This fic was created after judicious squealing over: Fifth Act, by Sinnatious, Fusion, by Knowing Shadows, Green Dreams, by , and Eir's Tomorrow, by Hades Pheonix. If FF7 fandom had big wallop time travel fics, that would be them. One finished, one abandoned, two still in the works. Ah. Especially fifth act-i love the idea of AC cloud traveling in more then just mind. You know how you start to hate a story after its over? And you reread it until you almost drain it's life completely, but still want more?
The Church had seen better days, but Cloud had never found a place more peaceful. The stratosphere was blue enough to make the water glitter invitingly, and while the small pond of fragrant, healing water was as beautiful as it was useful, sometimes Cloud closed his eyes and tried to remember the flowerbed he had fallen into, so long ago, just as Zack had done before him. Tried to remember Aeris, and her charming, contagious smile.
He opened his eyes, and realized he was no longer drowning in a pool of crystal clear water.
It hadn't been his intention to drown—not that Cloud had thought it possible, as the scented water's of Aeris' church were at most four feet deep, and completely avoidable given the circumstances—but when he had been pulled under, there hadn't been any way to get back through. It was as if the fountain had retracted into itself, rays of watery light fading into dim blackness, and Cloud's hands met a hard, solid surface instead of the flimsy, watery film it should have.
For a brief, startled moment, he wondered if this was how he was going to die, breathless, enveloped in darkness. Not fighting through the many floors of ShinRa, or stopping Meteor, or hell, even fighting Sephiroth the many times he had faced the brunt of the fallen General, but here, in the peaceful bliss of Aeris' Church, in the last remains of her. The thought wasn't entirely unwelcome, but Cloud fought it off nonetheless. He struggled, wondering when water had gotten so dark and air-like, when he realized he wasn't in water at all.
He pounded, fruitlessly, for a few more moments until he heard a wrenching groan, and light traced his outstretched palm.
He pushed, and there was a long creak of protest, as his vision regained itself to hurriedly create a world of blurred, smeared colors like shattered glass.
It took a couple moments of blinking for him to realize he was actually staring at glass, colored glass, to be exact, some of it painting his face in a kaleidoscope of light. Long windows of color lined the wall of the church, refined edges clear and unbroken.
He was still in the church, then.
Cloud looked around.
There was something imprecise about it, not quite right, as if the uneven surface had been upturned, smoothed, unworried. He counted the number of pews—unbroken ones, as many had been during Reunion—but he had never really kept track of them, and couldn't be sure if anything had been altered. He looked down at himself, and realized with a bit of disbelief that he had just crawled out of the ground, opening up a floorboard from what seemed to be his own dirt coffin. Jesus, had he turned into Vincent sometime when he couldn't remember? How long had he been down there, clawing at the dirt?
Confused, he looked up.
And drew in a harsh intake of breath.
The sky, which had been a clear stratosphere of everlasting blue, was now broken and dark, riddled with lines dragged through metal, heavy and pregnantly hovering right above the roof of the church.
He pulled himself out of the floor, met with the intense, overpowering smell of fresh flowers—a smell which had been gone for some time now, and even when he and Tifa would come in to tend to the last vestiges of Aeris, the flowers never really did smell the way they did when she was smiling beguilingly, kneeling amongst the gentle petals—that matched to the abundance of them which grew out of the dip in the floor.
A dip which should have been full of water.
For a few moments, Cloud stumbled, almost completely losing his balance, but caught himself against one of the pews, the sword on his back thumping against it loudly. It was good to know that at least, wherever he was and whatever had happened, he still had First Tsurugi strapped to his back.
Where the hell was he?
The church, obviously. But the church was changed… renewed, or perhaps, reverted?
He looked up once more, as if he couldn't quite believe it the first time.
It was the plate, the Shinra plate, blocking the ethereal sky and with it, almost all life bar the useless existence of the slums. How it was possible, Cloud had no idea.
But life had thrown him impossibilities, and this was no different from any other crucial juncture, and he gave himself a moment's pause before he attempted to gather his bearings and recount what had happened, trying to regain control of his breathing and think as logically as was possible.
He had left 7th Heaven angry that morning.
Perhaps angry was too strong of a word, as mildly annoyed was a more accurate terminology.
Barrett had woken him up ungodly early, his gun arm going off as he appeared to have been shooting some sort of bird. It didn't help that the following evening, Tifa had given him a minor sermon on the importance of his phone—which had been spurred by his continuous lack of calling, and the fact that earlier that day they had finally, finally, gotten Vincent a PHS—and how he should, at least, call in to tell them when he was going to be late, or not coming back at all.
