it wasn't right.
The thunder didn't even rumble an obsolete answer but she knew. She knew the look. The flat, unimpressed, slightly stoic, slightly annoyed look. She could almost hear it. It made her smile but even that wasn't enough. She wanted more. She wanted what was hers. Her fingers dug into the too soft surface and she shifted on it, searching.
"You made Aerith cry! Okay, so she didn't cry but she should have. Leon says we're just supposed to leave you alone but come on – you've been locked in here for-ev-er. I mean, even Cid's worried about you and Teefs. I mean – like really worried. Like forgets to drink his tea when he starts muttering about it worried. And, you know, I'm a little concerned too." The sound of the river was shifting, coming and going, as it slipped from side to side and place to place somewhere outside of her darkness. She shifted on the too soft surface again and found an edge. Her pawing hand met emptiness and she batted at it, stretching further.
She wasn't where she wanted to be. And… and the thunder was too far away. There was… there was a story it was telling her. About a girl living in a city without any sunlight and the strange people that lived there with her. She'd stayed awake for almost the entire story and now she wanted to hear more.
She needed to hear more.
Her fumbling hand found the floor and felt the homey weave of a rug.
"It's not fair." The stream was weaving around rocks now and vocal in its frustration. For some reason that seemed familiar. "If you don't open up, I'll ninja my way in. 'Cause I'm the Great Ninja Yu– okay, okay. Sheesh, if looks could kill… But I'm warning you, if you don't do something in… in a week, I'm gonna – "
Her legs didn't work right, still numb and awkward feeling, and they tumbled off the bed after her before she had a chance to plant both of her hands properly. The fall rattled her and one of her hips crashed into something. The disturbing numbness gave way to splashes of pain and old aches that made her feel feverish. Somewhere on the edge of things, there was the sound of a door slamming, a stream diverted, heavy boots… but she only knew the feel of being encircled in something solid, of a familiar warmth and weight lifting her, of the second heart in her chest waking up and plunging ahead too fast. A sound escaped her and she realized, after it was free, that it was a sob. Her arms snaked around her necessary solid, warm base and she dug her fingers in. Thunder crooned reassuringly near her ear and vibrated in her chest. Somewhere far away was a frustrated stream and pounding on a door but… it was very far away. Her safe world, all of it, was around her again and it squeezed, just a little, but that was as reassuring as the weight had been. She needed… she needed to be squeezed. Just a little.
"Don't go," the words came out of her without realization but as soon as they were loosed, she recognized them. She actually felt what they meant. She understood them. "Don't go again."
She felt the bed… it had been a bed. Why hadn't she realized that…? the bed, settle, as her world returned them both to it. She wasn't left exposed and lying this time though. Instead she was kept cradled and upright and completely surrounded. It stopped the shivering she hadn't realized she'd started. Her legs ached and as if knowing it, she felt a hand, rough skinned and gentle, warm and heavy, begin the slow process of rubbing along the bare skin of them, over and over again until the static and sparks began.
"I won't," the thunder sounded raw and abraded but it was still low and gentle and calming and it filled her chest. "Never again. I won't."
The knocking sound had briefly interrupted the thunder.
"Cloud." It was the thunder that wasn't thunder, the summer grass. It was flat and calm and unhurried. She tipped her head to listen to it and the knocking. Knocking meant a door. A door meant a room. Bits and pieces of her world – her larger world beyond the one that surrounded her – were starting to fall into place and make sense again. She thought… she thought that things hadn't made sense for a very long time even if she couldn't remember exactly what that meant or how it would be possible.
"You need to open the door."
The thunder paused in its roll and it was a thoughtful pause. She snuggled in against the warmth of what she now realized was the thunder's physical form and waited too. After a minute, she felt the turn of a chin back in her direction and the vibrations started in her chest again.
"You told me that naming the chocobos according to color was boring. You also thought calling the wonderful one 'Wonder' was boring. You said using all capitals to write it didn't make one 'GREAT' any easier to distinguish from the other 'great' and you weren't going to check to see if it was male or female every time just so you'd know the difference between the two Greats and the two Goods. You told me I had to rename them all."
"Cloud – open the door."
"I didn't," the thunder confessed and she found snickering noises escaping her that mixed with the rumbling amusement in the confession. A hand, that wonderful 'weight' of before, stroked from her shoulder all the way down her arm and continued to her hip and down her thigh where it was tucked up against a warm side. Her calf got a sliding squeeze all the way down to her heel and the arch of her foot felt the pressure of a thumb rub. She splayed her toes in answer and soft amusement escaped her again where her head rested on a steady shoulder.
