Information that other readers care about: this story is the Zack version of Aerith's Maiden Who Travels The Planet. I say that the genre depends you if you want to view the story and the characters in a certain way. This contains mostly elements of Zerith, a little bit of Clerith and Cloti is here too.
The Man Who Sleeps In The Sky
The sky was gray, filled with dark clouds, and thunder. Rain pelted on him continuously, washing away the blood on his lips, and easing up the pain until all that was left was cold numbness. Everything was blank, the ground was muddy and someone cried as the fallen soldier breathed his last and finally closed his eyes.
Instead of darkness, it was bright and beautiful right up there where he was facing. The sky was blue and liberating. She was afraid of the sky, he thought, but it was not scary at all to him .In the wide expanse a lone figure descended fast; feathers slowly following his trail. He wanted those pure white wings as well. The young man reached out his hand to his friend, accepting the invitation.
He didn't exactly feel what he called the wind, but it was refreshing. The sun was bright with its warm color, but not blinding at all. He was free, flying and rising up above the clouds. When it all cleared out, he reached the black space beyond, but it wasn't dark at all; it was like the moonless night, but the stars were flowing from all directions. The whole place felt like a collection of rivers of Mako creating a huge, but empty blue-green ocean.
Zack Fair's journey was over.
"Zack..." The man who guided him to the skies called. Standing on nothing and suspended in space like him. He stood there with an aura of authority and pride that the young man knew too well.
"It's been a long time, Angeal."
"Yes, it's been a while." An awkward silence followed, but got broken up quickly with the familiar exchange of smiles. "You're as lively as usual, Zack."
"Of course, why wouldn't I be? A lively dead person huh?
Angeal chuckled a bit, "That's just like you, Zack." There was a pause in his words. "It's good to see you again Zack."
"It's good to see you too, Angeal," Zack looked at his dear mentor and mused that the idea that the two of them were almost around the same age now physically. "So, how's life?"
"That's very funny Zack." Angeal said, dead serious as ever. After an awkward pause, he said, "But Zack, I won't be around for too long, this may be our last time..."
"B-But why?" Zack stuttered, the imminent parting quickly sank into him. He was also confused- they're already dead, why should there be another goodbye?
"Zack, my purpose is done. I don't have to hold on much longer."
"So that's it..."
"You make me proud." Angeal patted his head as if he's a child but he didn't mind. At that moment, Zack finally understood the vision when he was asleep, the feather, and the copy delivering his last letter. Angeal never left. "I don't want to say it but I guess you deserve to be called a hero now." said Angeal.
"Angeal, thank you for everything," was all Zack could say. In moments such as goodbyes he wasn't a man of many words. He was sad but he was glad to have this moment. It was something to be thankful for.
"Goodbye, Zack. Thank you too."
Angeal faded like dust blown by the wind. Bluish-green particles scattered like fireflies from where he disappeared. It was a short meeting, but it was somehow enough for Zack.
Then Zack was alone.
There were no such thing as time. Zack didn't know how long it was since he first drifted into the Lifestream. He was certainly being carried towards a direction, but he didn't know where. Right or left, floating or sinking, or somewhere in between. He wondered maybe he was not the one moving, and it was only the world that kept. Though he could say that nothing in what he was seeing stayed constant, it also seemed that things would never be different, like the sea with its waves still being the sea.
Is anybody out there?Zack called out all the names he worked hard to remember. In the few years he was in SOLDIER, the young man had lost a lot of his friends, but he was determined never to forget each of them. He called them out one by one, and thought that perhaps, he could meet them again. However, each time, the only responses he received were the multitude of faint voices and a flow of indiscernible thoughts and emotions. It was like being flooded and emptied over and over again.
I guess they weren't there, but somewhere else, heh. Though Zack knew he was surrounded by an unimaginable amount of consciousness, he felt alone. He wanted to move, but there was no ground to walk on. Even if he did move around, there was nowhere to go.
When Zack Fair was alive and younger, death was something in a far-off distance; it was something that his curiosities did not touch. All that was in his mind was how he would live; how he would reach his dreams in the far off horizon. A dead end was not an option. Even when his friends fell in battle, he never embraced death as an end of things, but rather as a long term parting. That, or he didn't think about it much at all.
Now that Zack had all the time and nothing to do, he was left with no choice but to reflect upon his life. It was ironic to him that people who "die" become one with the Lifestream, the river of life. In that sense, everything in the river of life was living, therefore, nothing dies. However, despite the continuing existence of his consciousness, he knew he would disappear; for the first time in his life, the speechless planet told him something. It was frightening, but fascinating to him at the same time. It was fate and reality, inescapable as the current that was carrying him. Before time stopped, he wanted to search the fragments of what kept him whole.