He had been rather good at that lately, too.
Cloud had never had anyone to check up on, or anyone who'd want to check up on him, and the concept was so new to him that he wasn't very good at it.
Nonetheless, it didn't help his moody any, and neither did stumbling into the main bar, restless and unhappy.
As he did whenever he was feeling particularly disturbed, or just everyday in general, he maundered into the broken remains of sector 5, the church tilting a bit, but altogether sturdy with its long wooden bearings. It had seen better days, as most of its roof had collapsed—which may have something to do with Zack, and maybe Cloud, but mostly from the plate collapsing—and the interior didn't fare much better.
He had been replacing his Materia, stolen by Kadaj's brother and then re-stolen by Yuffie, and had been contemplating putting them back into his case but then altogether deciding it was best to keep them on his person. The last thing he needed was for someone else to get a hold of them.
That was how Shelke found him, standing over the water's edge, staring contemplatively into the clear depths.
Ever since Deepground, she'd been a constant presence at 7th Heaven. Cloud hadn't known her personally, never really did, now that he thought about it, but it seemed natural to take the young girl in after all that had happened to her. He may not have been directly correlated to her during the events which had spanned out, but he did know how it felt to be one of ShinRa's failed experiments, and knew the clean-cut wound which would sting forever like a number traced onto a hand, forever claiming you as a failure to the great Electric Company. It was weird to thing she was nineteen—twenty, even—when she was so small and tiny. It was weirder to think that she had evenly fought Vincent at some point in her life.
He had told her of its healing properties, pertaining especially to Geostigma and most Jenova-induced illnesses.
She asked if perhaps it could heal her, too.
He thought it was worth a try, and jumped into the water waste deep, beckoning her to follow. She had done so, slowly, as if not really believing that this water could cure anything, let alone a debilitating growth defect caused by ShinRa experimentation. But he insisted, and soon enough she was almost completely submerged into it, looking quite unhappy as the water was much deeper to her then it was to him, and then—
Wait a minute, Shelke!
"Shelke?" He called worriedly into the deserted church, unsure of where he would find her, when he couldn't even understand what had happened to him. The two had been standing in the water, and then what? Had they been pulled in? But by what though, a great tentacle monster? A monster wouldn't go near the church with the flowers growing in it, let alone a healing spring. Maybe Shelke hadn't ended up wherever he was, maybe she was still standing, nonplussed, chin-height in the water.
There was a groaning noise from beneath him.
It would make sense that, if he had appeared from the ground, so would she.
He wrenched up a few more floorboards, revealing a whole, but completely soaked, Shelke. The young looking girl twisted at the sudden burst of light, drawing her knees up in a position that reminded Cloud sorely of Marlene. He consciously reminded himself that this was Shelke, that woman who wielded double electric nunchuk and had fought Vincent-to a draw, he heard, in some retellings of it.
She coughed a little as she blinked. "Cloud? What—
She looked around, confused.
"But where did the water go…?"
Cloud shook his head. "I don't know what's going on." He admitted. "One moment we were in the water, and the next—" He gestured vaguely.
She stayed quiet for a moment, and Cloud took the moment to realize that, he too, was sopping wet.
"It doesn't make any sense." Cloud began quietly. "The flowers… they were gone before. And the water's not here either."
Shelke turned around, looking a bit in awe at the field of them, growing so strangely from the wooden floorboards. "I don't know what to tell you…" Her brows knitted. Cloud recalled that she had never been there for AVALANCHE, even though it seemed like she had been living with them, integrated with them for the better part of her life, even though her stay in 7th Heaven was little over a few months. She had never met Aeris, never saw her Ancient powers, or her crazy ability to speak to the Planet.
"Maybe the water did more then just heal the sick?" She guessed wildly. "Maybe it could regrow the flowers."
It made a bit of sense, or at least, more then everything else did. But Cloud shook his head. "But what about that?"
He pointed above them, to a crack in the roof of the church. A metal sky hovered silently above.
"I—" Her breath caught. She recognized it too, then.
"Oh, hello." The two snapped to attention, as a bit of light poured into the church.
Aeris stood, in her quiet gracefulness, countenance outlined in light, eyes wide and blinking at them curiously.
"The church doesn't get many visitors." Cloud was mesmerized by the eternity in those green eyes, a lifetime that he'd missed somewhere. "Are you two lost?"
Cloud made no move to answer her.
"Err—no," Shelke was obviously not as impaired as Cloud was. "We were just…" She looked around wildly. "Admiring the flowers."
Aeris nodded, as if she had almost expected this. "There aren't too many that grow around here." She sighed, coming closer.
