A.N Okay, so this is my first real fanfiction, so please be kind to me. It might not make much sense right now, and seem kind of skippy. That's all for a reason I promise you. This is the longest thing I have ever written as a prologue, and it only took me two days to write. Yay for me. I would really appreciate it if you would review, since I'm not certain as to whether this is any good, although I hope with a little more work, in later chapters it will be the best thing I've written to date. If I have the facts wrong then please let me know, I'm using a lot of my personal hand written notes here and if i'm ever going to have my encyclopedia done it would be great to know everything. Anyway, read on, hopefully enjoy, and just maybe share some of that joy with me.
Disclaimer; I do not own Final Fantasy VII, if I did then Kalm wouldn't have been spelt with a K, or at the very least razed to the ground for their terrible spelling.
Plot Note; In case you were wondering, this will be a multi chaptered, time travel story. As to the pairings, well mostly that's up in the air at the moment. Any suggestions will be taken into consideration.
Cloud Strife was smiling again, perhaps not in the way that many would have liked (especially Tifa and the kids), but the fact remained that the savior of the planet had a content smile on his face. It wasn't his usual smile either, the slightest quirking of the lips that he was sure he had picked up off the Nightmare himself, but a true teeth baring smile of bliss. There was nothing about the whole situation that was in any way good, or even funny, but to Cloud everything was a blissful rush of wispy green.
Yet again the infallible hero, who was known for his mighty strength and perseverance, was greeting the Lifestream. A trip Cloud had made more than once before, cloaked in the numbing hazes of Mako poisoning. That was the difference in and of itself; on previous trips Cloud had been the reluctant back seat passenger of a besieged mind, completely and utterly defenseless to the situation. Although those who knew the blonde would have liked to believe otherwise, this trip was not only a one way affair, but something set in motion by his own hand.
The day had started like any other, and at first there had been nothing distinguishable about it to make anyone suspicious. Cloud had awoken in his bed, the sheets caressing his skin a little bit threadbare and itchy, but so entirely familiar that he'd known where he was moments into consciousness. Knowing where he was, wasn't a luxury often afforded to Cloud, his mind playing tricks upon him more often than not. On more than one unfortunate occasion he had awoken to find himself back in the dreaded lab, conversing with the mad scientist Hojo or flooded with burning green liquid.
Tifa had shielded the children as much as she could from the sight, often unable to rouse Cloud from his waking nightmare, but still Marlene and Denzel knew that something was wrong with him. It was hard to miss the way Cloud often stopped and talked to thin air as if he was confronting a person who wasn't there.
At first it hadn't been that noticeable, their father figure half way around the world taking deliveries. Runs that became more and more frequent as Denzel grew weaker from the curse of Geostigma. Until finally those haunted blue eyes and the quirked lipped smile was nothing but a memory to those who were left behind.
Unbeknownst to his dearest friends and comrades, Cloud had grown steadily worse inside his own head. Memories of the past overlapping those of the present, until he was so plagued he was forced to be constantly on the move to keep some semblance of normalcy and distance. Already fragile from living so many horrors the first time through, the pressure of being forced to replay the broken fragments of so many lies and horrors broke something deep inside the blonde.
Intellectually Cloud had known that he was being stupid, that even though he was breaking on the inside and dying on the outside he should continue to live on. His pretense of finding the cure for Geostigma on behalf of Denzel, his non-biological son, quickly wore thin when he hit nothing but dead ends. His only achievement had been to contract the disease himself.
In his mind he'd acknowledged the fact that it was a fitting punishment, to slowly die from the very disease that he'd failed to eradicate from his child. The perfect death; his skin turning dark in places, and occasionally secreting a thick tar like substance to drip, like a visible marker that the infallible, unbreakable savior of the planet was more broken and defiled than anyone dared to believe.
Often Fenrir had roared through the darkness, pushing Cloud onwards only for him to find himself on the cliffs surrounding Midgar. Invariably he would stop and think; think about the people he was failing, failing as he had everyone he had ever loved. He had failed to protect his mother and the villagers of Nibelheim from Sephiroth. He'd failed to protect Zack from Hojo after throwing his silver haired idol into the depths of Mako pulsating beneath their feet.
Failed again on the cliffs to move his body fast enough, hard enough to stop Zack from falling at the hands of the entire Shinra army. And most recently he'd failed Aerith in the Forgotten City, nearly impaling her upon a sword himself; frozen like the puppet he'd been accused of being as Sephiroth had descended from the heavens much like his mother and impaled the last Ancient upon his legendary katana.
As much as he was heralded as the 'Savior' and 'Hero' of all upon the face of the planet, Cloud Strife knew the truth; he was the savior of nothing. He was nothing but the world's ultimate screw up. Everything he had tried to do he'd failed at; not only could he not save anyone, but he'd never even made his dream; to get into SOLDIER as much as he had once believed he had.
That had been a hard blow to take, to know that the one achievement, the one thing in his life that he had been proud about was not true. The Turks could almost have used the tactic as a form of torture it was so hard to face. The knowledge was compounded by the fact he'd walked around with his first class uniform on, telling everyone what a big shot he was.