"I let you name the black chocobo though when it was born."
"I don't want to break the door down," the sun soaked grass sounded flat and emotionless in the distance. Her thunder, the real thunder, ignored it.
"You named him Dark."
She woke in darkness.
There was a sound. It reminded her of thunder. The low summer thunder that rumbled and rolled around the hollows of the Nibel Mountains. Her home. The place she'd grown up.
Listening though, the thunder sounded ragged at its corners. Worn and fraying at its edges. There was a rasp to it that made her throat ache in sympathy.
"You said I could have your light. You said I didn't need to change what I was, only how I handled it. That you would be there to surround me when the darkness tried to find its way into me again."
"The darkness will be there. But in a place he can't reach…"
She spoke and her voice sounded rusty to her. As if she hadn't used it in a very, very long time. Feeling a little bit weak, a little bit unsure, she lifted her face from where it rested on his chest. She saw nothing in the dark… but she felt him. Even if his heart wasn't really in her chest, she still felt when it stumbled and constricted.
She was sitting in his lap, a bare thigh on either side of his hips, his arms around her. She was in an oversized shirt that was probably immodest in daylight but that felt and smelled of him and comforted her. They were on a bed and he had his back braced against the headboard of it.
Her hair felt clean, as if someone had washed it recently.
Her skin felt clean too…
Her hands found his chest, felt the soft fabric and the solid form of him underneath. In the dark, she knew he had eyes that could see her, even though how that was, was still filtering back to her. She peered at him in the dark.
Thunder. And small lightening under her skin. Rumbling warmth and safety… and pain in her heart… Dry humor. Eyes that hid behind shaggy hair, hot or young or determined or lost or hungry… She felt a shiver move down through her skin and felt his long fingers tighten on her in response where they curled around her. His thumbs rubbed small, coaxing circles against the spots where her back dipped into her hips.
Loner. Wolf. Leader. Lost Boy. Friend. Best Friend. Heartbreak. Hero.
"Cloud…" It breathed out of her and filled her at the same time and even in the dark she both felt his shy smile… and his tremble.
She'd given him her light. She remembered now. She'd given him all of her light and he'd taken it to fight a nightmare so much larger and more personal than the ones she had ever had to fight.
Her heart softened and relaxed in her chest.
Yes. She'd given him her light and he'd gone to fight the one winged demon. For her. For Marlene and Denzel. He fought for them because he was strong enough and they weren't. Because he was the only one that could. She'd given him her light to save the world. To save Marlene and Denzel.
To save him…
Herself… herself was a very small price to pay in exchange for that…
"Leon… you were supposed to break the door down."
"No. It's not – small. You're not… small. Not to us. Not to me."
"I'm not going to break the door down, Yuffie. Cloud will come out when he's ready."
Her face softened and his fingertips found her cheek. Tender, achingly tender, he stroked her skin.
"It's not worth – not for the big picture. I can't fight for the big picture." His storytelling skill had left him and he was reduced to fragmented sentences trying to hold his feelings.
That was familiar too…
"What if something's wrong in there, Leon? We have to do something."
"Cloud…" she saw the glint of his eyes in the dark, the angle of a sharp cheekbone under the overshadowing of his hair. His fingers trailed down her throat and his eyes rose to find hers.
"I can't win unless I'm fighting for something that matters to me. It – I have to fight for someone." His fingers touched her face again. "You. I have to fight for you. Tifa – "
His voice gave her back the last missing piece of herself. Her name. It threatened to break her heart in her chest and she reached for him because… because he had always been the only thing she ever trusted enough to reach for when her own strength wasn't enough. He was suddenly above and she was below and the mattress was too soft but he was solid and reassuring above her.
"Cloud." It was a golden word. Her golden word and it tinted the pale white light reflecting against his skin.
"Can't you sense if they need help, Aerith?"
"No. They don't belong here the way we do, Yuffie. I can't sense them at all."
"I won," his voice was low and held a tinge of hopelessness. "But I'm still dark."
She would never have said it before. She might never have the nerve to say it again. But – in this moment – their souls were still too close together. The threads that tangled them were still tightly wound. Her arms were still around his shoulders.
"Then let me surround you with light," she whispered up into his forever eyes and she watched gold bloom in their depths. And then she saw nothing at all because he was kissing her.
"Fine! I'll ninja the door open myself!"