"Oh?" She stood some meters in front of them, taking in their appearance. Cloud wondered if there was recognition in her voice. What was she doing here? Walking amongst the living, floating towards them. Was he dreaming? Was this all part of his head, and he was still wading waste deep in the pool of water, the last of her that remained on the planet? Was she coming to take them back to the lifestream?
"How did you two manage to get so wet?"
After a few minutes which Cloud couldn't really recall, Aeris had managed to find a bucket large enough to hold their soaked clothes, and had given Shelke her coat to wear, as Cloud stood awkwardly in nothing but his boxers. If he had known he'd be walking around in them, he'd have picked a better pair. It would have been terribly amusing and even more embarrassing, with Aeris giggling and Shelke smiling, had he not been so confused.
Aeris was too.
"That's quite a lot of materia." She noted softly, and Cloud sent a quick look to her hair, which was pinned up at the top of her head with a gleaming gem.
Cloud nodded wordlessly to the pile at his feet. They rolled at his toes, shining bright green as most magic materia were meant to do, all completely mastered. Fire, Bolt, Ice, Quake, and All were twinkling back up at him. He wondered what Aeris would say if she saw Ultima, Comet, and Full Cure, all completely Mastered, already equipped to First Tsurugi.
"We travel a lot." Shelke answered for him, again, sending a furtive glance in his direction. "We pick them up from time to time, and they're good for fighting the occasional monsters."
Sure, he was a man of few words, and everyone from AVALANCHE, hell, anyone who ever met him, was aware of this. But this was a bit ridiculous.
"Are you new to the city?" Aeris prompted kindly.
Shelke nodded again. "Yes.. my brother and I, we just came from—
"Nibelheim." Cloud cut her off.
"I've never heard of it." Said the brunette with a charming smile. "Tell me more about it?"
"There isn't much to say." Cloud shrugged. "It's a mountain town, not much there besides a Reactor."
Somehow during the course of a few hours, they managed to spin a heartfelt tale of a brother and a sister, coming to Midgar in need of work and a better life. Probably a pretty standard immigrant tale, and Aeris listened with an empathetic ear. Shelke noticed Cloud seemed almost pained every time he looked at her, as if he had some sort of deep, long suffering relationship with the girl they had just met. Shelke tried to think of a time when she'd seen the long haired brunette—the girl did look awfully familiar, and her name sounded as if she'd heard it quite a few times as well—but couldn't think of any.
Eventually, Aeris had to take her leave, but she did invite them to stay the night at the church if they needed to.
"It is a lovely place," Aeris smiled, with a whimsical sigh. "It's a shame there aren't more."
By the time she had stood from her pew, their clothes were mostly dry, but had left a large, full tub of water.
"It smells good." The brunette blinked at it, as if taken aback. "Like... pressed flowers."
Cloud shifted uneasily.
Aeris heaved the tub, no small feat for such a small woman, with quite a bit of help from Cloud, to the flowers, where she judiciously dumped the whole thing onto the grateful lot of them. Cloud watched in fascination as the flowers seemed to glow with the healing spring water that would come to take their place.
"That'll keep them healthy for a few days." She said brightly, before catching sight of Cloud's eyes.
There wasn't any way to avert them, and she stared long and hard into their abnormally bright depths.
She must have realized that the both of them carried an unnatural brightness to their eyes, but she said nothing of it, bidding them a safe night and closing the door behind her.
Almost immediately after she left did Shelke whirl on him.
"You know her." The small girl began, before shaking her head. "No, that's not right. Knew her. We're in the past."
The blonde did nothing to assert or refute her claims, only staring off into the distance with his Mako bright eyes.
For a faltering moment, there was nothing but silence.
"How do we get back?" Shelke asked helplessly. Brokenly.
He shook his head. "Don't know."
"Can we?" She looked down at their feet—at least they were wearing clothes now, "I mean… how did we get here in the first place?"
"It must have something to do with the water." Cloud mused. "I'm not sure how its possible, but I remember feeling like I was drowning. It was like the water had turned solid, and then next thing I knew, I was crawling out of the ground.
"The pool would have started around there." She pointed to where they had upturned a good amount of the flooring.
"It's gone now though." Cloud pointed out wisely, and Shelke sent him a flat, obvious look.
"We're stuck, then."
A dark look past his features. As if he had tested the fates. And lost, again.
"There's nothing we can do about it now." The blonde rubbed absently at Ribbon, which clung to his arm. "We'll need to get some sleep, and think better in the morning."
It's short, I know, but there is more to come, very soon. Good so far?