To believe that he'd thought so ardently that he could be anything other than a failure, it was laughable. Looking back at his memories he could understand the arrogance behind those Shinra employees he'd encountered while under the stolen guise. They'd probably though he was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever seen, trying to pass himself off as one of their own elite.
~ 0 ~
The Buster Sword stood commemoratively upon the cliffs facing Midgar, a testament to the distance that Zack had travelled with Cloud, only to be gunned down within sight of their destination. A remembrance of both Zack's valiance and Cloud's own failure, that he was so much a burden that the starry eyed SOLDIER who had dreamed only of becoming a hero became so only through his death to save someone who didn't deserve it. More than anyone would ever realize he often wished that Zack had died in his place, a change that if he'd been given the chance he would have whole heartedly implemented.
Zack Fair was as much a puppy as his mentor Angeal Hewley had often stated, his reckless abandon and loyalty to those he loved had in the end been his down fall. But for the few faults in the sable-haired SOLDIER there were so many strengths that he'd barely had the chance to share with the world. He'd almost say that Zack should have been the 'Savior of the planet', but having lived that life first hand he wouldn't have wished it on anybody. Not even the one person he had ever seen so determined to be a hero.
Cloud had become so caught up in the thin line between past and present, that even when he was aware enough to connect his mind with the fact that he had a PHS to answer it was often too late for the many phone calls he never returned. There were the same old thing day after day; where are you Cloud? When are you coming by? Or if he was lucky the occasional message asking for service.
Too soon even those calls asking for service of some kind had run out, and he'd mostly stopped checking his phone altogether, unwilling to be reminded of the life he was running from. It wasn't that anything he had was so terrible that he never wanted to return, even the knowledge that he'd failed another person, and left him at home with no word.
He was sure that Denzel knew, as he himself knew, that searching for a cure for Geostigma was almost as pointless and time consuming as searching for a needle in a haystack. You could sift through every strand of hay, and eventually might come across the needle, but more often than not, by the time you would have found it the time had long passed its need and all the effort was wasted.
He knew when he'd first had the thought to abandon the search for the cure for Geostigma that he was letting both of them down, but he was more than ready and willing to die, and Denzel, although he'd loved living with them he'd caught the boy more than once thinking about returning to his true family. A line of thought he knew Tifa would have discouraged if she'd knew what the boy had been thinking, but he'd known from the moment the words had poured forth that he could say nothing on the matter. He himself had been plagued on and off with such thoughts for more years than he could count.
As a young teen, shortly before he'd gone to Midgar in search of his dreams, his own mother had informed him that such thoughts were not normal and that perhaps he should get it looked at. At the time he'd felt rather disinclined to deal with the issue, but years later, shortly before joining AVALANCHE when he'd been unable to understand the horrible dreams and dark thoughts he'd sought some help with a local doctor. The young lady who'd talked to him had theorized at a combination between Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even though he'd been unable to remember much of what had really happened.
He'd never told Tifa, or anyone else other than Vincent really, but the doctor had recommended a few drugs to deal with the problem. At the time he'd been unable to explain why he'd been so terrified by the thought of drugs coursing through his veins so readily. When he'd had his memories returned he'd understood that Hojo was the reason he was too scared, even years later, to take the prescription he'd been provided.
He'd kept the fact from everyone because he knew; even with the vague knowledge they had of his past they would encourage him to fill the script, the stupid piece of paper he'd kept until this day inside his one vain belonging. In a draw inside his bedroom, there was a small bound book containing a photo of AVALANCHE, a pressed flower from the garden inside the church, and a father's day card given to him by Denzel.
~ 0 ~
Although filled with remorse, a slow decaying death and a large amount of avoidance (from more things than one), Cloud had been accepting of his life until the remnants had arrived in the remains of Midgar. The motorcycle race on the outskirts of the city while battling both remnants and monsters had been a thrill that he'd long since thought abandoned in his life.
Their presence had spurred things into a state of exhilarated agony in his life; although Cloud had been ready to throw in the towel and live his life to the last in this humdrum state of nothingness his ingrained disposition had forced him to return to Edge and confront the threat damn near head on, if not with a few detours on the way.
To return home to the church and find all his material missing, Tifa unconscious in Aerith's flowers, and Marlene and Denzel missing combine with a particularly vicious attack of Geostigma overwhelmed the sense of purpose he'd accumulated until that moment. To realize that even while he'd gathered up the force of mind to actually do something he'd failed the people he cared for once again, it had seemed as though at the time he had finally pulled himself together enough to do good his efforts were already going to nothing.
The already shaky confidence Cloud had managed to build in a few briefly gathered moments upon his monster of a motorbike, Fenrir, was very quickly knocked down to nothing; A nothing which was firmly crushed under foot when Reno and Rude of the Turks confessed to coming to his rescue. He couldn't help but voice his incompetence aloud, barely aware that he was speaking to other people in the room and not just voicing his musings to the world as he was wont to do when on the open road alone.
He'd been shocked when Tifa had turned to him and spoken, "You have Geostigma, don't you? You're going to give up and die, is that it?"
