For a friend, HeroicPuppy, on her birthday. Happy Birthday, dear one.
This takes place a good year after the events of Advent Children, in which Cloud is attempting self-improvement and finds something else entirely. This is a very significant "what-if" something that I have always wanted to see, and it's lain dormant within me until now. A happy "ending" all around, Clack-centric.
I own nothing. Cloud muse thanks the goddess everyday for it.
"I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me - who knows how? -
To thy chamber-window, sweet!"~Percy Bysshe Shelley
What he knew for certain was that his time here was at an end. He could taste the brevity in the sweet air, the note of finality ringing through the winds, hitting his heart with clarity: his time here was finished.
There needed to be no exchanging of words, no farewells or hushed goodbyes on smiling lips; they knew he'd be back. He knew he'd return when his time was at an end to the world he had once belonged to, and would again.
'Stay safe. You are far wiser now, Pup. Keep it that way.' Angeal always had to have the last word, ever the teacher. He resisted the urge to turn around, to grip his former teacher close, but he resisted, knowing that his steps were for a different purpose now.
'Make him remember. Make him remember how to smile.' Aerith, his dear companion and now, silent encouragement from the peridot beyond.
To say his return would cause Cloud surprise was a profound understatement. It might have come as deep enough of a shock to where Cloud himself was sent to his death as consequence. The dead were supposed to remain that way, the haunts ceasing with the final breath of the dearly departed. He was wise enough now to know that was not reality, that the dead were powerful enough to resist the Lifestream and that when the beloved ones passed on, the spectral torment was only just beginning. In this instance, he could put an end to that notion.
A breath, a flutter of incandescent wings, and a leap landed him where he needed to be: at the beginning, at the start once more.
Everything was resolved, the weapons sheathed, the horrors vanishing with the golden-light of dawn. The world no longer wept, bleeding black, thirsting for a way to be coalesced and healed in full. Smiles returned and were exchanged, and the process of recreation began.
Cloud knew that he had to learn how to be satisfied with what remained. The aftermath was rarely beautiful, the ashes tainting the sky with the memory of what caused the charcoal clouds, the fires of hell that cut all, that devastated everything. He had to walk forward, and he could say with honest conviction that he was striving to be a better man than he had been before. He spoke with Tifa more, visited Cid occasionally and fought the stoicism he wore like a well-fitted cloak, the edges tattering and fraying every time he opened his mouth, revealing more than the once shell-shocked cadet years before.
All was going according to a plan to bring the Planet, to bring those that inhabited it in a time of chaos entire to harmony. He understood that.
So why was he back at the church, at her church, reveling in the feeling of disconnection?
Undeniably, there was something missing. The moments where he should have been focusing on the sweetness of important words, moments designed to ease him from the jaws of despair he felt every consecutive time good tidings came his way, that there was something amiss. It was all in his head he knew, but he refused to succumb to thoughts of self-derision. He was past that, past the numbing poison of eternal blame. But there was no arguing that he felt that, even on his best days, as he was immersed with smiling faces, of internal peace, something was missing.
'Not something. Someone.'
Loss, and the devastation of death did relinquish its grip over time. Those sands cleansed his skin, the cool surface of the hourglass soothing his feverish skin that was aflame with memory. The guilt,the shame of his loss of strength, his inability to save, to have taken the place of those who were long gone...that did fade. It was an ever-present part of his spirit, that past pain of unshakable grief, an agony he wouldn't wish on any being, but it was easier to forget about, so long as the refused to dwell.
Those who were lost, those who were beyond the skies wanted only the best for him. He knew that to be an unrelenting yet gentle truth. He was not haunted nor would he allow himself to live shrouded in the shadows. It was quite bold of him he knew, to step away from his grief, to see that it defined him and created the slowly but surely rebuilt man he saw in the mirror every sunrise.
He could also say he was audacious to believe that he did not deserve to live in pain, in the throes of an affliction he could re-imagine for eternity, until madness consumed his life. However, that's what he would say, the Nightmare and sinister spirit of his own mental decay. He would claim that despair was never far, the gift he bestowed mingling with Cloud's own shadow, trailing him like a permanent part of his soul. No. He wouldn't let horror, the greed of wraiths tear him asunder.
