Characters: Zack/Aerith Cloud/Tifa
Disclaimer: I do not own anyone/anything from the forum Final Fantasy. Square Soft/Enix owns Final Fantasy and its characters. There is no copyright infringement intended. I do not make any profit/money or take any credit.
Summary: Zack Fair made it to Midgar and now must live with his guilt…can he forgive himself?
Timeline: Can be set anytime after Crisis Core
Warning: AU, guilt
'He still hasn't come home yet,' a slender woman with bright green eyes and light brown hair thought to herself as she looked at the clock on the wall above the fireplace. The kids were already in bed, having been sent when the woman realised that the man wasn't going to arrive home in time.
Aerith stood up with a soft sigh, placing her book to the side and moving over to the mantel to look at the photos that stood there. There were different photo-frames all resting on the mantelpiece.
One of them had the woman with a man with spiky black hair and bright blue eyes. He had a bright grin on his face that was only marred by the shadows seen in the back of his eyes. There were a young boy and girl standing in front of the kids, both of them beaming. Another photo had Aerith and the girl intertwining flowers together for her basket to sell. Another photo had the young man and woman with mix-match friends, all of them smiling, hard-worn as if they had gone through a war or two.
One photo stood out the most, there was a young man of 16 dressed in a light blue uniform. He had bright blue eyes and was currently looking at a young woman of 15. She was dressed in a short brown mini-skirt with a white cropped top and a brown vest. She had long dark black hair and dark red eyes. Both of them were smiling together, sitting on a grassy hill as the sun was setting behind them, casting them in a glow that made the picture breath-taking.
The woman sighed sadly as she caressed the picture of the man with spiky black hair, hoping that he would find what he sought.
Zack Fair stood on the Cliffside, looking over at Midgar as he thought back to events that led him here. It was so hard to believe that nearly eight years had passed since that fateful moment. There was a sword buried into the cliff, nearly rusted completely due to the harsh weather they have had over the years.
Zack reached out, placing a hand on the handle before closing his eyes.
"I failed you," he whispered to the rain. "I made a promise to take care of you but I failed to keep the promise."
"Man, you really do like to brood a lot, don't you?" a familiar voice spoke up. Zack's eyes snapped open and looked into bright blue eyes. "Then again, if it had been me, I would probably be brooding myself."
"Cloud?" he breathed out, disbelievingly. Cloud Strife just grinned, seemly amused with Zack's reaction.
"In flesh," he shrugged, "so to speak."
"How…what…when?" stammered Zack. Cloud chuckled.
"Easy Zack, breathe," Cloud reminded him as Zack fought to get his brain back under control. Once Zack was breathing normally, Cloud nodded. "When you left me, the lifestream took me in. I can wander about in the lifestream, looking over on everyone to make sure they are okay." Zack shook his head.
"Cloud…" the regretful tone was enough to spurn Cloud into action.
"I willed myself to die," Cloud cutting Zack off. Zack stared at him and Cloud gave him a sad smile. "I felt her die, Zack. I was only alive because of her but the moment I felt her life slip away; there was no reason for me to continue living. I knew you would be more than enough to bring down any dangers that would threaten the world and you still had your promise to keep…to spend more time with Aerith."
"She?" asked Zack and Cloud nodded with a smile, turning his head to look over his shoulder. Zack also looked in the same direction to see a shadowed form making their way over to them. Zack's eyes widen when he met the very familiar figure of his past.
The woman was slender with long black hair and red eyes. She wore a brown mini-skirt, a white cropped top and a brown top. She also wore brown boots and had a red cowboy hat hanging down her back. She smiled brightly when she saw Zack, slipping her hand into Cloud's, lacing their fingers together.
"Hello Zack," she greeted.
"Tifa," he choked out. He had hoped for so long that she had survived Sephiroth's attack but it looked like he had been wrong. "God, I am so sorry." Tifa shook her head.
"If anyone should be sorry, I should be me," Tifa told him. Zack tilted his head, puzzled. Tifa's smile faded as she remembered the scene. "I was so angry with you, with Shin-Ra that I explained you for everything. I apologise, it was wrong of me to do that." Zack shook his head and opened his mouth to say something but Tifa lifted her free hand, cutting him off. "When you arrived, I was disappointed. You see, Cloud had made a promise that he would come for me when I was in danger but you arrived instead." Understanding dawned on Zack as he remembered Cloud telling him that he had made a promise to his childhood friend.
"I still made it," Cloud muttered under his breath. "I was only a few minutes late." Tifa giggled as she turned to Cloud and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"I know," she told him with a tender smile. Zack watched the two of them with a heavy heart. He knew that Cloud had a crush on Tifa as the young man had always talked about her but he had hidden himself from Tifa when they had arrived in Nibeliheim.
"How…" Zack whispered and Tifa looked at him, her smile fading.
"The cut I received from Sephiroth had been more fatal than anyone thought. Master Zangan thought I was on the road to healing when I succumbed to death. I arrived in the lifestream to see my mother and father. Both of them had explained what had happened to me then Cloud joined me later," Tifa explained.
"While under Hojo's 'watchful' eyes and experiments, I was cut off from the lifestream until you broke us out. It took a while for the lifestream to break through my mako addiction but it eventfully did and I learned of Tifa's death and gave myself up. There was nothing left for me here. My mother died in the father and Tifa was my last link to the world only to find out that she had died," Cloud explained. Zack nodded, understanding. He had almost lost Aerith to Sephiroth during the last battle and when he thought he was going to lose her, he had almost given up all hope when she pulled through.