At first he'd been unable to formulate a reply to that, after all he'd worked so diligently to keep that, along with everything else a secret from all of his friends; especially Tifa and the kids. It wasn't just that he hadn't wanted them to worry about him, after all they had enough on their hands with Denzel's case, let alone adding in his own foolishly contracted outbreak. After all it was what he'd deserved.
His mouth had twitched a little at the corners, as though he was going to say something before he'd fallen into a state of motionless, as though by staying perfectly still he could draw Tifa's attention away from him.
It hadn't worked.
"So it is." Tifa had replied turning away again, almost as if she was unable to bear looking at Cloud once she knew his intent.
As much as he had felt like he'd deserved to be turned away from, he'd been unable to keep his silence, defending himself with, in his own opinion an admittedly rather poor excuse, "There's no cure."
Unwittingly Cloud had incensed the wounded martial artist who whipped around to talk animatedly, "Yeah, but, that's not stopping Denzel, is it? Don't run! Let's fight it together! We can help each other, I know we can."
When Cloud had offered no response to the statement other than averting his eyes to a suddenly fascinating spot across the room Tifa had turned her back on Cloud again. Her black hair swirling like a sable tide around her shoulders as she'd tried to hide her disappointment from the startlingly vulnerable man she'd thought was close to her.
Even trying to ignore the whole conversation blonde eyebrows had drawn together in a mixture of frustration and personal resentment. He'd felt so overwhelmingly useless standing in the room above seventh heaven trying to explain to the girl he'd known since child hood, that he'd once had a crush a mile wide upon, that the next words whispered had hit him harder than had probably even been intended.
"I guess ... that only works for real families." Tifa uttered softly, her eyes carefully averted and her body slumped.
In a fit of pity for the girl, or more aptly the woman who remained, that had at one point followed him to the ends of the earth Cloud had given in and shared a portion of his true thoughts and feelings with her, "Tifa ... I'm not fit to help anyone; not my family, not my friends. Nobody."
"Dilly Dally Shilly Shally," Tifa replied, her voice starting soft and growing more incensed once she'd caught Cloud's attention, "Dilly Dally Shilly Shally!"
Cloud had been so caught up in his own thoughts he'd barely noticed Reno enter the room, his mind only vaguely registering the clomping of boots that preceded the red head when he wanted to advertise his presence. Later Cloud realise upon further thought that the reason the Turks bothered to advertise their presence in the building at all was out of both respect and fear for the blonde headed hero.
When Reno had thrown in his two Gil, stating only that he thought Tifa wanted him to move on he'd been beyond pissed. He hadn't been able to understand how exactly they could sit there and tell him to just 'get over it and get to work". There was a reason that he'd been hiding from everyone for as long as he had, and he'd almost burst out into an angry tirade against the pressuring pair.
The conversation was quickly pushed to the wayside when he'd discovered that Marlene and Denzel had been sighted somewhere. His heart had skipped a beat and then frozen altogether for what felt like a millennia when he'd discovered that Kadaj's gang, the living remnants of Sephiroth, The Nightmare that plagued even him.
When Rude had stoically announced that Kadaj had taken the kids to The Forgotten City he'd felt physically ill at the thought of losing another in the place where he'd lost Aerith. The location alone had been enough to spur Cloud to mount Fenrir and rush to his destination at a speed that would have made any other feel both scared and ill at the same time. Even the motion sickness that occasionally plagued him when he was going too fast hadn't dared rear its head on his journey.
"I have to talk to Rufus," Cloud had announced getting to his feet to feet Reno and Rude.
Immediately Tifa had flown into a rage, "Stop running! I know, even if you find the kids you might not be able to help them. Maybe something will happen that can never unhappen. That scares you, doesn't it? But you need to think about now, really take it in! Look at you; you think you got it so damn hard!"
Rude and Reno had begun to whisper to each other while fidgeting uncomfortably; clearly uncertain as to whether they should have been listening to the conversation.
"Well you hate being alone so let people in! Sure, you don't answer the phone, but I don't see you throwing it away either!" Tifa had continued attempting to hammer sense into Cloud.
When Rude and Reno had stopped chatting the cocky red head had turned to Cloud with a smirk imparting some final words before leaving the building before the blonde had a chance to reply, "You go; the base is all yours."
Tifa turned had quickly turned the conversation back on course, "Which is it, our memory or us?"
~ 0 ~
With resolute focus Fenrir had zipped through the Forest Of The Ancients, the eerily glowing trees reminiscent of the moon not even having an impact on Cloud's mind other than making his mind detach from reality. His mind had separated itself from his body, drawn into a starling white light which quickly reformed itself into a garden at his feet. The flowers had swayed in their own ethereal breeze almost as if they were waving to him. Aerith's scent; rich deep earth exposed to oxygen, ozone before a storm in the freshest of wilds, and the most delicate floral scent invaded his senses.
Even with his old friend at his back, Cloud had felt no urge to turn around, the mere presence of the last Ancient that had roamed the planet was enough to calm his scattered nerves and mind a little. At least until Aerith spoke, "You came! Even though you're about to break. That's a good sign," she trilled, her voice filling the air in the combination between nothing and everything as she placed a hand on his arm, "So, why did you come?"
Scrunching up his eyebrows Cloud had tried to reason his visitation out, "I think ... I want to be forgiven, more than anything."
