A song-ficlet inspired by the song "Moonlight Shadow", using the remixed versions by Groove Coverage and E-rotic.

Title: Moonlight Shadow
Author: MadamHydra
Beta: none
Fandom: FF7 AU
Type: songfic
Pairing/Characters: OT4 (Aerith/Cloud/Zack/Sephiroth)
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: ~3800
Warnings: angst, mention of character death
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels, sequels, and works belong to Square-Enix.

Summary: For the one left behind...


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The last that ever she saw him,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
He passed on worried and warning,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"And darlin', do me a favor."

"What is it this time, Zack?" Aerith said, a teasing note in her voice. "Do you need me to bake another bribe for your Turk friend?"

"If something bad happens, make sure to keep your head down and don't do anything reckless."

Aerith stared blankly at the phone, and a chill prickled her skin.

"Is there something wrong?" she swiftly demanded.

"No. Nothing's up at the moment."

A feeling of foreboding seized her at the dispassionate calm in Zack's voice. The fact that he made no attempt to reassure her otherwise told her everything she really needed to know.

"I see," she said quietly.

"Promise me."

"Promise what?"

"Promise me that you'll keep a low profile, stay out of trouble, and don't ask dangerous questions."

Instinctively, she wanted to protest. If there was danger looming over the ones she loved, how could Zack insist upon tying her hands like that?

"Zack, I..."

"Aerith."

When she heard Sephiroth's deep velvety voice utter her name, she nearly dropped the phone.

"Promise us," Zack repeated quietly. "Please."

She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she would hear Cloud make the same request - demand, really - but there was only silence. Finally, she responded in the only real way she could.

"All right. I promise." When Zack and Sephiroth remained silent, she took a deep breath. She should've known they wouldn't let her get away with such vague answer. "I promise that if something should... happen... I will do my best to keep a low profile, stay out of trouble, and not do anything impulsively stupid."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lost in a river that Saturday night,
Far away on the other side,
He was caught in the middle of a desperate fight,
And she couldn't find how to push through.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the vase slipped from her grasp, Aerith could only watch helplessly. In agonizingly slow motion, it fell toward the cold hard floor. Only when it was too far gone to reach, to save, was she able to move. And even then, she didn't. Because in her heart she knew there was nothing she could do...

The vase shattered in an explosion of silvery green glass shards.

Only then did she move, her knees giving way. And as she sat amid the broken glass, as blood oozed from the cuts on her legs, she rocked and cried with hard, gut-wrenching sobs that made her whole body shake. For years, she had been haunted by dreams hinting at the possibility of this day, but those dreams didn't make the reality of the actual event any less excruciating to bear.

Sephiroth was gone, lost to the ones who loved him.

Eyes wide, Aerith jerked her head up and stared around frantically around the room until her tear-blurred eyes settled on two other vases. She slowly relaxed to see that they were blessedly still intact... for now.

As her gaze returned to the fragments of silvery green glass in front of her, she was distantly aware of Elmyra rushing over to her, clucking worriedly over the bleeding cuts on her legs. Aerith wanted to laugh hysterically - she would've gladly traded all the blood her body just to have Sephiroth safely back - but any desire to laugh vanished when the older woman started to pat her on the shoulder and urge her not to cry over something as trivial as some broken glass.

For the first time, Aerith felt the nearly overwhelming impulse to lash out at her adoptive mother, not just verbally, but physically, as well. But what was the point? It would change nothing. Although she loved Elmyra dearly, she knew that the other woman would never understand the true significance of the breakage, just as Elmyra would never quite understand the full significance of those three particular vases, or the two SOLDIERs and the Shinra trooper who had given them to her.

Sephiroth's gift was... HAD been... a tall, slender silvery metallic green vessel, narrow-mouthed and clearly designed to display a few select blooms to perfection. In any room, it had instantly attracted attention with its cool, graceful, austere lines.

In contrast, Zack's gift was more bowl than vase, with a wide generous mouth perfect for holding a happily chaotic riot of floral color and variety. At the moment, the blue-green glass bowl, with its ever-changing iridescent sheen, sat safe and secure on the dining room table.

