Yeah. I know. This has been done so many times, you stopped counting, but... but I just so love the thought of another chance, yanno? Also... I think I've got a new spin on things (just a little) because I have yet to find a finished one of these and... argh, I would love to ramble on about this, but I'll end up giving more away than you're supposed to know right now.

"Take me back" is a very tentative title. (If you have other not-quite-so-lame suggestions, feel free to send it!)

Cloud Strife, twice saviour of the world, three times slayer of Sephiroth (did that make him three times saviour of the world?), once test subject, and now delivery boy extraordinaire fiddled with the screwdriver in his hand, wondering faintly if the slightly smaller one in his mouth would fit better, but discarded the notion almost as soon as it popped up. Figures though. That the one time he didn't want to be late was the one time Fenrir broke down. Well, not broke down as such, just... started making an odd scraping sound that hadn't been there before and which turned out under inspection to be caused by a joint, which had inexplicably gotten loose.

He wondered faintly if he could risk taking it home to Tifa before repairing it but discarded that notion too. The joint was too close to the gears and if it hit one of this the whole thing would stop working entirely. As it was, he would probably not even have noticed before it was too late if not for his enhanced hearing.

He grimaced and started screwing again. How had this particular screw managed to get rusty anyway? That was supposed to be impossible! The man who sold it to him had guaranteed that everything on the bike was top of the notch. Figures the only thing that wasn't was a screw that fastened a joint extremely close to some of the most sensitive parts.

Suddenly he grinned, then started laughing. He had come so far, from the pathetic mess he had been a scant few years ago, that now his biggest trouble was a broken down bike. The mirth subsided until it was present only as a wry smile as he found an old rag in his tool box and bound it around the joint to avoid it bouncing any more. It also meant he couldn't drive. The presence of fabric that close to the motor would start a fire and he really did love his ride.

He could probably force the screw, with his enhanced strength it would be a piece of cake, but the likelihood that he would break the screw or the screwdriver was more risk than he cared to take. He sighed. He had a long trek home, probably wouldn't be there until tomorrow, especially considering the amount of monsters that'd see how slow he moved and figure him easy prey. Tifa would be mad at him coming home smelling of monster guts. He grinned again at how problematic his life had become. But it was normal problems. He wondered how many people were grateful to their problems. Not many, he was willing to bet.

He fished his cell out of his pocket, hoping the signal was strong enough. He pressed the speed dial to Seventh Heaven, knowing Tifa or one of the kids would be there.

"Hey Denzel! Yeah, it's me. No, I don't want to sell you something, I just... No, I'm not... what?! No Denzel, I won't.. Dammit, kid, just give me Tifa!" What in the world were they showing on TV lately? Or maybe Denzel was just... yeah, he would, wouldn't he? Cloud sighed, wondering if he had been equally aggravating when he entered puberty. He didn't remember any such thing, he had always been the polite, quiet type. He grinned again when he realized that his adoptive, he hesitated to think of him as 'son' but that was essentially what it came down to, had been quiet and timid not too long ago. Obviously there was more than one orphan, who was healing.

"Hey Tifa. Mh, no I'm okay... Yeah... Fenrir's broke though... Mh-hm, no, nothing major, but I can't fix it here.. Yeah, I need parts." No mention that the 'part' he needed was a fucking screw. "Gotta drag it home, I'm sorry. I probably won't be home until tomorrow... I'll be fine, by the Planet, if I can slay Sephiroth, there doesn't exist a monster on this planet I can't fell... Yes. You are... Thanks though." He grinned. "Also, can you check what Denzel's been watching on TV lately? ...Yeah, he made a very disturbing observation before. ...Yeah, I will, later!"

Standing alone with a broke bike, stranded in the niddle of nowhere, Cloud stretched. Life was good.

- - -

"No. We can't ask that of him!"

Sense of survival. Protection-protective. Need. Perception of threat. Perception of protection.

"He's just healing! Please, he went through so much already. Let him have peace."

The need to survive. Protection-protective. Urgency.


The sense of loss. The sense of death-sickness.

"I know but... there must be another way!"

Protection-protective. Urgency. Love.

She would have swallowed if she had had a physical form. How do you argue with love? "Okay... I'll... I'll tell him." I'm so sorry Cloud.

- - -

Cloud threw another branch on the fire he had created. Not that he needed it. He was by far the most dangerous predator in these lands, which he had proven no less than seven times since his bike broke in the afternoon. Tifa would have his hide for the state his clothes were in. Well, he smirked, Tifa could do some thoroughly enjoyable things with his hide, so he couldn't claim he much minded that.

He leaned backwards and stretched self-satisfactorily, placing his hands behind his head and looking up at the numerous stars. The moon had yet to rise and there was not a cloud to be seen. He refused to make a joke on his own name, but only barely, enjoying the stunning view, reminded of so many years ago when he had been looking at the same sky with Tifa, promising her to be a hero and to save her. Well, he hadn't made it into SOLDIER, but in the end that hadn't made all that much of a difference.

