Something I just had to write after watching Crisis Core's ending, yet again. I was really, really tempted to write a second chapter for this, but I don't know if I should. I think it stands better as a one-shot. Let me know! Enjoy!
To Cloud Strife of Nibelheim
The silent purr of Fenrir's engine died down as Cloud switched the gears and turned the key, putting the bike to rest. He had to say, he was definitely satisfied with Fenrir's performance. He would need to drop by the old man's workshop in Midgar again to thank him later once he returned to Edge. First Tsurugi had been crafted beautifully, working just as how Cloud had designed it, but he hadn't thought he would enjoy riding Fenrir so much – to be honest, he had thought out a lot of tweaks that he had wanted to do after giving the original design to the old man. Cloud still had many ideas on how to further improve Fenrir's performance, but taking the bike out across the continent for the first time, he admitted that the first design was definitely no let-down. It definitely beat the swiftness that came with an S-Ranking golden Chocobo, even if Fenrir wasn't able to cross through oceans.
Cloud put the bike on its stand and climbed down, raising his head at the new village that greeted him. He had been to Gongaga only once during his quest to defeat Sephiroth, and he had found nothing truly remarkable from the secluded place. In a way, it reminded him of Nibelheim. Packages were usually delivered to Midgar, Kalm, Cosmo Canyon, Costa Del Sol, Junon, Rocket Town and occasionally Wutai. The Golden Saucer was where Cloud received most of his clients, all eager to send back presents to distant ones while on holiday.
But Gongaga? Never.
It was the first time he had to deliver a package here, and Cloud had to admit getting lost for about an hour before finally managing the right turn. His knowledge of the geography of the Planet came through what he did best – mistakes. He would often find himself lost during the long quest, and it was only through coincidence, mistake, and probably luck that he was able to locate the villages and towns he knew. The knowledge of locations had expanded since they took control of the Highwind, but places like Gongaga were still, sadly, one of those areas that people just didn't remember or notice.
It was the last package for today. Cloud weighed the brown parcel in his hand, looking around for any signs of addresses on the houses that dotted the area – there were none. The parcel was addressed to a certain Mrs. Fair, with only Gongaga as its address. Originally, Cloud had thought that such an address was ridiculous. Now, finally arriving at the village, he could see the reasoning behind it.
An old man was walking his dog and Cloud approached him. "Excuse me? Can I ask where I might find a Mrs. Fair here?" he asked.
The man looked at him and nearly jumped. "You're SOLDIER!" he gasped.
Cloud's mood immediately darkened. People still had that reaction, unfortunately, though it was becoming more infrequent in busier cities. Still, something about the man's reaction seemed strange to him. There was no... fear. "No," Cloud denied, resisting the urge to look away. "I have no ties with ShinRa."
The old man, like many before him, didn't look convinced. But there was a different emotion in those eyes as well. Could it be... disappointment? It couldn't be. "Well... Thought y'might be SOLDIER, y'know... cuz of your eyes. There was once a SOLDIER from this lil' village here. Great one as well!" he said, beginning to ramble about the SOLDIER that had made his name famous and his village proud.
Cloud nodded, out of politeness than anything else. "Excuse me... Mrs. Fair?" he prompted.
"Oh yes!" the man jumped again. "It's that house right at the edge there – y'have to climb a wee bit, but don't think that'd be a prob!" he said, chuckling before turning his attention back to his dog.
Blue mako eyes travelled to the direction the man had indicated earlier. Cloud nodded, thanking the man before setting off again. It was such a small village. The silence and comfort that seemed to come from the village made Cloud feel nostalgic. He hadn't been home since... Since Nibelheim. And the Nibelheim that was there now was not his home. Not at all.
He supposed maybe Edge was his home now... Seventh Heaven. Though he had denied the phone calls he received, he still regarded the bar as the place he would inevitably return to once he was tired of wandering. That bar, and Aerith's church. Home, Cloud supposed.
Reaching the small hut, Cloud knocked on the door and stepped back. There was a muffled shout from inside, a woman, as she apologised and told him to wait. Cloud raised his eyebrows slightly when he heard the crash of pots and pans, followed by a very distinctive thud and the woman was once again crying out in surprise. Well... At least there were still some people creating noise in such a small village.