And yet, here he was, dwelling on what was lost, the incompleteness. It would do him no good, and it might have even undone all of the mental work he had set out to accomplish. He knew this, knew it to the core of his being. And yet his motorcycle drifted, switching lanes, headed toward a path of familiarity that both repulsed and welcomed him all at once.
He never considered the possibility of fate, of destiny, for he had fought against self-fulfilling prophecies time and again, far too often to the point where he firmly disbelieved in those notions. The reality of the world, the truth was that what one created for themselves, all of the answers, all of the inquiries that needed to be told and asked came from within oneself. No one was ever left without choice, and though his past would dictate otherwise, he strove to believe in self-creating truth. There could be no such truth as doom, because Cloud knew that he would attempt to both slaughter and barter with the being of Destiny. Meaning, Cloud was here entirely of his own volition, his own choice dictating that he wanted to be here, ignorant of the pull of gravity on his body leading him to the church. He wanted to be here. But why? What would he possibly serve to gain by sitting on rotted pews, gazing up at the white-washed sunlight of a hole in the ceiling that he knew like the scars on his body?
Nothing. Nothing but an aching head, and a heart that thirsted for that unnameable notion that his soul missed.
Remaining in one place never did anyone any good. Cloud rose from his seated position, thick boots echoing around the empty church, dust motes filtering skyward. He would see the flowers, her flowers and then leave. Maybe he'd bring a few back for Tifa and Marlene, splashes of color to brighten the bar. Aerith wouldn't want for the flowers she worked so hard on to remain here, away from the present living.
Bending low, Cloud pulled several tulips, still the same white and yellow petals from the root. The aroma was subtle, but soothing to his nerves, just like the one who planted them.
He heard it then, a low hum, almost that of twirling helicopter blades. If Reno really deemed it necessary to fly his plane everywhere to search for him, Cloud really should have just caved and placed his number in his new PHS. But it was too inconstant of a sound to be the cacophony of helicopter propellers. It seemed like there was a steady target moving towards the opening in the church ceiling, a target of unknown intent.
Cloud squinted, gripping the hilt of his blade. It could have been a bird, albeit an inebriated one, or some sort of airborne creature that chose this particular area and this particular time to attempt to fit through the opening in the ceiling. It was too far away even for mako-enhanced eyes to make out the intent of. What mattered was that whatever "it" was, was headed straight towards him.
Even still, this could have been his purpose for being right here, at this point in time, to protect the beauty the fallen saint created, and all those attached to her. For a frightening moment, an instant that nearly stole the breath from his lungs, rendering him incapable of lifting his sword, Cloud wondered if Sephiroth returned, clawing his way from the blistering heat of the endless shadows he exiled himself to, or maybe one of the trio of Remnants, the terrifying shades of a Nightmare most omnipotent. If so, he would waste no moment on hesitation.
Without so much as a forethought, Cloud launched himself in the air, his momentum propelling him like an iron-tipped arrow of truth towards the oncoming target. He never expected what came next, nor what he would find.
Th sound rang in his ears, and it registered as a cry of mirth, the jubilation of freedom itself. Before he could so much as blink, Cloud found himself embraced in full, the arms so familiar, he could recognize them in the midst of a sea of limbs without his sensory perceptions. He could barely let out a gasp before once again, he fell through the wide, exposed ceiling of the church, mirroring his past actions, only with the one who began the journey here first, squeezing him tightly.
They landed among a flurry of marigold and white, the flowers bending beneath their weight. In the free-fall, Cloud released his grip on his sword, the blade spinning towards the pews, slicing deep into the floorboards as if marking the church for ownership of the land, christening it for a more benign, bright future. He closed his eyes with the fall, his head connecting with a few boards, his spine protesting against the added burden of the arms, the body, the weight of...
The weight of whom? Cloud's eyes opened wide, and his spine bent, bringing his body into a sudden seated position. The world shifted in his vision, details blurring, colors swimming upon an ocean of vertigo.
"Easy there, Spike. I don't want you gettin' sick on me."
