Weightless. His body was weightless, suspended Gaia only knows where. Mako blue eyes dared not open, afraid he might be falling instead of floating. Suddenly, there was a warm, loving touch, much like his mother's; his voice was soft, unsure, 'Mother?…'
Bright blue eyes peered open in a blurry haze, only fuzzy outlines were visible to the blonde, before his lids fell. He felt like his body was far to heavy for even him to move. How much time had passed? It seemed like only moments ago he was floating away, but now he could feel the earth below him; the give of the dirt, the grass brushed his skin and the scent of spring were things he hadn't felt or smelled in a long time. It was intoxicating and warm, it made him sleepy. The blonde began to dose until something touched his face.
Soft petals brushed the side of his face making him realize that he was not in the ruins of Midgar anymore. Could he be in the Church? No. He had been fighting… But with who? His mind drifted. Names, faces, and even events passed him by but none seemed to match up; until catlike eyes flashed across his minds eye, the madness that resided in those once beloved green eyes reminded him of where he was. What he should have been doing. Ocean blue eyes shot open and a single word passed his lips, "Sephiroth…"
A familiar face leaned over him and cast a shadow over his hazy eyes. Cloud gasped softly when his eyes finally focused on mako enhanced, sky blue eyes much like his own. Black spikes fell forward to frame the handsome face staring down at him; the heart warming smile focused on him was one that he could hardly remember anymore, but loved all the same. The man's smile turned into an ear to ear grin at the astonished blue eyes below him, "What's wrong Cloud? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Zackary Fair was squatting above him, a grin as large as life itself plastered across his tan face. Cloud couldn't breathe, couldn't blink, couldn't move. He feared any little thing would make all of this go away, make this moment end. He would have to go through the loss all over again. "Hey now, I'm not that scary," the older man chuckled before reaching down and offering the blonde his hand, "Come on Spiky, walk with me a little."
While Aerith was busy, focusing on healing the Stigma, Zack had slipped away to walk in the vast, and endless fields of the Lifestream had given them. Gaia had given her chosen few a certain plain of reality, but she could only do so much. There was only so much any of them could do… Angeal came around every now and again, but only ever worried about Genesis. Aerith was practically the planet's poster girl, so she was busy trying to keep order. Then there was Zack, he was just bored. He couldn't play a real part in the lifecycle of the Stream, but was known to occasionally pull people he knew out for a chat when their time had passed.
He knew the situation on Gaia was grave; Rufus had Jenova's head, Cloud was battling against the remnants and Geostigma, and to top it all off Sephiroth had returned yet again. And yet again, the blonde had stepped forward to destroy another piece of himself by having to kill his childhood idol again. Zack wasn't worried about the fight, honestly he wasn't even thinking about it. The mundane and monotonous had taken over his excitement when Aerith stopped filling him in. He worried about Cloud of course, he always worried about Cloud, but without any new details he really couldn't do anything but keep his mind off of things until the flower girl decided to proclaim Cloud the victor of the fight.
The raven haired Ex-SOLDIER raised his arms and stretched as tall as he could before dramatically dropping them; his eyes surveyed the fields, hoping that something had strayed from the Stream to add a little excitement. A dog, a chocobo, hell even a monster would be nice at that point. The sky held an eerie, suspended sunset and floating through that red orange sky were the souls in the Stream, visible as they passed through to repeat the same cycle that had been happening for thousands of years. A glint of silver caught Zack's attention and his Mako eyes widened as he saw Kadaj pass by. The boy looked peaceful.
Frowning, the raven haired man's eyes scanned every part of the Lifestream he could see, but the other two were nowhere in sight. Zack waited anxiously; there where suppose to be three, all with silver hair… A horrifying thought occurred to him and he frantically began searching for blonde hair. There where so many, but none with Cloud's fair features, which caused a sigh of relief. Zack hadn't seen his blonde friend in a long time, but he couldn't have changed much considering how much mako the kid had pumped into him.
The man calmed himself and leveled his view only to find something else catching his attention. Out in the flowers, a shine. The Ex-SOLDIER jogged over, only to stop dead in his tracks and gape. Dressed in all black, similar to a SOLDIER first uniform, blonde hair shorter but still just as untamed, and face as fair as ever was the very man on his mind. "Cloud?…" Zack breathed softly as he squatted down beside the man and pushed his gloved fingers into soft, but dirty, blonde spikes and pushed them from the younger man's face. His palm rested against Cloud's temple as his fingers fisted in that hair.
"Cloud…" if he wasn't already dead, Zack was sure he would have died of shock. His face split into a loving smile and all his worries were forgotten when he saw that the blonde wasn't just going to vanish; he was real.
His hand trailed down the side of Cloud's face, before he pulled it away. It was the same beautiful face that he had tried so hard to protect. He was squatting on the balls of his feet, grinning like a lunatic; and he couldn't wipe it off even if he had wanted to. His elbows rested on his knees while his fingers ran idly through the flowers between his feet, but his eyes remained on his younger friend. So many times he had wanted to tell the blonde how he had felt, and so many times he had failed. Gloved fingers finally found a suitable flower and he plucked it from the ground; twirling it between his fingers before reaching out on a whim and running the petals over equally soft skin. Cloud twitched and began to show signs of waking, making Zack more than a little giddy to see the eyes that he had so longed to look into.