The door opened and Cloud came face-to-face with a much older woman, with the most distinctive shade of purple eyes he had ever seen. She had greying hair which, once upon a time, might have been black. Sharp nose... She might have even been attractive at the time of her youth. Her age couldn't have been more than his mother's... if she was still alive.
"Mrs. Fair?" Cloud asked.
"Yes, that's me. How can I help you, dearest?" Mrs. Fair asked, confirming her identity.
Cloud held up the package. "A package for you, delivered through Strife's Delivery Service. It came from Midgar," he said, voice mechanical.
The woman raised her eyebrows. Clearly, outside contact was rare for this little village. "Well... thank you. Won't you come in?" she asked, making no move to take the parcel. She was eyeing it like it was a fang from a Midgar Zolom.
"I don't wish to intrude," Cloud excused himself.
There was a lapse of silence. The woman looked as if she didn't want the package, and Cloud didn't want to accept her invitation to come inside. It was a battle on who could stand silent the longest - fortunately for Cloud, it was a battle that didn't require much effort on his part. He could see that it was different for the woman. She seemed to be the type who was unable to sit still... like Yuffie.
Eventually, the woman sighed. The man in front of her was made of steel, looking at her with such blue eyes... Mako eyes...
Mrs. Fair stepped forward and took the parcel in her hands. "Well, thank you for delivering this to me, err..?"
"Cloud," Cloud supplied.
"Cloud, then," she smiled. "And thank your manager as well. Gongaga isn't exactly a place you'd come to too often."
Cloud shook his head. "It's a self-delivery business," he said.
"What, this is your own business? This 'Spike Delivery Service'?"
"Strife," Cloud corrected, feeling his heart clench at her mistake. "And yes."
"Strife, I'm sorry! Well... Didn't know youngsters like you have your own business like this! A delivery one at that!" Mrs. Fair exclaimed, shaking her head. "And to think, the last time I got a package was..." she paused, a thought coming to her. "Wait. Your name... Cloud Strife?"
"Yes," Cloud answered, desperately trying to find an opening to leave. The woman didn't seem willing to let him go.
"I have a package for you!"
Now that surprised him. And he thought he was the one providing a delivery service here. "Maybe you're mistaken. It might not be mine," Cloud said quickly. How many Cloud Strifes were there in the Planet, anyway?
"Well, I've had that package for years now, so I might as well deliver it to the one who shares his name! If it's wrong, you'll be a dear and use that delivery service of yours to give it to the right man, right?" Mrs. Fair said, disappearing from view. Cloud frowned, instantly debating if he should just leave now, before things get out of hand. Who would deliver a package to him, anyway? And why deliver it to Gongaga out of all the places in the Planet?
As the thoughts of running away and escaping continued to race through his mind, the woman appeared again, a much yellowed package in her hand. It was small, no bigger than his palm, but the tag name was definitely his. Addressed to Nibelheim, with no indication of any house number. Cloud would have laughed. Here he was, thinking that such a way of addressing parcels were impossible, only to find a similar one addressed to him.
But Cloud had been in Nibelheim long enough to know that there were no other Cloud Strifes there.
"Thank you," Cloud said, taking the package in his hand, pocketing it. "I'm sorry to have troubled you for so long, Mrs. Fair," he said, taking it as a signal to leave.
She sighed, obviously wanting to enjoy his company more. "Very well. You take care, dearest! And do come to Gongaga again when you have more time. I'd love to hear all about SOLDIER," she said, closing the door.
Cloud was stunned at the abrupt farewell. He didn't even have the chance of correcting her about the real position he once had in ShinRa.
Pushing the thought out of his mind, he walked back to Fenrir, deciding that this place, Gongaga, was a very strange, small village indeed.
Perhaps it was the comfort of the small village. Perhaps it was how he immediately felt home with the strangers there. Perhaps it was the sudden feeling of loneliness that gnawed at his insides as he compared Gongaga to Nibelheim. Or perhaps he was just tired of travelling for now.
Cloud returned to Midgar.