That voice. The tone that had invaded his waking world, his every dream and nightmare alike, a voice he would have done anything for, merely to hear again. That voice belonged to him, to the fallen hero he bid goodnight, a hero he had so recklessly professed to be...the voice belonged to him.
It was then that Cloud realized he was insane. Rather, he had been so immersed in a superficial healing process that he had lost sight of how sick in the head he really was. If this was an out-of-body experience, he wanted to return to his body now, lest he find himself committing some shameful deed during this episode. He had, as Cid would have so bluntly put it, lost his fuckin' marbles.
"Spike I..." A sigh, a laugh, and a brush of calloused fingers in a mess of black hair marked the silence. "Don't worry, you're not crazy. Look at me, c'mon." Hands, physical, literal hands touched his shoulders, the fingers squeezing gentle reassurance on his skin. Hands he knew so well, arms he knew so well...he was real, not transient, nor a ghost as a spiritual source of encouragement. He, Zack Fair, was here.
Cloud allowed his body to turn, an easy feat on boards of now practically crushed flowers and stared. He didn't mean to stare, but he did so, irregardless of how child-like it appeared, or would appear to any prying eye. Zack did not look one day older, the image of youth embodied on his present form. The same dancing blue eyes augmented by mako years before. The same sepia-toned skin, strong flesh adorned with the muscle of one who knew not only how to shoulder his personal weight, but that of others as well. The same X scar on his left cheek, the same ebony hair that stuck out everywhere, the same clothing...he was the same as the way he remembered him.
"I must be dreaming." Without a word, Cloud took Zack's hands off his shoulders and fell back in the flowers. Who was to say the mind couldn't just conjure up a physical someone, hands and arms, the image of a hero who returned to the earth from the skies? His mind was far more broken than he had believed originally.
"No, you're not. Spike...Cloud. I'm back. I'm back for good."
The sunlight that filtered in from the broken ceiling was eclipsed in full by his face, by Zack's visage. The one thing missing was his smile, the ever-present grin that was never stolen by the spurs of a weary life. For a moment, or a few moments rather, Cloud found himself unable to breathe. Needle-thin pricks of heat hit his chest, the warmth of the rush of blood a defibrillator to his heart and senses. Blue eyes so familiar and beautiful all at once made him want to open his mouth, merely to beg the gods that this had to be real, that his suffering ended because he himself had put a stop to it. It had to be because he could see him, see the unchanging features, the eyes that had given him hope. It had to be, because he could feel the warmth of his fallen friend permeating into his arm and leg, the entire right half of his body.
However, his body, his senses and his memory had been wrong before. Who was he to say that this wasn't some illusion?
The lips he had been unknowingly focused on split into a wide smile, a smile made by the stretching of a mouth once set in a hesitant line.
"Cloud, I'm here, I'm back, I'm alive! For good, really, I promise!" Without a word, the same cry of jubilation that had slipped from his lips before rang out again and Zack embraced him.
Cloud could feel the heat on his chest and face, smell the sweetness of Zack's skin, of the body that was pressed flush against his own. And yet, he doubted.
"What do I gotta do," a voice of velvet whispered against his ear "to prove I'm really here? Kiss you or something?"
Kissing. The thought of joining his mouth to Zack's, no matter if he was a physical figment of his imagination was enough to send his heart into frantic arrhythmia. For, there was a memory connected to the words, a memory that ensconced him in the monochrome film of the past. To calm him down before the scientists, before the monsters Cloud could scarcely remember returned for more tests and experiments, Zack kissed him to give him air. He kissed him in a closed-off room filled with chemical scents and glass, to prevent any further panic attacks during the rare moments they were conscious.
It had begun that way at least, until the mouth-mesh lasted for much longer than what was expected. Fingers tangled into hair, moans escaped their carnal cages and bodies melded together. Whether it was for a frantic need for connection, a need to feel some form of completion, Cloud knew not. What mattered was that it happened, and there wasn't any time to understand the meaning behind their actions, just that he had wanted it, and Zack in turn wished for it to happen as well.
"What do I have to do?" Cloud blinked and a barely intelligible string of words slipped from his lips, inconsistent babble. Zack laughed then, the sound so beautiful, his eyes stung, and a hand reached up to ruffle his hair, as if he was a teenager again, receiving praise from a mentor.