The night was chilly, but not more than he could handle, when a sudden gust of wind snuffed out the fire. Cloud sat up. Wind had to be extraordinarily strong to snuff out a real fire and no gust should be able to do it that easily. He picked up his sword, lying beside him in case he was attacked and looked around, testing for smell or sound to give away whichever monster it was that didn't like light. He should have been able to sense it long before it could magick away his fire, but he could speculate about that later.

The night was empty, still. Too still. Like every critter and insect had suddenly found other places to be than within earshot of him. Or whatever it was that thought it could hunt him. He smirked. When was the last time he had had a real challenge?

A pale light at his back made him spin in a crouch, prepared to be attacked and to counter it when his eyes fell on the glowing form of Aeris. He stumbled.

She couldn't hold back a chuckle at the World's Greatest Warrior stumbling at her feet.

"Aeris?" His voice was jut slightly breathless. Not like he had been out of breath but more... like there was just a bit of reverence in it. She swallowed, hoping maybe that would make it easier for him. Hoping he would agree. It would break her heart if he refused. He didn't get the option to refuse.

"Hi Cloud," she said gently, trying to dredge up a smile for him, knowing she was unsuccessful. Knowing that her trying and failing was what made him tense so.

"Is something wrong?" And there she had it, the perfect excuse to just tell him, to not have to beat around the bush and get increasingly guilty as she learned how well his life was going.

"The... the planet is dying." She barely managed it, knew that if it wasn't for his enhanced hearing, he wouldn't have caught it and she would have had to repeat it. She couldn't bear that.

"What?" He asked anyway, probably already knowing what it meant that the planet was dying, what it meant for him, the hero, the eternal champion.

"I'm so sorry, Cloud. The... the planet says that without a living ancient it's... it's gonna wither."

"Without..." His eyes flickered back to her face in a moment of clarity. "You were the last living ancient." He wondered what he was doing with that statement. They both knew. She wondered if he was beginning to have an inkling what that meant.

"The planet is going to send you back in time... in time to save me."

"What? How can it.. no, that can't... Will I be able to come back?"

She shook her head, no.

"Aeris," he said suddenly, urgently. "I can't. I can't leave here I... I don't even know how it would work but.. I have to.. to stay here, I... Tifa's waiting for me and..."

"I'm sorry, Cloud, I'm so, so sorry. The Planet won't give you a choice."

"But... but I have to stay here! Denzel... Denzel's growing up and.. you should see him, the girls are beginning to cast him looks! He's prancing like a peacock. Doesn't have eyes for anyone but Marlene but still... and Marlene is gonna be so beautiful when she grows up! She and Tifa.. they're giggling a lot lately and she's always bugging either one of us to go buy her clothes or... or other girl things and... Life, Aeris, I can't leave!"

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I really am, but..." She was fighting not to start crying.

"Tifa's pregnant." His voice was pleading, his eyes even more so. She collapsed to the ground, giving in to her sobs. "S-she... won't tell me, I think she's afraid I'll react badly to it, but I-I can feel it. Hear it... something. I just know. Aeris, please, I can't. There has to be another way! Please, Aeris, there has to..."

She shook her head, barely able to speak through sobs and hiccups. "I-it's already... too late..."

Her words had barely left her quivering lips before he felt a peculiar feeling of weightlessness permeate his body. No, not his body he decided. His mind. He was being detached. He tried to swallow, but he no longer had a throat. He wondered, feeling more than a little unhinged, how he could feel dry-mouthed without a mouth.

Life stream was rising through the ground, blinding him an making him see farther than he ever had before. It was then that he found out that he could fight, even without a body, and he did. Tooth and nail he fought to keep himself where he belonged. Where he was supposed to be. Where his family was and expected him. He fought, throwing every single speck of stubborn Nibel blood into the fight.

"No! Cloud, if... something could go wrong! Cloud! Stop fighting! CLOUD!" But Aeris' pleas fell on ears already consumed by the sheer will to be who he was. He had a life! He had a family! He had defeated Sephiroth once to avenge them and twice to keep them. There was no way he was going stop fighting now.

"I found peace, damnit!" He tried to scream it at the overwhelming will pressing him... back. No! He couldn't lose all that. Couldn't lose everything. Not again. And so he continued fighting, feeling himself torn down little by a little, but not caring because the overwhelming will was starting to send signals like panic and urgency and it almost felt like he was winning.

Then the last wisp of self evaporated.

Sooo! Reviews will bring cyber cookies! The good ones! With orange-chocolate flavour. Mmmh, yummeh.

I'll also answer any questions posed. Or well... I'll try to.