He parked Fenrir at the cliff overlooking the city and climbed down. The air was dry and hot, different from his most vivid memory of the place he was standing. Walking over to the edge of the cliff, Cloud looked at the Buster Sword that he had placed there, the blade standing proud and tall like the SOLDIER that had once wielded it. His memories of Zack were far from perfect, and there were so many things he wanted to know and remember, but couldn't. Not yet. The memories were resurfacing; growing little by little over time, but it was what had happened here that was the most vivid memory. The rest, Cloud feared, would just need to take a little more time to return to him.
It was so ironic that his clearest memory of Zack was when he had been half-catatonic, unresponsive and comatose from mako poisoning. But he remembered the rainy day, how the heavy droplets had clung to his clothes... He remembered how cold it had been, and Zack's chest, so warm, as he pulled Cloud to him in one last embrace...
You'll be... my living legacy...
Would he hate Cloud now, if he knew what Cloud had done after he died? Parading around with Zack's identity, forgetting the sacrifice the SOLDIER had made in exchange for his life...
'Stop kidding yourself, Spike.'
Cloud closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. He often heard snatches of his best friend's voice, especially standing here, with the Buster Sword so near. Unconsciously, his hand moved into his pocket and he touched the small parcel he had obtained a few days ago in Gongaga. Cloud had forgotten about it as soon as he left the small village. Now reminded, he took it out and turned it in his hand, frowning slightly.
With every package, there was a delivery address and a return address, in case if the parcel could not be delivered. It surprised Cloud to see that the return address was Gongaga. There was no way to determine if it had been sent from there originally.
But... Why Gongaga?
'It's all in that spiky head of yours, Spike. Remember...'
Realisation dawned on him and Cloud ripped the wrapper of the package. The first thing that greeted his eyes was the photograph, yellowed and weather-worn – most likely due to how the package had been handled. He took it out, and there it was. A picture of Zack... and a much younger version of Cloud, both looking at him with laughter in their eyes. Zack had his arm around Cloud's neck, his hand in Cloud's hair, most likely ruffling it at the time as he laughed. And Cloud, well... as usual, he was trying to escape.
"August..." Cloud said to himself, pressing his hand against his forehead as the memories forced themselves back to him. That was it... The picture had been taken the August before their mission in Nibelheim. His birthday. They ate, they drank, they had fun... And Zack had promised that he wanted to give a present, but one that Cloud would need to 'look for' to receive. 'Can't go 'round giving presents without you looking for them, Spike! You might not treasure it otherwise!'
Cloud shook his head, the memory hurting his head. At the time, he hadn't known anything about the mission that was coming the next month... But Zack might have had an idea about it. Cloud could just imagine the black-haired SOLDIER posting the parcel to Nibelheim, wanting Cloud to find it while they were there on a mission there... Only the parcel never arrived. Nibelheim had been burned down, and the parcel was transferred to Gongaga instead...
There had been a joke that they had shared – one thing they had in common, SOLDIER and trooper, which brought them together... Gongaga... Nibelheim...
That was it. Two secluded villages, both with mako reactors... They had made a joke about it when they first met.
Gongaga was Zack's hometown. Remembering that, a new flood of memories came to him - Cloud nearly winced at how furiously his mind was working. At the back of his mind, he could hear his friend's voice, calm and soothing words telling him to take it one step at a time. He would remember again. He would. But one at a time; there was no need to rush.
Then, another memory... an older one. "Zack Fair. SOLDIER, Second Class. Humph. It'd sound a lot better if it was First Class, eh Cloud? Zack Fair. SOLDIER, First Class," and then the whoop, the delight at the sound of his own name being said like that. "Just wait, Spike. You'll get in SOLDIER in no time! And I'll make it to First Class!"
Fair. The woman. Those violet eyes. Cloud should have known. He should never have denied her his company, not after what Zack had sacrificed for him. Gaia, what had he done? He turned his eyes to the Buster Sword, cursing Zack inwardly for nothing and everything.
'Hey, hey, don't blame me, Spiky!'
'You can always go back. Ma would love to have you around sometime.'
Cloud sucked in a ragged breath, turning his attention to the parcel again. There was a piece of paper, yellowed just like the wrapper and the photo. He eased it out, an untidy scrawl meeting his eyes.
Turned out great, didn't it? And I found this piece of junk, thought you'd like to have it. It's not part of the present though!
Wrapped in another piece of yellowed paper, was an emblem of a lone wolf.