"I see. A kiss it is then." Without a word, Zack's mouth brushed his lips, silencing even the birth of protest. It was brief, but it was enough for Cloud to know that what he felt, how this felt, the warmth and taste of lips, the heat of the body above his was not something that could be duplicated in an unstable mental state. His mouth opened in revelation, causing Zack to chuckle against their joined mouths. He was still sprawled over him, looking up with ever-moving eyes, ovals of the sky on a serene face.
"Well now, I wasn't aware you liked me that much, Spike."
Said spikey-haired warrior felt his cheeks color a dusky stain, and a strand of questions, all frantic, all loud, slipped from his lips. Zack laughed again and sat up, choosing to sit cross-legged in the flowers. At least, until he realized just where it was that he was sitting.
"She'd kill me if she saw us sitting in her work. Come on." Zack stood up, and with his height, the slants of white sunlight and the slices of shadows, Zack had never looked more imposing. He had never appeared so tall before, if tall was even the correct word to describe his presence. Zack appeared, in his eyes, like an ideal, fashioned from the dreams and desperate hopes of the young and old, the model of what a hero should have been. He did not have hair of yard-spun spider's thread, an outfit of metal and black leather, eyes that could piece and crumble any barrier with a partial look from a green-eyed gaze. This, before him, was reality, and though the laws of the Planet, the code of life and death screamed that he should not be here, basked in the high-sun, here he was, the Zack Fair, very much alive.
"You're alive." That was all Cloud could say before his words drowned, submersed in the floodgate of a breakdown. It embarrassed him fully that he so openly revealed this, for that persistent shrill of doubt still thundered in his ears, telling him that this could have all been a rouse, an elaborate trap of Sephiroth's. Despite the chiding tone in his mind, he wept openly. He wept tears that had not been shed in years, in hours where tears should have known breath on dirt-smeared cheeks, filling newly mako-infused eyes, and yet they lay dormant, repressed. Until now, until an hour where the impossible not only stood before him in amity, but fell from the skies in sheer joy, Cloud's sadness knew release.
Zack was quick to embrace him, the only sounds from his body murmurs of comfort, whispers that one would use to console a fretting child. Shame should have coursed through Cloud's body, his cheeks, staining with the heat of inner-shame. But all he felt was relief, relief that this was really happening, that some force, be they a hellion or a goddess in nature, returned part of his spirit to him. The unthinkable no longer was thought, but spoken, breathed into existence, conjuring up the truth of these arms, this warmth, the life that held him as tightly as he could.
One question had to be formed, despite his rambling words and frantic sobbing. "How?"
A hand rubbed up and down his back, the actions soothing as well as proof of this existence and this moment.
"It was my time to leave. I can't really explain why, I just knew that my time there was up. It doesn't happen to many, if any one. I'm very lucky, stupidly lucky." Zack laughed again, a laughter filled with all the wisdom of what lay beyond life, the knowledge of how all of it could be over within a blink, and yet daring to not only smile, but laugh about it despite everything.
"I'm here, Cloud. Really here. I'm not in your head, a ghost, a figment of your imagination; I'm really here." The final sentence was dragged deliberately out, each word enunciated for his own personal comfort Cloud knew. The words reassured him, hit him so deeply with comfort that he felt his legs go limp, his world spinning again. He attempted an apology, but it came out as nothing but a slur of syllables. Zack, without a word, flashed him a smile and held him lightly, walking to one of the pews.
"Hey there, don't over excite yourself. In fact, I probably shouldn't have just jumped like that." Before Cloud could inquire about where Zack had jumped from, his question was answered: heaven. Or rather, the Lifestream, but the sky and heaven nonetheless.
"I probably scared you out of your skin. I mean, I'm sure I looked pretty weird, falling from the sky while shouting like that." Cloud managed a nod, feeling as if someone disconnected his thoughts from registering his vocal cords from working.
"I thought...I thought you were Sephiroth." Zack nodded, a sliver of shadows interfering with the intensity of blue eyes.