Before the raven haired man could say a word Cloud's mouth had begun to move, forming the name of his tormentor. It sounded startled, like the blonde was expecting the man to be standing before him; but people from the Stream were often disoriented. Zack had awoken more than a few times panicking that Cloud was missing, or that Shin-Ra had found them while they were on the run.
The Ex-SOLDIER wasn't expecting shocking blue eyes to open so suddenly, his breath caught in his throat for a moment as those hazy eyes focused on him. The blonde's eyes glowed, and not just SOLDIER glowed, but truly glowed. Rivaling, or greater than Sephiroth's startling emerald eyes. Shock registered in those blue eyes; though Zack couldn't say he blamed him, but boy was Cloud beautiful; Laying there, looking up at him with wide ocean blue eyes, a slight flush on his face, and those tempting lips parted ever so slightly. Trying to wave the thought away the raven haired man stood as his smile turned to a grin and he chuckled nervously, "What's wrong Cloud? Don't you remember me?"
Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes as he sluggishly reached up and grasped the black haired man's strong hand. Zack easily hefted him upward, onto unstable feet. The blonde stumbled forward into his friend and faster than the Ex-SOLDIER could blink, his other arm was seized for support. "Zack… Zack? What's going on?" Cloud's voice was as soft as the man remembered, his slight accent hadn't changed a bit. Zack regarded his friend with a long stare, taking in the look of bewilderment on the man's pretty face. And slowly, he shook his head. Telling the blonde that he himself didn't have a clue either. But in his defense, he wasn't thinking anymore, and hadn't been since he'd caught sight of Cloud's hair. Silence. The blonde swallowed the lump in his throat and looked around nervously before glancing up at Zack with big eyes.
The Ex-SOLDIER stared at Cloud's face and let his eyes wander down to the new clothes that the blonde was clad in, they hugged his form and showed just how much he had grown; and grown he had over the time that spanned Zack's death to the second fight with Sephiroth. "So, you gonna take a little walk with me? We can figure out what's going on…" Zack asked softly, quietly; as if he was coaxing a frightened animal. A flutter of anxiety made it's way into the black haired Ex-SOLDIER's chest, Cloud didn't seem happy to see him at all… It didn't even occur to the man that his friend was in shock.
Cloud nodded after a moment of hesitation and a million questions flew through his mind but nonetheless he agreed. He slowly released Zack's arms and took a step back, steadying himself. His head was spinning and there were so many things that wanted to spill out as he looked up at Zack. The blonde couldn't find it in himself to open his mouth, so instead he just kept quiet for the time being. Zack chuckled nervously, "Still not much of a talker, huh? Aerith'll be disappointed if you don't at least say hello to her," Zack said casually trying to lighten the building tension, but felt a pang of jealousy when the blonde perked up a little at the mention of the flower girl. He knew Aerith had done a lot for both of them, but he couldn't help feeling jealous that the mere mention of her name got the blonde's attention when he himself hadn't gotten anything but shellshock. Pushing it aside, he took Cloud's hand and led him further into what Cloud recognized was what he had come to think of as Aerith's flower field. The blonde let himself be led, his eyes cast downward to the flowers that seemed to maneuver from under their feet.
"Hey! Aer! I found a chocobo in your garden, can I keep 'im?" Zack quickened his pace making Cloud stumble a little and struggle to keep up with the taller man's anxious strides. The blonde became caught up in the nostalgia of it all when he saw Aerith kneeling in the flowers, though he couldn't see her face, the image of her in the church still flashed in his mind. He hadn't really heard Zack's request, and had missed the almost strained tone in the Ex-SOLDIER's voice as he tried to lighten the mood. He had missed the denial hidden deep in his tone. He missed it all… His attention was solely focused on the flower girl kneeling before them.
"Zack, you know Angeal and I have told you thousands of-… Cl-Cloud?" the young woman looked bewildered to see the blonde savior being towed around by Zack.
Zack tilted his head to the side curiously, "Huh?… "
"Zack… You can't just pull him out like that… The Lifestream won't accept him and let him back into his body if you keep him here…" Aerith explained to Zack, though her eyes were locked on Cloud's.
Zack's indignant huff got both of their attention. "I didn't pull him out of the Stream, I found him in the fields, didn't you listen to what I said?…" his tone was one of clear annoyance at being ignored. But, slowly his brain picked apart what she had just told him. Panic set in.
For Cloud to end up in the fields it could only mean that he was in the Lifestream and for him to be in the Lifestream it could only mean that he was dead. "How did I get here? I remember fighting Sephiroth, and beating him… Then…" blonde eyebrows drew together in a moment of concentration. And after a moment of serious thinking, Zack's staring, and Aerith's fidgeting he remembered the rain. He had been standing in the rain, and Yazoo and Loz came out of nowhere. He had attacked them and the explosion that resulted… This could only mean that the blonde warrior had actually died, right after saving the world AGAIN. Aerith nodded at him when he looked at her with wide blue eyes, confirming his suspicions. Zack caught on moments later and visibly drooped, feeling like an idiot for letting himself get so caught up in seeing Cloud that he didn't actually think of how the blonde had gotten there.