And next to Zack's sat Cloud's present. Unlike the metallic glitter of Sephiroth's vase or the luminous iridescence of Zack's, Cloud's vase - a straight-sided tumbler-style affair of medium height - was plain sky blue glass, but none the less beautiful for its simplicity.

She brusquely shrugged Elmyra's hand off her shoulder and slowly began to pick the shards of green glass off the floor, ignoring the cuts they left on her fingers. She smiled grimly to herself. If her other dreams came true, there would be far worse to come and these cuts were going to be nothing in comparison...

When she gathered all the pieces she could reach from her kneeling position, Aerith slowly, painfully, rose to her feet and made her way to the closest chair. Once seated, she stoically began picking out the pieces of glass embedded in her legs. A stony, level stare was all it took to keep Elmyra from interfering. As her adoptive mother ran off for water and bandages, Aerith continued to gather every single fragment of Sephiroth's gift that she could find.

As Elmyra tended to her cuts, Aerith stared blankly at the heap of broken green glass carefully collected in a pile on the dining room table.

Now, she would sit and wait for whatever news came her way.

Just as she had promised.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The trees that whisper in the evening,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Sing the song of sorrow and grieving,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rumors from various sources said that Sephiroth, Zack, and several other members of the Shinra military were all killed in a disastrous mission, but Aerith knew better.

She wasn't certain if Sephiroth was physically dead or alive, but he was unquestionably -gone-, and that was the only thing that mattered to her. However, the reports of Zack's and Cloud's deaths were untrue. She knew they were still alive, but in only the gods knew what sort of circumstances or conditions. It was the very knowledge of their survival that made keeping her promise nearly impossible. What was the point of protecting only herself when the people she loved most in the world were lost, perhaps imprisoned, perhaps suffering? And sometimes in the depths of the night, lying in her cold, lonely bed, she swore long and hard at both Zack and Sephiroth for making such a harsh demand of her.

But she didn't blame Sephiroth for being the one to break. They had all tried their best to love and heal him, especially Zack, but the short time they had together had not been nearly enough to overcome the damage and scars left by over two decades of systematic emotional neglect and isolation, aside from all that Hojo had done to him...

As the long lonely years passed, she continued to put flowers in Zack's blue-green bowl and Cloud's sky blue vase, even as she constantly fretted over their condition. Elmyra occasionally worked up the courage to ask her adopted daughter why she kept using them if they're so precious to her. Wouldn't it better to safely lock them up in a cabinet? Aerith' answer was always the same.

"No. I want them to see the sunlight."

While she was sure that Elmyra becaming increasingly concerned that her daughter was becoming obsessive about the vases, Aerith knew she had plenty of reason to worry. Zack's blue-green bowl was holding up all right, but Cloud's gift wasn't faring nearly as well. Soon after she heard the rumors about the sad fate of Sephiroth's last mission, she could see fine cracks creeping through Cloud's pure blue glass, marring its brilliant clarity.

And as time passed, the cracks in the sky blue vase continue to steadily worsen, and its surface began to develop an unnerving opalescence sheen. Even the blue-green bowl is beginning to look a little worn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun,
Far away on the other side,
He was shot six times by a man on the run,
And she couldn't find how to push through.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Despite the increasing fragility of Cloud's vase, it was Zack's bowl that broke next. With the sound like a gunshot, one day it split without warning, spilling out its contents in a damp mess all over the dining room table. And in its breakage, the bowl had knocked the blue vase over onto the floor.

She could only stare blankly at the puddle of water and soggy flower petals. So once again, her nightmares had come true. Now two of her three were gone. And the last one left was...

Aerith slowly bent down and gently, oh so gently, picked up the blue vase off the floor. Deep cracks ran throughout the marred glass and yet, miraculously, it still held together, if only just barely. But it was so unspeakably fragile, merely breathing on it wrong might be enough to make it shatter.