"He's...elsewhere. You don't need to worry about him." Cloud had wanted to know what form of justice Sephiroth was enduring in the afterlife - if he even made it that far -, or what plan his nemesis had for his ultimate comeuppance, but it didn't matter. If Zack Fair, a Zack Fair that not only fell from the skies but flew told him not to worry about Sephiroth, then he would listen. Besides, this moment might have been just that: an instant with Zack.
Zack seemed to either read his mind or understand the emotions that flashed across his face - if not both - and he shook his head.
"Cloud, I'm here for awhile. Not forever, because humans don't live that long. But I'm here, really here." Very gently, Zack released his hold on him, but not before inquiring if he could let him go. When he was given consent, the former ex-SOLDIER waved his arms around, spinning along the boarded path that led to the church entrance, all the while reveling in his past exercise of squatting.
"See? I'm alive! Ghosts can't touch, and spirits can only guide and offer strength. I'm very much human and alive. Did I mention alive?" Zack stopped his actions for a moment, stood to his full height and then rubbed his neck, as if he had remembered something.
"Actually, I ah...I might not be fully human."
Cloud took a deep breath, steadying himself on the wooden bench before standing, on the off-chance that he would topple over after the onslaught of sudden shock. His efforts were successful, and he walked the small distance to get near to Zack. He could hear and speak with him just fine from his sitting position, but he wished to be close, physically in the proximity of someone whom he hadn't seen or even had the slightest hint of belief that he would see again.
"Alright...I get it. I understand. You're back...you're back..." The words trailed from his lips, dripping into a comfortable silence and complacency between the two of them, assured and truthful of the spoken words. As cause, Cloud's lips were set in a firm line, his lips itching for the ability to smile. Two fingers, belonging to a profoundly perceptive individual touched his face, poking the middle of his cheeks, forcing his lips up into a smile.
"Come on Spike, smile! Or...hmm. Do you want to be called Spike? It's been quite awhile, and I need to know what to call you." The fingers left his face, the owner of the digits choosing to take a step back, as if admiring a piece of art.
"You have grown-up. Maybe I'll call you Mr. Strife? Or Cloud...Angeal never did like it when I nicknamed people..." Cloud held up his hands, the enormity of the situation finally registering with him. His voice returned, a flood of thoughts bathing his throat not with questions but with the need to speak, to reassure, to divulge.
"Zack. You're here with me. You're here with me, now, for the remainder of your life." A nod. "You want to know what to call me?" A nod, then a contagious smile that tugged his lips upward. "Spike, Cloud...you're you. Call me whatever you want."
Zack cheered loud enough to send the remaining brittle ceiling to a complete cave in. "Great! Aahh, I can't tell you how good it feels to be back!" Unbidden, Zack threw his arms around him and again, the height difference between them, minute but significant enough to where Zack could pick him up, only to twirl him around off the ground was known. "I'm sorry, it's just ahhh...you know? Of course not, you couldn't know." Zack set him down, but kept his hands on his shoulders, as if he never wished to part with him for even a pause for breath.
This, Cloud realized with a start, was what he was missing. Zack himself with all of his quirks, his mannerisms, his behavior that could bring out not only the best in those in his presence, but the most sublime of experiences in the seemingly mundane. He was missing the one who he could surrender to, the one who could protect him and contrary-wise, allow himself to be saved by. He was missing his hero, the amity that bound his life. For if it had not been for what Zack did for him he would be either dead, fully insane with the mako infusions, or submersed in a sea of bitterness no creature could aid him from.
"I...Zack. I'm sorry for not...for...I've said this so many times in my head, but here you are now..." Zack gave his shoulders a reassuring squeeze, nodding in understanding.
"Hey. It's not your fault. I died, you lived, and you became a hero. My legacy was upheld by you. It couldn't have happened any other way, Stop blaming yourself, Cloud. Please. Please live, because hey, here I am." Zack did a half-squat, half-jump and Cloud couldn't help the smile that twitched his lips.
"I...the last battle, when you killed Sephiroth. You both were there. You and Aerith. You told me things would be alright. That wasn't a lie." Zack leaned forward on his heels, as if eager to hear about what Cloud had been up to about how the man before him was made stronger due to the aftermath of his circumstance.