When Cloud had attempted to turn around the vision ended and he was left facing only the Forest Of The Ancients, the glimmering boughs mocking the lack of gently flowered garden and eternal white light. The grating booming tang of bullets being fired had roused Cloud from his single minded daydream. His eyes had alit upon Yazoo and, their silvered hair, pale skin and kitten eyes catching and reflecting the alien light. He managed to dodge the speeding projectiles with ease, his Mako enhanced vision slowing the battle down in his head until he'd almost been able to dance Fenrir out of the way.
The altercation had until that point gone in his favour, until Kadaj had signalled into the trees, alerting the children under his manipulation into creating a block in the path. The effect of the human shield in the form of innocent children had tipped the scaled in the favour of evil. Unwilling to allow his bike to impact with the pliable bodies Cloud regretfully let his pride and joy spin out, slipping to one side and skidding along the path. His body attempted to follow after the speeding machine, stopped by both friction and gravity until his scraped figure came to a stop before rocketing to weary feet.
~ 0 ~
Kitty slitted eyes glanced up at Cloud in much the same way Sephiroth had, the vision of the past morphed somewhat by the shoulder length hair, hanging around an angular face, "I'm glad you could make it!" The most insane of the three remnants had intoned in a softly sarcastic voice.
Angered by the presumptuous tone Cloud thoughtlessly replied angrily, "I only came for the kids."
The statement, rather than having the presumed and desired upon effect had just fed the less than stable mind of the incomplete copy. Lips had quirked slightly in impetuous abandon, and Kadaj's upper body turned to an angle, bending at the waist to address his enraptured army.
"See this man? He's our big brother, but alas, in our happy flock he's what you call a "black sheep."" Kadaj called, attempting to incense the children who seemed to blank to really care.
When Kadaj made an attempt to push the altercation towards a physical brawl rather than just a verbal one, Marlene called Cloud's name, distracting him just long enough for Cloud to grab the remnant's weapon. Loz and Yazoo launched into a flurry of action, Loz darting in with such speed that his figure turned into a blurred humanoid shape as it hurtled towards his opponent, and Yazoo fired off a rapid succession of in such a rapid flurry that if he was reloading his weapon Cloud never knew it.
The battle raged back and forth from two extremes, Loz taking the close quartered fighting, Kadaj the middle, and Yazoo the long range with his wickedly shining weapon. For minutes at a time war was waged in the middle of the air, gravity easily laughed at and defied by those who had long since shucked off its limiting constraints. For what felt like mere seconds at a time, the upper hand fluctuated between both sides confusingly.
At one moment Cloud would be a blur of blonde hair and shining steel as he repeatedly broke apart and reassembled The First Tsurugi in rapid succession to deal with Loz's electrified hand bolt, Kadaj's sharp double bladed katana, and Yazoo's rapid firing firearm. Then the three remnants would force their control over Cloud, their smirks becoming more pronounced, weapons shining keenly.
Like a miniature war the battle seemed to go on forever until the scales made their final tip towards the side of the remnants, the long period of inaction that Cloud had been imposed with, and the strains of Geostigma running rife through his body until they finally left Cloud at enough of an advantage to find himself in serious trouble. Three on one would have been a hard enough battle when Cloud was at his previous strength, the range of weapons making things more than a little difficult even for a battle hardened tactician like himself.
It was almost inevitable that he would fail in his mission. He'd told Tifa when she'd pushed the idea that he wasn't fit to save anyone, and the fact that his prediction was coming true was at once was satisfying, proving his uselessness, and disheartening for the same reason. It was only pure luck that a splash of red painted itself across the sky, slashing through the almost mono-chrome world like a startling splash of scarlet blood.
Saviour came in the form of the most unlikely figure; Vincent Valentine painted starkly against the glowing background. His form was nearly completely consumed by the large swath of red the shape shifter wore as a cape. While on any other the garment might have seemed ostentatious and ridiculous, only Vincent could make the bright splash seem almost subdued and classy. Cloud couldn't help but admire the 'vampires' swift moves, absurdly elegant as he flew about in a flutter of material Vincent quickly dealt with the remnants before scooping Cloud up and whisking him away to relative safety.
Cloud couldn't help but stare at the water, rubbing his arm delicately, "See? I knew I'd be no help," he whispered to himself already damning his actions, "Vincent, what do you know about this?"
Silence reigned for a moment before the stoic man finally made a comment, "I come here often. I've seen what Kadaj's crew is doing," In the blink of an eye Vincent was at Clouds side, holding hid arm in hand firmly, "The stigma. It's a symptom of alien matter infesting the body; the body tries to eliminate it and overcompensates. Inside our bodies is a current, like the Lifestream, that current is what fights off any malevolent intruders."
Confused Cloud turned his vision from the lake to regard Vincent, his lips set in a contemplative frown, "What do you mean by 'Intruder'?"
"The Sephiroth Gene. Jenova's mimetic legacy. Call it what you want." Vincent replied in a bland voice.
"You're well informed." Cloud replied his voice just as bland as Vincent's in his tiredness.