Silently, she carried the blue vase into her bedroom. Pulling out a scarf that Zack had given her, she carefully packed and wrapped the cracked blue glass, oblivious to the tears that stained and darkened the pink silk fabric. And after she was done, only then did Aerith sit on her bed, hugging the box containing Cloud's blue glass close to her chest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven far away,
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven one day.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Finally, when she had placed the box in a safe place in her dresser, she returned to pick up the remains of Zack' blue-green bowl. Just as with Sephiroth's vase, the sharp edges left her fingers bleeding, and just with Sephiroth's vase, she stoically endured the pain. When she completed her gathering, she placed the bloodstained pieces of iridescent blue-green glass in the same box she used before, on top of the equally bloody shards of silvery green glass.

And as she did so, she quietly and desperately prayed that fragments of crack-crazed blue glass wouldn't be joining them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Four a.m. in the morning,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
I watched your vision forming,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cloud was alive. And he was walking right toward her.

Aerith could only stare stupidly at him, unable to breath, to speak...

... and he brushed by her like she was a complete and utter stranger.

The light bump of their shoulders brushing together was enough to unfreeze her brain. And the first thing that popped into her mind was the image of fragile, cracked sky blue glass.

She whirled and called out to him, just as she would call out to a total stranger. And when he answered in the exact same way, her very worst fears were confirmed.

Yes, Cloud was alive...

... and he was broken. Not physically broken - that would have been so much easier to handle - but broken in mind, heart, and soul.

He didn't know her at all. There was a complete lack of recognition in those blue eyes. And while once those blue eyes had glowed with love, passion, and happiness, those same eyes now literally glowed, just like Zack's and Sephiroth's.

Numbly, she watched him slip away into the scurrying crowd.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Star was glowin' in a silvery night,
Far away on the other side,
Will you come to talk to me this night,
But she couldn't find how to push through.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aerith had furiously berated herself for allowing Cloud to disappear without trying to find out more about him. How the hell was she supposed to find a single blond young man in a big city like Midgar? She didn't even know if he was using his real name!

But the answer literally fell into her lap - or pretty damn close to it - as Cloud crashed through the roof of the church onto her flower bed. And as she watched him slowly stir back to consciousness, she came to her decision.

She would follow his lead. If he didn't remember her...

"So, we meet again. Don't you remember me?" she asked him brightly.

"Yeah, I remember... You were selling flowers."

Even as she smiled cheerfully at him, Aerith wrestled with the desperate need to clutch Cloud to her and weep in mingled joy and sorrow. But once again, the vision of cracked blue glass gave her the strength to resist that impulse. She needed to be careful, so very careful. Like that lone remaining vase, she feared that the slightest amount of the wrong sort of pressure would be too much for Cloud to bear. Both her dreams and her instincts told her that no matter how physically fit Cloud appeared, mentally and emotionally, he was perilously fragile.

And as she talked and watched, she noted much more disturbing anomalies than a simple case of amnesia. Cloud acted and moved like Zack. He even repeated Zack's memories as if they were his own. And that was all wrong, because Cloud should act like... well, Cloud, not Zack. The Cloud she had known, while still shy, awkward, and desperate to become a SOLDIER -like- Zack, had never wanted to actually -become- Zack.

As for her promise to Zack and Sephiroth to stay out of trouble, well, this time, trouble had kicked down her damn door and was not about to take 'no' for an answer. And she could hardly turn her back on and abandon -Cloud-, right?

And as she accompanied Cloud in his pursuit of Sephiroth, she knew her decision to keep their previous relationship a secret was the right and necessary decision to make. If the trauma and losses he had suffered were so unbearable as to make him forget about herself, Zack, Sephiroth, and the things they had shared together, she would NOT reopen those wounds and gouge them even deeper. If she could spare him even that much, she would gladly take on that burden.

But accepting the rightness and the necessity of her decision didn't make it any easier to carry out. And at times, the weight of those secrets felt like they were going to crush her alive.