"That was us; we could help only so much. Mainly Aerith, given her power." Zack leaned forward on his heels again. "She doesn't blame you either. She knew what she was doing. She knew her life would end." These words, these revealed truths uncovered so much, altering everything. Cloud knew this to be sound. He couldn't help but wonder just how it was that these answers weren't known yet, for they would have saved not only him but many more from paralyzing grief had they known that some events, be they disasters or miracles, were meant to happen. But it just was; there was no time to wonder, for arguments, for anything.
"Destiny, fate. Are they real?" Zack shook his head, and Cloud felt his self-volition prior to acknowledging the returned hero wash over him. "I can't say. I honestly don't know. But I can reveal some of what I experienced." Zack looked to the right, then the left, as if he found himself concerned with their level of privacy. "Your friends are probably going to ask me questions when they see me..." Cloud lost track of anything spoken after that, for the thought of showing his friends Zack Fair, the fallen hero returned to the Planet completely canceled out any thought of present words.
The shock had to have been prevalent on his face, for suddenly, Zack busted into laughter. "Oh Spike, your...your eyes..." He fell over for a moment, bending low at the waist, clutching his stomach. "Man, it feels good here, so good! To laugh! Just well..." Zack stood up, dabbing at the corners of his eyes. "That is, if you don't want to show me to your friends, I understand how a friend who returned from the dead could ruin a guy's reputation."
Cloud scoffed, something he hadn't done past his memory's limits. Zack chuckled, patting his back. "You haven't changed a bit. Or...no, you have. So much. There's even a song about you up there." Cloud knew that if his eyelids stretched any more skyward, his eyes would know permanent damage.
"Yeah...but then again, everything's a song with the... how can I describe this...you never feel sad. You always have this light feeling, a feeling of everything good, always. You can see everything for miles and miles, and you know so much more than when you're here, on the Planet." Zack stomped his boots on the boards for emphasis. "It's so beautiful. Your loved ones, those who were lost...they're all there, with you. That's really all I can say, for it's hard to describe...maybe I've said too much already." Zack grinned impishly, then looked up at the wooden ceiling, perhaps catching glimpses of faces in the clouds. "Nah. They'd want me to."
Cloud blinked a few times, frantically trying to comprehend the secrets, the information no mortal had ever been blessed with hearing. Was he truly worth sharing such a secret with? Zack beamed at him, the gesture revealing his pearl-white teeth, the crinkling of skin around his eyes and boundless kindness, a simple act that let him know that yes, he was worthy.
"Spike. You already know you have value. No blame. Smile." The fingers were back on his cheeks, turning his lips upwards in a smile. "There we go." Cloud chuckled faintly, a real smile staying put on his face.
"You're back. Welcome home, Zack." Zack grinned, stretching his arms open wide. His arms were spread in such a way, that Cloud believed that he was going to embrace him again.
When the wings appeared, it came as another shock. A sharp gasp slipped from his lips, his eyes widening fully. Zack had wings. Some rational part of his mind recalled that Zack alluded to this before, about how he came back and was back for good, but that he was mostly human.
"You earned them." It was a statement more than a question, and the smile Cloud was bestowed was the answer.
"Yes. I needed a way to come back without winding up splattered all over the slums. I knew I'd find you here, and something tells me you knew before you really knew."
Destiny, Fate, Reality itself whatever that was...this was enough to make Cloud a believer in something fully Divine.
"I thought...I don't know. I'm happier than I was." Cloud licked his lips, as if tasting the future words on his lips before they were spoken.
"Go on; tell me what's on your mind. I'll be here until you get sick of me, but before that happens..." Zack made a "go on" motion with his hands, the small but very present smirk on his lips revealing the jest, a playfulness Cloud never knew how deeply he missed until it was absent from his life.
"Alright...I talk more. I try to stay what's on my mind. The Planet's healing, and in a way, I guess I am too." The words were so strange to hear coming from his lips that Cloud was taken aback. He always had been taciturn and reserved, saving his words for when they mattered. They mattered now.