Cloud blinked at the Ex-SOLDIER and Cetra before carefully opening his mouth. "It felt like my mother… Like she pulled me away from everything…" his voice was soft, and distant, and it absolutely broke Zack's heart. His initial happiness at seeing the blonde crept away; he was delighted to see the smaller man, just not under the current conditions.
"Cloud… That's…" Aerith hesitated when both men looked at her, "Not good. Your mother has… Passed through the Lifestream already." Her heart became heavy when the blonde lowered his head slightly, "Maybe, Hm… Hold on." The brunette woman vanished in a wisp, leaving the two men alone.
Zack glanced at the downcast blonde; the younger man that had persevered through so much, done so much for so many people, only to get nothing but pain in return. "Cloud, I've got mixed feelings about all of this… I'm-… Are you-…" Cloud's shoulder's shook as silent sobs wracked his body. He made no attempt to hide his tears from the man and Zack panicked.
He didn't know what to do, he made to pull the blonde toward him by the shoulders but quickly recoiled when he realized that might make the smaller man uncomfortable. He floundered in place, reaching and withdrawing for several moments before he finally pulled the blonde to him. It surprised him when Cloud submitted and simply cried silently against his chest. "Cloud, I'm sure your mom-" he was cut off when blonde spikes shook back and forth furiously.
Finally gasping for much needed air, Cloud sobbed against Zack's sweater and hid his face from the man, "I'm so sorry!"
Zack's head spun, Cloud was apologizing to him? "For wha-" again the crying blonde cut him off, "I promised to live both of our lives! And I couldn't, Zack!" Always the martyr, Zack marveled at the man crying against him. He wasn't crying for himself, or the fact that he wouldn't get to see his mother again… He was crying for Zack?
"Oh, Cloud…" Zack whispered as his strong arms wrapped around the shaking blonde, "I never thought things would turn out the way they did… I never expected Sephiroth to be such a persistent prick." To his very core Zack had always wished he had never made the blonde promise him something so cruel, and he had only found out how taxing it was after having the planet's savior fall apart right in front of him… The raven haired man pulled the blonde closer and pressed the side of his face to the side of Cloud's spiky head. "It was unfair of me to ask such a thing of you," he told his smaller friend as he rubbed the side of his face against the side of his head.
They stood like that until Aerith came out of nowhere and stopped to survey the scene before speaking, "The explosion killed Loz and Yazoo… And you, Cloud." Zack could see her eyes shining with unshed tears. "And we can't put you back this time, the planet simply doesn't have enough power… I'm so sorry." she told him sincerely.
Cloud sobbed again in response, and let out an anguished cry against Zack's sweater as his hands fisted in the back of it at the man's shoulder blades.
"Aerith, there has to be some way, please?" Zack found himself saying without thinking. He would love to keep the blonde with him, but if Cloud was hell-bent on his promise then there would be no happiness in it for either of them.
"Zack… There is one thing, but, we can't put him through it all over again… That's just cruel," the little woman said softly.
The raven haired man perked up as he hugged the still sobbing blonde against him. "Through it again?… As in, go back?" he questioned skeptically. When the woman reluctantly nodded, Zack's heart leapt.
"But it's never been done before… Things could end up different than he remembered, inconsistencies could occur, and it's unpredictable as to where in his life he'll come out. It could be minutes after he was born, hours before meeting you or seconds before the disaster in Nibelheim… It's dangerous…" Zack nodded absently as he looked down at Cloud. A long silence, with the exception of the occasional sniffle, passed by the three before Zack nodded again. Answering for Cloud, "I think it's worth it." Wide blue eyes quickly looked up at him, the blonde had just tuned into the conversation; only hearing about going back to Nibelheim.
"Are you sure?" Aerith asked, avoiding eye contact with Cloud when he attempted to whip around to look at her.
Without a moments hesitation Zack spoke, "Yes. I am."
The brunette woman bit her bottom lip and nodded before finally looking at Cloud, "Things will be different this time. I promise," She disappeared into a tendril of teal wisps and Zack turned the blonde back to face him.
"Cloud… You have to live for yourself this time. You can't do it for others… And who knows, we may even see each other again…" the Ex-SOLDIER's voice held hope and fear. Not sure what to think.
"Zack, I don't understand," Cloud said in a panicked voice, "What are you going to do?"
"We're gonna give you a second chance, Coud. Don't waste it," Zack warned softly.
A sudden wooziness washed over the blonde as he tried to focus his full attention on protesting, but no words would come. His body became heavy and unresponsive to his commands. Zack pulled the blonde into another hug, not minding having to support the weight he had become familiar with all those years ago.
"You'll see, everything will be awesome this time…" Zack's voice told him as everything around him faded and his body sagged against the SOLDIER's. The black haired man smiled sadly, knowing that he hadn't given Cloud much of a choice in the matter. It was a risky gamble, but he wanted the blonde to be able to live for himself…