She ached to have Cloud's arms around her, to be cradled once again so warmly, so lovingly. It wasn't that Zack's and Sephiroth's touch meant less to her than Cloud's. No, it was his constant physical proximity, that tantalizing closeness, made her hunger for him - not sexually, but emotionally. But she knew she didn't dare ask for the reassurance of a simple hug, just in case the physical contact triggered the wrong sort of memories for Cloud.

There were times that she came dangerously close to simply blurting out the truth - at Gongaga after talking to Zack's parents, the gondola ride at the Gold Saucer. And at other times, when the pain and loneliness were especially strong in his now glowing eyes, she wanted so desperately to hold him, to tell him that he was profoundly loved, not just by one, but by three.

But whenever she thought about revealing the truth, she would then think of dangerously cracked blue glass and remained silent.

Cloud was the last of her beloved ones left, but in so many ways, he was further away from her than the other two.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven far away,
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven one day.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aerith touched her face. The bruises Cloud had inflicted on her after handing over the Black Materia to Sephiroth had vanished, wiped away by the heal materia. Her physical pain was gone, but the ache in her heart still remained, raw and pulsing.

She smiled sadly to herself. Familiar with mako-enhanced strength, she knew that Cloud could have easily inflicted much worse damage. But despite the forces tearing and ripping at his mind, he had tried so hard to hold back, to stop himself. And perhaps his very inability to do so hurt Cloud more than anything else.

She wasn't sure how much of Cloud's assault was a direct result of Sephiroth's control and how much was simply the physical expression of his inner mental struggle. It really didn't matter. If the conflict between Cloud's overwhelming compulsion to obey Sephiroth and his utter revulsion at harming a mere teammate caused Cloud that much pain and mental anguish, what would happen if he knew the -real- truth?

She was running out of time.

Cloud couldn't take any more of this. He was going to shatter irreparably if the sadistic mental manipulation by Sephiroth - or rather, that THING wearing Sephiroth's image - continued unabated and unchecked.

While unconscious, she had dreamed of a rain of blue glass fragments. And although she desperately tried to catch them, to stop their fall into the void, the razor-sharp shards sliced her fingers bloody and continued their plunge into the endless darkness...

She couldn't lose him. He was the last. Sephiroth was gone in spirit, if not in body. Zack was dead. And now Cloud's mind hovered on the brink of oblivion and dissolution...

On their journey, Aerith had wondered if there was any trace of the Sephiroth they knew and loved in Jenova's puppet. Did their Sephiroth have the faintest idea what he was doing now to Cloud? Sephiroth, who always fretted about accidentally hurting the ones he loved with his unnatural strength and power - even Zack, who didn't need such delicate handling...

She fervently hoped not. At least let there be -that- much mercy on this Planet.

She had to do something NOW to stop this. Aerith realized that she had been a naive fool to think that her silence would be enough to protect Cloud. Sephiroth had been watching Cloud all along and now she understood what was going on - it was Sephiroth and Jenova who were controlling the speed of AVALANCHE's pursuit all along. Cloud would be allowed to confront Sephiroth only when Cloud was ready, with his mind, will, and spirit completely broken. An empty shell, a mere puppet with which to work their malice...

Aerith smiled fiercely into the darkness. Well, she wasn't going to wait for Sephiroth and Jenova's fucking convenience. If things worked out as she hoped, then Cloud would be free and hopefully find some inner peace. If it didn't work... well, she would deal with that if/when it happened.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Caught in the middle of a hundred and five.
The night was heavy and the air was alive,
But she couldn't find how to push through.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Cloud, can you hear me?"

"Don't worry about it."

"Oh... then, why don't you REALLY worry about it?"

"And let me handle Sephiroth."

"And Cloud, you take care of yourself."

"So you don't have a breakdown, okay?"

"Then, I'll be going now. I'll come back when it's all over."

When she finished talking to Cloud's slumbering mind, Aerith silently rose to her feet and picked her staff and her pack. Once outside in the cool night air, she took a deep breath before heading due north toward the Sleeping Forest... and the City of the Ancients.


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All original portions of this work is considered to be the sole property and copyrighted to the author Madamhydra. No part of this work is to be reproduced, altered, or adapted in any way without the author's express permission.