"I think so; you smile more. You're no longer so sad." The span of Zack's wings were so great, they could touch the edges of the pews if he stood in the middle of the boarded aisle. The feathers fluttered, an ivory color of transparent hues. Cloud found himself reaching for the feathers, yearning to see if they felt as soft as they looked. Zack walked closer and with his right wing, ensconced Cloud in a small embrace, the wing from his left shoulder brushing his face.
"Who knows? Maybe someday, you'll have wings too." Cloud's eyes had slipped closed, but with Zack's words, his eyes opened in such shock, Zack laughed once more.
"You haven't changed except for the wings and wisdom." Zack laughed even harder at that, a mischievous twinkle giving his eyes a sapphire shimmer.
"Angeal told me something like that before I left." Before Cloud could so much as think of a response, a well-muscled arm wrapped around Cloud's waist. Before he could so much as voice his exclamation, he was in the air, flying.
"Where are you taking me?" The earth was no longer connected to his feet, and a brilliant limbo was known, the rush of the wind, the glint of the sunlight.
"You'll see. You sure you trust me?"
"With my life. You know that." A chuckle.
"Just checkin', Spike."
The flight was better than what he could have envisioned in his deepest dreams. He had been flying on aircrafts before, but he was always inside, a sheet of metal and glass protecting him from the free-fall, for men were not blessed with wings. When they were however, any mortal bestowed with sharing the experience of flight created a fulfillment deeper than anything that could be described.
The world was detailed, colors and moving shapes everywhere on the ground, on the earth. For this time, he was separated from humanity, all for a gift. This light, this wind, this moment made him realize that yes, this was reality and happening right now, the fighting was over and done with, and that loss he had been feeling, that unstitching of the harmony in his world was coming together. Perhaps it had something to do with the song that Zack spoke of?
The bluff came into view, their feet connected with that hill, and instead of the all-too-familiar bitterness of this place, he felt wise. Here, on the spot where the soles of his boots imprinted with the granulated earth, a rebirth and death was created. A young man knew what he was doing, what he was fighting for in an impossible battle. For him, he was forced to move, to live when all he wanted was to lay down with the blood-spattered body and go with him into death.
"It was all about timing, wasn't it?" Zack nodded, the gesture stirring the feathers beneath his wings.
"I'd say so. I wanted so badly to save you, so badly to get you to safety. I wondered if I died a hero. Do you think so?" Zack turned his head, the sunlight coating his face in both shadow and a gilded hue. Two sides of the same coin. Wisdom and ignorance. Nightmares and dreams. Strength and giving in. Harmony and chaos. Reality and fantasy. Every word, every notion and idea were present on Zack's features, in the spaces between his eyes, the dark skin of his scar, the sapphire glint of mako-pupils.
"Yes. Yes, you did. You still are."
Cloud wasn't sure who moved first, whether it was his own limbs that locked into movement, his heart beating erratically, or the subtle austerity of Zack dropping his gaze to Cloud's lips that provoked their third kiss. Hands grasped bodies, breaths slipped from the joining of mouths and eyes closed, reveling in a dual parade of senses. Touch became a sublime stroke of fingertips over a neck, a tongue tasted a bottom lip, and hands stroked sun-colored cheeks. Sight was both blackness, the ebbing of red and white dots settling behind their vision, the after-images of the mechanical outline of the Midgar, the hills beyond, and the hill that ended and began it all.
"Are you sure? You know how I feel, Spike." Another kiss, this time initiated fully by Cloud.
"You've changed. And stayed the same. I love that."
They embraced, arms locking around shoulders, fingertips tracing patterns beneath clothing.
"Alright. I'm sorry if I get a little lost on the way to your place, it's been awhile." This time their laughter was mutual, tears of both mirth and gratitude forming, pouring down two young men's cheeks, tears that revealed just how much they missed one another and never stopped caring for one another.
"I know the way. I'll show you what's changed."
"I look forward to it." It was reality, the way Cloud's friends met, greeted and accepted Zack after a much needed explanation. It was nothing but a literal accord, the life that knew connection and harmony. And beneath sweat-tossed covers, an amity of bodies was formed, a joining that made millions of voices sing, pronouncing the one who returned and the one who healed.
"There's never really an end, is there?" Fingers entwined, and a few kisses were exchanged.
"Nah, you're stuck with me forever."