Vincent shrugged, his cape rippling artistically around him, "Tseng and Elena; they were brought here half dead. They must have been brutally tortured. I did what I could to save them, but; well, you'll see."
Cloud's brows drew together as his frown became more pronounced, "Tortured?"
"They had it coming. They got their hands on Jenova's Head."
"Then when Kadaj says he's looking for Mother..." Cloud replied softly, thinking his conclusion aloud even as he reminded himself that even though it was just Vincent thinking aloud in company was a bad idea.
"Heavens dark harbinger. The calamity; Jenova. If they wanted to they could recreate Sephiroth." Vincent replied a flicker in his eyes the only betrayal that he felt something about the issue as he hid the lower half of his face in the cowl of his cloak.
One issue was still plaguing his mind, and before the thought was properly formulated Cloud found himself asking the question aloud, "Kadaj … what is he?"
A delicate eyebrow arched in reply before Vincent gave a muffled reply, "Hm. I would rather not know."
A rustling sound permeated the air startling both men into action, their guard up immediately until a little girl with a ribbon in her hair ran into their midst. Cloud's eyes widened as he realised he had forgotten about one of the two children he had come to retrieve from the remnants. Guilt coursed through him in a cold wave as his eyes searched the little girl's body for any signs of injury or worry.
Not only would Tifa kick his ass to the Northern Crater and back for letting Marlene get hurt in his own stupid self-involvement but Barret would turn his over sized gun arm on him for even thinking of abandoning the girl. Reflexively Cloud looked around to see if a large silver gun was pointing at him. Realistically he knew Barret was out in search of oil, and that he would have heard the heavy set man the moment he was anywhere within range of Cloud, but habit was an ingrained thing.
"Marlene!" Cloud yelled moving forward to meet the girl.
Marlene's eyes were wide as she panted in exertion, "Cloud! Denzel and Tifa!"
Cloud sighed drawing the panicked girl into his arms in an attempt to comfort her after her stint with Kadaj and his gang, "Tifa is all right."
A flustered pout drew itself across Marlene's lips as she pulled back to look at Cloud, her eyes assessing, trying to figure out if Cloud was telling her the truth or if he was merely trying to comfort her into complacency rather than deal with an upset child, "I wanna talk to her!" she asserted.
Sighing Cloud plunged his hands into his pockets in search of his phone. The frown drawn across his own lips grew more pronounced as he searched for his PHS diligently. More than anything he had wanted to reassure both Tifa and Marlene that he was half way there, that Marlene was safe from the remnants, that Tifa was alive and breathing, and most of all that he would find a way to get Denzel home. Even if he had to get Vincent to retrieve his son in his inept place.
When Marlene realised that didn't seem to be able to provide her with a phone she turned to look entreatingly at Vincent, unruffled by his appearance, "May I?"
His crimson eyes shone with amusement as he lifted the folds of his cloak aside to reveal the lack of PHS. Marlene's eyes grew wide as she regarded the man who apparently didn't even own a phone of his own, something that to her was unheard of as all of AVALANCHE had them. Or at least all of the AVALANCHE members she was familiar with.
"You don't have a phone?" Marlene asked in a shocked tone.
Cloud ignored Marlene and her question, deciding that it was clearly rhetorical, "Vincent, will you bring Marlene to Tifa? I'm going to go see Shinra and get a few answers."
Vincent shook his head in denial, "I can't do that."
"But I..." Cloud started his sentence trailing off as Marlene blew up.
"Forget it, Cloud! Why don't you ever pay any attention to us?" Marlene yelled, her voice wavering and her eyes filling with tears slightly as she vented her terrified frustration upon the man who she'd spent so many day sitting by Denzel's bedside waiting for. Unable to take standing alone in the clearing against one of her parental figures, and a bit of an idol, Marlene flew across the clearing into Vincent, tucking herself snugly under his red cloak out of sight, leaning sadly against his leg.
"Marlene, please, give me some time. There's a battle to be fought, but it's not as simple as just fighting. Understand?" Cloud begged, trying to get the girl to understand his line of reasoning, as convoluted and stupid as it might be to others.
"No I don't!" Marlene replied pushing herself further behind the sheltering fabric and firm leg.
"Cloud, are you sure this is about fighting?" Vincent asked a single slim brow arched in stern question.
Tensing up in reflection Cloud turned his thoughts to a conversation he'd had earlier with Aerith. His eyes closed as he recalled the words, the image as clear in his head as if he was still standing in the Ancients little garden surrounded by an infinity of caressing white blankness.
"Are you angry with me?" Cloud asked his voice small as he asked the question he'd been worriedly pondering for so long.
"No," Aerith replied in a soft tone, "Why would I be?"
"But I let you die," Cloud protested.
"Dilly dally, shilly shally. Isn't it time you did the forgiving?" Aerith sighed, her voice gentle as she tired to impress upon Cloud the will to live and move on.
Opening his eyes again Cloud regarded Vincent curiously, wondering whether or not to ask his question. He knew that if there was anyone who would understand his thoughts and feelings on the matter it would be the ex-Turk. They'd both lived through similar horrors at the hands of the same mad man. A sense of kinsman ship had developed because of the understanding he and Vincent had reached during the height of their AVALANCHE days. Yes, he decided, he would ask.
