A/N: Welcome to my Clerith project. This fanfic will be a test of how much I can endure said pairing and the final step of the treatment to my Clerith/Aerith-phobia. If you are a Cloti shipper, don't worry, this story will end as a Cloti. But remember that this will be a -strange- 'love triangle'. This is a strange 'what if' and works on the 'memories' theory, which says that Aerith only liked Cloud because he reminded her of Zack and she never loved the real Cloud, so Zerith is involved too.

This first chapter is the prologue and it shows the timeline and Cloud's 'problem'. I'd be very glad to have some partners in this journey into Cloud's mind and heart, so I welcome all of you who have been brave enough to stay even if the first thing I mentioned was the Clerith. You all know I'm a diehard Cloti, so I'll probably suffer more with this than any of you. But I want to test myself, and as I said, this will end as a Cloti and Zerith, but for now, it's a Clerith. I'll warn you when the Cloti starts in case some Clerith shipper reads this.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

Title: Searching and finding.

Punch, kick, jump, punch, turn around, duck, kick, monster defeated. Not that the poor thing had much of an opportunity against the combined efforts of Tifa, Cloud, and Aerith. The thing had been cut and bleeding from the beginning thanks to one of Cloud's quick slashes.

Tifa looked at herself while taking several deep breaths. She was a mess. Her clothes where tattered, her hair was tangled and her skin was sticky and covered by dried blood. She looked around and saw she was alone.

Where was her team?

Cloud had been there, she was sure. He had been the one to make the first attack. And Aerith was the one who had closed her wounds with her limit break when the monster had charged at Tifa, but now neither of them where in sight. She kept looking around and spotted familiar mountains.

Mount Nibel was at her back, they had been running since they saw Sephiroth in the basement of the Shinra Mansion and had discovered Vincent. The emotional weight of returning to Nibelheim had been quickly forgotten when the madman had appeared before them and the monsters had begun to follow the team. They had been too busy keeping themselves alive to worry about memories of the past or burning towns.

Tifa turned her head from the mountain and looked before her. There, at the far end seemed to be a city with a rocket station, and to the left and right, what seemed to be an endless forest. Maybe Cloud and Aerith had made it out of the woods already?

She started to walk towards the city in front of her. Her muscles were sore and the area from her right hip to waist stung. When she looked, she saw an awful gash there. It wasn't deep, but it was long and was bleeding pretty bad, and since the one carrying the cure materia was Aerith, the only thing she could do for the moment was keep walking and press her hands against the wound.

Suddenly, Tifa heard someone saying Cloud's name. She looked around and spotted a patch of pink clothing on the floor. She picked it up and recognized it as a piece of Aerith's dress. Maybe the monster had attacked her and it had ripped a part of the skirt of her dress? Then, the calling turned again. That was... Aerith's voice?

Tifa pressed the cloth against her side. At least it would help to stop the blood until she could reach the flower girl. She heard a scream. Tifa tried to identify the direction from where the voice had sounded and walked towards it.

That was when she found her team again.

Cloud slashed at the beast and fell back, leaving the offensive to Tifa. He could see the fatigue in her movements, but he wasn't in much better shape himself. He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing, but it wasn't any use. Just when he was about to drop to one knee to catch his breath, a warm tingling feeling washed over him, helping him regain his strength again. Cloud looked to his left and saw Aerith smiling at him.

He looked ahead and saw that Tifa was still punching and kicking the fiend, seemingly recovered and perfectly fine. He looked at the enemy and saw it bleeding through the cuts he had managed to cause in his first attack. Between that and Tifa's attacks, the thing wouldn't be alive much longer. Just when he was about to strap his sword onto his back again, another monster appeared behind them and attacked Aerith, only succeeding in tearing part of her dress thanks to Cloud's quick reflexes. He pushed Aerith aside and used the momentum to cut the monster in half with one smooth swing of the massive Buster Sword.

Cloud let go of the sword and wrapped both arms around the girl. They both fell to the floor, Aerith on top of Cloud while he made sure she was okay by using his body as a mattress for her fall. The pair laid there assessing any damage from their fall. When their attention returned to Tifa and the persistent fiend, they saw the girl deliver the last few punches to finish off the monster and they breathed deeply. It seemed it was over.

Cloud got up and picked up his sword, strapping it onto his back before picking up Aerith' staff and giving it back to her before picking her up in his arms. The damned monster had taken them by surprise and had cut Aerith on her leg before he could kill it. He knew Aerith wouldn't be able to walk with that cut. It wasn't deep, but the pain it would cause if she moved her leg... it would make her fall to her knees if she tried to put any weight on it.

He looked around, searching for a calm place to be able to inspect her wound. While he looked around, he saw Tifa catching her breath, but otherwise she looked fine from where he was, so he decided to leave her there and take care of more urgent matters. Cloud carried Aerith to a little clearing amongst the trees.

While they were walking, Cloud stepped on the tattered fabric of Aerith's dress and ripped a part of it which fell to the floor. After muttering an apology and receiving a smile and an 'it's okay' as a response, he kept walking until he reached his destination.

Cloud laid Aerith down gently on the grass and sat in front of her, inspecting the wound. As he already knew, the cut was superficial and a quick cure spell did the trick. But when the wound was healed, he looked around and his heart stopped for a second.

Where was Tifa?

Had he... just left her there? Alone and tired from such a long battle?

Now that Aerith was okay, he felt something screaming at him, something that had been blocked while Aerith was in danger. What if another monster attacked Tifa? How could he think a simple scratch on Aerith's leg was more important than an exhausted and bruised Tifa? Aerith would have been just fine if he had left her alone. She could have healed herself. But Tifa was alone and she didn't even had any cure materia.

Just when he was about to get up and go search for her, a high-pitched noise made him close his eyes in pain. It seemed to come from his own brain, like all of those times when he tried to remember something about his past or when he got too close to Jenova. His hands rose to his ears, trying to block the sound while his body fell forward on top of the flower girl. He kept his eyes closed, the piercing sound in his mind muffled Aerith's worried voice. He tried to block out the noise, tried to get a hold of reality, but nothing worked.

When he opened his eyes, the sound stopped.

But he couldn't control his own body. He no longer controlled his own brain. He was no longer in front of Aerith, even though he could see her face right in front of him, he was inside his own brain, reliving the nightmares of his past.

And he screamed.

A/N: End of chapter 1. The next chapter will be Aerith's point of view of what happened and we'll know what Tifa saw when she found the team.

Thanks for reading, and reviews will be very much appreciated. I'll need some support/cheers/encouragement to get this story finished.