"So, you guys have been watching us the whole time?" Zack asked and Cloud nodded while Tifa giggled.
"Just a check on every now and then," she assured with a teasing twinkle in her eyes, "We promise we haven't been watching any 'naughty' scenes." Zack blushed slightly, scratching the back of his head while Cloud chuckled.
"So, just hanging out in the lifestream?" Zack asked once he got his blushing under control before frowning. "That doesn't seem like so much fun. Do you have any games or anything?"
"Actually, we met someone who knows you," Tifa told him. Zack frowned, confused as another figure came into view only for his jaw to drop when he recognised the figure.
"Angeal?" he whispered, his throat closing as he faced his mentor once more. Angeal had taken Zack under his wings when Zack first signed up with SOLDIER. He had been Zack's idol, after Sephiroth, and Zack had been the one who was forced to end Angeal's life when he mutated into a monster, turning Zack from the care free young lad to a more mature man with heavy responsibilities on his shoulders.
"Zack, I am glad to see that you have managed to calm down some more since the last time I saw you," Angeal greeted Zack while Cloud and Tifa giggled together, amused.
"He's been telling us load of stories about you," Cloud told Zack with an edger grin on his face, one that had Zack on an edge, "Especially about Zack the Puppy."
"Oh come on!" Zack complained as Tifa burst into laughter with Cloud while Angeal just smiled, amused. "Did you really have to tell them about that?!"
"Yes," Angeal informed him. "After all, they are the source of entertainment in the Lifestream. There isn't much to do here except look over you."
"And saving you," Cloud added in with a shake of his head. "You could at least listen to Aerith when she warns you about something." Tifa nodded in agreement.
"Even Denzel is beginning to pick up on your habits, so unless you want lots of phone calls from principals in the future, you might want to tone down on the head rush habit."
"At least he isn't as bad as he used to be," Angeal pointed out with an amused smirk as he watched Zack glare at them. "He would hunt his room for his materia and rush out for his mission only to be told that he needed his sword and had to run back to his room for it, causing delays." Cloud and Tifa laughed even harder at this while Zack groaned, his hand covering his eyes as he tried to deal with his best friend laughing at him with his girlfriend and Zack's mentor but Zack couldn't help the warm feeling he was receiving from this meeting.
He had always wondered what it would have been like if they had all survived and it was nice to see that piece of reality, even though he knew it would never happen in his, no matter how much he would want it.
"So, tell us…why have you come here when you could be nice and cosy in your house with Aerith and the kids?" Angeal asked, getting right to the heart of the matter like he always used to. Zack stared at him before sighing.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't save any of you," Zack told them. Cloud, Tifa and Angeal all shared a look before they looked at Zack once more.
"You can't save everyone," Angeal told him with a soft smile before he faded away.
"You are Cloud's best friend, you tried to bring him back to me when you thought I was still alive," Tifa told him with a grin before she turned and kissed Cloud on the cheek, heading into the light.
"You don't need forgiveness from us," Cloud told him with a small smile. "You need forgiveness from yourself." With that, Cloud faded away and Zack was left alone in the rain once more. Zack stared at the sword a little while longer before he stood up straight and turned back down the path, leaving that part of his past off his shoulder.
Aerith was in the kitchen when she heard the front door open of her house. After her step-mother had left Midgar, Aerith had reclaimed the house, she and Zack living together with the kids. They had set up the flower selling, going with the name 'Flower Girl' rather than 'Midgar full of flowers, wallets full of money' due to it being a mouthful.
Zack had also taken over the bar for the man he had offered the name 'Seventh Heaven' to in exchange to get wood to make the wagons for Aerith's flowers. It became a popular bar and grill for people living in Midgar. It was also a part inn, allowing people to stay whenever they were in Midgar for a visit.
Aerith headed into the hallway and caught sight of Zack entering the house, soaking from the rain.
"You're home," Aerith breathed out with relief clear in her voice and Zack winced as he closed the door behind him, setting his sword off to the side and stepping forward.
"I'm sorry," he blurted out, confusing Aerith. "I didn't mean to be so distant from you over the last few years. I felt so guilty over Angeal and Cloud that I didn't stop to see how it must have been affecting you." Aerith gave him her sweet smile, shaking her head.
"I understand, Zack. You were close to them and to lose them the way you did would have made an impact on you. You needed time to see it through. I am glad that you got to speak to them," she assured him, stepping closer and placing a hand on his shoulder. Zack looked down at her.
"How do you know I talked to them?" he asked. Aerith just tilted her head with an amused smile and Zack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, the Cetra's abilities, forgot about that." Aerith giggled as she reached up and pressed a kiss to Zack's cheek.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked as she pulled away and Zack nodded.
"Yeah, it turned out that I needed to forgive myself," he told her. Aerith just smiled knowingly before she looked toward the stairs then looked back at Zack.
"You should say goodnight to the kids. They stayed up late hoping to see you," Aerith told him and Zack nodded as he stood up, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"Are you coming up?" he asked and Aerith nodded.
"I'll be up in a minute. I just need to collect my book." Zack nodded as he made his way over to the stairs and climbed them. Once Zack was out of earshot, Aerith closed her eyes as a tender smile crossed her face.
'Thank you…for helping him.' She thought.
'You're welcome,' a female voice whispered, a soft breeze brushing against her cheek. 'Now go and live your lives. We'll be waiting for you when the time comes.' Aerith opened her eyes, her smile brightening as she picked up her book and headed up the stairs, feeling safe and secure now that Zack was slowly returning to his normal self and that his old friends would be forever watching out for them.
I hope I did it justice.