"Are sins ever forgiven?" Cloud asked hopefully.
Vincent was silent for a moment before contemplatively replying, "I've never tried."
"You mean ... never tried." Cloud replied, thinking deeply about the situation. He didn't want to live with the burden of his sins forever, and if sitting around and letting others take care of it meant he would have to deal with them, and getting up and moving forward might lead to a form of retribution...
"Marlene, let's go." Cloud called, nodding to Vincent as Marlene ran towards him, "Well I'm going to try. I'll phone in the verdict."
For a moment Cloud remembered that he'd lost his phone during the fight with the remnants, and that Vincent didn't have a phone to call anyway, before he brushed it aside. It was time to take action, and leave all thought behind. Now was the time to live and protect those he loved, as he had been unable before, and this time he would be successful.
~ 0 ~
The ride home on Fenrir had almost been torture; Cloud's thoughts had become a tangled tangent that even he couldn't dissect. Simple mantras repeated themselves cruelly over and over again, things like; I'm nothing but a failure, they would be better off if I left them alone. There had been no reprieve from the self-deprecating thoughts.
When they'd reached the Seventh Heaven, Cloud had impressed upon Marlene the need to hide out of sight in the relative safety of their familiar building. When he'd been certain the little girl was safely ensconced in the building the blonde had gunned Fenrir's engine, heading for the centre of Edge where he'd briefly glimpsed the form of Bahamut-Sin.
"Marlene will be safe, I took her home." Cloud had called, when his eyes alit upon Tifa's familiar figure.
"Mm," Tifa had hummed thoughtfully.
At the lack of response Cloud had smiled a little, the barest edges of his lips upturning, "I feel lighter."
When Tifa had only made another unintelligible hum in response Cloud had resorted to a joke to clear the somewhat awkward air, "Maybe I lost some weight, all that dilly dallying."
When a smile had drifted across Tifa's lips Cloud had felt relieved, some of the weight on his shoulders alleviated. A relief that was only made more pronounced when Denzel turned to smile and regard Cloud, seemingly forgiving his father figure for his extended absence and failures.
"I'm going to go back and see Marlene. Okay Cloud? We'll wait for you," Denzel had called, turning to run away before turning innocently back to the blonde again, "We'll see you there won't we Cloud?"
Cloud had only been able to summon a thin guilty smile at that to reply with a simple "Yeah."
For a moment Cloud's attention had stayed on the retreating figure as the mousy haired teen had run home. His steps were almost bounds, as if he was gleeful at both the return of his dad and his sister.
Quickly the blonde headed warrior had pushed his attention into the present, focusing on the action of the scene and not the psychologies behind it. Tifa had thrown her slim body onto the powerful motorcycle behind him, and with a swift glance at Bahamut-Sin, whose large body devoured the skyline they were away.
Observing the battle between his former AVALANCHE comrades and the enraged summon, Cloud had finally stepped in when things seemed to be going in favour of the brutish creature. A beam of pure energy had made its way to a more than slightly perturbed Barret, only for Cloud to save the gunman with his swift reflexes.
Barret hadn't given his saviour any chance to gather himself before launching straight into a dialogue, "Hey, the hell you been."
Rather than reply Cloud had locked his swords into place, readying himself before launching into an exhilarating battle. It had sent adrenaline and pure pleasure singing through his veins, to be back on the battlefield with a good opponent on the other end of his sword.
Barret had given Cloud a hand toward his adversary, and when the blonde had fallen from the sky it had been first Cid with his spear to launch him towards the heavens again on his large spear. With grunts of exertion and words of encouragement the rest of his allies had followed.
Red XIII and Cait Sith had fingered his thick soldier like shirt, using the fabric to hurl him towards the summon. Just when the momentum had started to slow infinitesimally Yuffie had appeared, catching Cloud's booted feet and heaving him upwards with a mighty "Hiyaa" that would have made him laugh if he'd had time to appreciate it then.
Finally, just as Cloud had reached the tip of the building Vincent had stepped into the open air, grabbing Cloud's hand and hurling him with only a simple "Fly!" as encouragement.
Nervous anticipation had abounded until finally Cloud had impacted with the blue beam of energy the Summon had released making him fight for altitude until a slim hand appeared out of the light with a soft voice.
The soft words, "Ready?" spoken in Aerith's voice had brought a smile to his lips until finally he emerged from the shining light, running along the beasts back and slaying it with his Climhazzard Limit Break. The Summon dissolved in a flurry of blue light as Cloud fell with it back to the surface of the planet, no longer defying gravity.
~ 0 ~
When Cloud had returned to Fenrir, he'd quickly found himself in a battle that stretched halfway across the ruins between the cities of Midgar and Edge. Suspiciously Cloud had only been able to find two of the silver haired men who'd been plaguing the city.
With barely any time to breathe or plot the skirmish moved along the decaying highways of the upper city. When Cloud had found himself inside a thin, poorly lit tunnel (not really a hindrance to any of their eyes with all the Mako in their systems), he'd finally had to finish the fight.
Before the remnants had known what was happening they'd been left with one bike between them, the other cleaved into two neat halves smoking tellingly. Their weapons were almost beyond use, and to their stunned surprise, rather than finish the conflict, Cloud had taken advantage of their confusion and sped off in search of his third and final remnant of the day.
When Cloud finally found the less than sane silver haired man he'd been parked inside the church, almost nuzzling the box which contained Jenova's head, calling her name and yelling. He'd been so caught up in his reunion that he'd barely noticed his enemies approach, catching on only when Fenrir knocked the doors of the church open, rumbling angrily.
Kitty slitted eyes had narrowed angrily, before Kadaj had fired a magical attack at one of the churches beams, launching the bike onto the beam and making an escape as Cloud suffered an unfortunate attack of Geostigma. Just when he'd thought that he wouldn't have a chance to catch up with his adversary and beat him Aerith's church had yielded another miracle.
Water had filled the small garden amongst the broken floor boards in the church, welling up to create a small pond. When the water had spilled over the edges of the wood and caught Cloud's arm he'd been unable to do anything, frozen in surprise as he watched the water cure his Geostigma.
Aerith's voice had echoed inside his head, her words encouraging him to get up and move. Ripping the cape from his arm Cloud had remounted Fenrir, his lips tilted a little in a form of pleasure. He'd felt lighter somehow, as if by curing his ailments that Aerith had given physical proof that she had in fact forgiven him.
When he'd caught up with Kadaj yet again in the ruins of Midgar the wild eyed remnant had claimed the high ground, and Cloud had been forced to abandon his precious bike in order to accommodate for the fight that had yet to ensue.
Kadaj had smiled gleefully, his lips curling almost sadistically over shiny white teeth, "Brother! I'm with her at last."
Cloud's eyes turned to silver and black box enfolded in thin, black swathed arms, "So, what's going to happen now?"
His eyes wide behind his wispy silver hair the psychotic remnant had laughed, a very unmanly giggle that seemed almost wrong coming from the lips of someone so close to Sephiroth, "Hehe, Mother's going to tell me!"
Cloud's lips had drawn up in a mocking smirk, "I guess a remnant wouldn't really know."
Kadaj's eyes and smile took on a more feral cast, his fingers lit with a wavering of pure blue energy. Almost in a hiss of defiance the angered boy hurled his retort at Cloud before attacking him viciously. He had complete trust in the being he called Mother, whether she wanted him to give up his life to return another's or not. He'd just wanted to make someone happy, and feel loved in some way.
"So what if I'm just a puppet? Once upon a time … you were too!"
War was waged among falling buildings, decimating the remaining metal work that had survived the destruction of meteor. In Cloud's view it had been rather ironic that most of the out fitting on which they had fought had weathered the consequences of Sephiroth's previous selfishness, only to provide the ground on which to stand for their most recent.
It was funny in a way which only someone like him could have understood.
Somewhere along the way, in the middle of being lost, he'd found the strength he'd once had. The same indomitable will that had allowed him to whether the ills of his life the first time through. To take on Sephiroth; the man he had viewed as a child, along with the rest of the world, as his utmost idol and hero. His strength, both in this battle and emotionally had returned to allow him to defeat the remnant.
Blow after blow fell in a flurry of attacks, until Cloud had thought there was no chance he would lose this encounter. A fleeting burst of triumph had risen up in his chest for a few moments as he'd stared down at the single gloved hand clutching almost desperately at a ledge. He'd thought the end was in sight then, that he'd already emerged victorious.
A foolish sentiment in retrospect, one that had remained bitterly in his head for months after the battle, how had he thought even for a moment he was good enough. At the height of his jubilance, Kadaj had turned the tide.
Shifting his weight onto the balls of his feet the silver haired boy had launched the box containing Jenova at Cloud in an effort to distract him, before quickly launching himself after the object. Flash of light across his chest, and a smirk across his lips Kadaj couldn't resist a final retort.
"My Reunion … Bet you're dying to watch …"
Horrified Cloud had launched himself after the solitary figure descending through the hazy mid day sunlight, only to have his attempt at a finishing blow blocked, not as he'd hoped by the crazy eyed remnant, but The Nightmare himself. Sephiroth.
~ 0 ~
"Good to see you Cloud," Sephiroth greeted, his voice as sarcastic and mocking as ever. Clearly time in the lifestream had not dulled the apathetic contempt the ex-General had held.
Drawing his sword, the legendary seven foot Masamune, back Sephiroth launched an attack that staggered Cloud, throwing the blonde several feet in the air into another building. Dazed and confused from a slight winding he could only watch as the man he had already killed several times made his way to an even higher spot to look down on his enemy condescendingly.
"Your Geostigma is gone? That's too bad," Sephiroth intoned sinisterly.
"Sephiroth, what do you want?"
A type of madness went through the silver haired mans eyes then. His thoughts clearly introspective and crazed. It seemed even inside his own mind the son of The Calamity wasn't able to completely emulate human ideals anymore.
"The last thoughts of Geostigma's dead," Sephiroth finally replied his lips quirking up as he spoke, "Those remnants will join the Lifestream and girdle the planet, choking it, corroding it. What I want, Cloud, is to sail the darkness of the cosmos with this Planet as my vessel; just as my mother did before long ago."
There was a pause, Sephiroth lifting a gloved hand to a quickly darkening sky, then he resumed his speech, "Then one day we'll find a new planet, and on its soil we'll create a shining future."
Horrified, and yet at the same time completely unsurprised at the ex-General's sadistic nature he found himself unable to speak, move, or even swallow past the lump that had formed in his throat. His head was filled with visions of the dark and disturbing future, the Jenova cells inside him activating and allowing him to see the idea all to clearly for his own comfort.
"What about this planet?" Cloud demanded angrily.
"Well Cloud, that's up to you," Sephiroth replied spurred back into action.
Cloud and Sephiroth flew at each other rapidly, unable to sit still and chat any longer. Their battle resumed, rocketing to epic eights, until they were moving so fast, hitting so hard that the onlookers seated in the Shera were no longer able to follow their movements.
Teleporting in the way that only Sephiroth had ever done, the silver haired man disappeared and suddenly reappeared to Cloud's left, knocking him into the ruins a decrepit old building. Startled, but unable to take the time to calm down and think Cloud kept up his own flurry of attacks fighting his adversary through the remains of offices.
"Where did you find this strength?" Sephiroth demanded, his propensity to question talent giving him momentary pause.
"I'm not telling you!" Cloud answered back angrily, slashing out with First Tsurugi in a particularly rough movement.
Silence reigned for what felt like a millennia, the air permeated only with the sounds of clashing metal, rustling leather, and clomping boots. Their fight progressed to a whole other building before more words were finally unleashed from the silver villain's mouth.
Sephiroth suddenly launched himself into the air, his lips curling up in a sardonic grin, "I thought of a wonderful present for you," Sephiroth intoned, slashing a large piece of debris in half in an effort to hit Cloud who merely sliced the hazard in half, "Shall I give you despair?"
Suddenly Sephiroth gained the upper hand, his large sword knocking Cloud off the edge of the building. It was only his Mako reflexes and his battle hardened reflexes that saved Cloud as he managed to embed the First Tsurugi into the wall in front of him, using the large sword as a stationary platform.
Sephiroth hovered above his adversary; his lips pulled into a smirk, "On your knees," he commanded, "I want you to beg for forgiveness."
With a rumble, the top of the building rained down upon the two warriors, forcing them both back into a combination of battle and evasion. Jumping onto the debris projectiles Cloud and Sephiroth fought further, swords flashing silver steel.
A stabbing pain flashed through Cloud's shoulder as his back hit the wall, Masamune sheathed into the warped steel through his skin. Blood spilled down his shoulder, a grown passing his lips as he struggled against the force.
"Tell me what you cherish most; give me the pleasure of taking it away." Sephiroth demanded darkly.
Flashes of memory passed Cloud's eyes, Aerith's smile, Zack's hair ruffling, Tifa's hugs, Denzel's gifts, and even Vincent's stoic silence. Even though most of the things he cherished were already dead, taken from him both directly and indirectly by Sephiroth.
"I pity you, you just don't get it at all" Cloud said, his voice strained as he pulled the wickedly sharp katana out of his shoulder, suddenly launching into an attack, "There's not a thing I don't cherish!"
Cloud and Sephiroth both launched themselves into the air, Sephiroth's attack missing, easily deflected under the onslaught of Cloud's strength as he drew up his Omnislash attack upon Sephiroth. His limit break flashed, bright blue energy surrounding the many parts of the separated First Tsurugi for a moment allowing the parts to flow independently in the air until, with a final slash it was over.
"Stay where you belong … in my memories," Cloud mumbled.
"I will … never be a memory," Sephiroth replied, his final words filling the air as a single dark wing ensconced him and disintegrated leaving behind Kadaj's wounded form.
Rain began to fall from the sky for the first time in a long while. A cleansing rain that washed away the Geostigma of those it came in contact with. It showed compassion to the world, and in turn Cloud showed compassion to his fallen rival. Cloud supported the remnant, holding him in his arms until the wet, leather clad figure ascended to the lifestream in a flow of dancing green wisps.
The universe, unable to let anything go, sent one last obstacle into Cloud's path. A bullet suddenly lodged itself under the blonde haired warrior's skin. Cloud gasped in pain, turning his face away from the rain to regard the forgotten remnants. With a sigh he launched himself at the remaining brothers as they too attacked.
"Ugh. We'll go ... together," Yazoo groaned seconds before the explosion of white light.
"Together ... we'll play." Added Loz.
~ 0 ~
Peace had flooded Cloud, floating in the enveloping whiteness that managed to be both entrancing and soothing all at once. He was so perfectly happy there that he'd have given anything to stay that way. Anything at all.
When Aerith and Zack had told him he had no place there they had been wrong. Perhaps if they'd truly understood what had gone on in Cloud's head and heart since he'd been abandoned by them then they might have taken the time to fully explain.
As it was, three months, two weeks, four days, and several hours later; Cloud Strife, Saviour of the planet, infallible hero, was dead.
Alright, so that's the end of the prologue, it may seem a bit sudden, but for the sake of length I had to end it there, before it developed a life of its own. Please review if you can. Any feedback is appreciated.