A deep sadness sank into his heart as he remembered his mother and father. He never told them goodbye because he had thought that he never needed to. If only he had written them a better letter, if only he was able to visit them for the last time, he would have felt better. Regrets were few in Zack's life, and this was the most painful one. He could only imagine what their faces would look like upon hearing the news of his death; his mother and was probably looking through their window, waiting to see their grown-up son return home, and wanting to see what kind of a man he had become.
The fresh mountain air, the river, the soft grass of Gongaga, the village people, and his tiny house; all of those things were now just pleasant memories. He tried to recall the taste and smell of his mom's stew; the things he talked with his dad at the dinner table; the cool nights in his bedroom; and the beauty of the stars seen from his window, but just as the living found it difficult to understand death, those who had departed also found it difficult to remember the feeling of life.
When the pleasant things in Zack's life seemed too distant the things leading to his death were not difficult for him to recall at all. They left him with stronger impressions than the dreams he carried of his younger days. The excitement over the thought of joining SOLDIER seemed so distant to the fear that enveloped him when the Shinra infantryman pointed the gun at his face and pulled the trigger. The feeling of life he remembered fatigue, pain, and frustration, as he ran, hid, and fought and died.
There was something that kept Zack going... but now it was just an empty feeling on his shoulders. There was no weight, no pain, or sound of the weak breathing that signaled life. Yes, Cloud had kept him going for a long time, but now that he was not with him, there was no one to worry about. On the other hand, there was no one to talk to, and no one to take care of.
All of Zack's honor and dreams he knew they were now in good hands, but Zack believed that Cloud was more than what he thought he was. His friend's shyness, thoughts of inferiority, and self-depreciation were things they would certainly overcome, but just as the price of freedom was steep, the gift of life meant heavy burdens to carry. He hoped that Cloud wouldn't drag away too much weight as he moved on.
Remembering Cloud helped assure Zack that his death had meaning; that his end was simply a small part of everything. He felt better and comforted, and whole again. His memories were clearer and less weak. Zack wondered if he should he continue the process and retain his existence as long as possible, or maybe he could just accept that the way he was now, and the way he will be. But he wasn't just fighting for keep himself alive, he had died for his friend, but he had risked his life for his final mission.
Zack had a promise to fulfill; to see her again. Aerith. He left her waiting and he will wait for her no matter how long.
Zack drifted as if he was submerged under the pool of his own memories. Fragments of them formed in his mind; melding, and separating as time dragged on. He was left with uncountable recollections of the past. In the stretch of time, even the farthest parts of his past resurfaced. Everything was all over the place. Pieces of him crossed with his memories, desires, and thoughts; the moment he joined SOLDIER flashed with his countless battles; his grief over death was close to his dream to be a hero and falling in love.
Zack, are you there? Someone called him and broke the dream. He didn't know if it was a voice inside his head or a distant memory, but he answered back.
"Zack..." It was a tender voice he had missed for a long, long time. The second he heard her clearly, he knew that it was her. It was the voice that greeted him "hello" when he fell from the roof of a church in Sector 5 where he first met her, and it was also the voice that said "I'll be waiting" when he went away and never returned.
"Aerith!" he answered back, "Aerith is that you?"
"So…you're really here…"
"Aerith!" His spirit awoke and took his original form, and instead of seeing the usual sight of the river of Mako, there she was before him. Zack could only widen his eyes in her sudden appearance, and like a mirror, Aerith looked back with the same expression. "Are you…" There was a furrow of disbelief in Zack's brow, as he wondered if he was seeing an illusion from his consciousness. He reached out to touch her face, wanting to know for sure.
She had changed. The Aerith in front of him wasn't the girl of Zack's memories anymore; she was now a woman he had imagined she would be like, but was more beautiful than ever. As if his heart started to beat again, his long buried feelings of love and longing pulsed inside him; things he thought he had lost.
As if Zack's hands were being carried by his surge of emotions, he reached out to her. He cradled her face with his hands and brushed off the curled locks that fell upon her smooth cheek. The light of mako shone in her face with a cold glow, brightening her green eyes. Her rosy lips were vibrant against her pale face. After staring at her for so long, he finally released his gentle hold; however, his eyes stayed fixed on hers, still mesmerized and unbelieving.
Slowly and painfully, the truth finally struck him: she was real. One with the Lifestream as well.
Reading Zack's feelings, Aerith looked into his eyes and gave him a gentle smile, "I've always wanted to meet you again… and I thought that if I called out to you, I might find you… and here you are; you're not hard to find at all."
"Aerith, I don't know… heh. Well I… I've always wanted to see you again too..." But not in this place! Why? Why are you here?
Five years. Zack remembered all the reunions he had made up in his head during his journey, bordering from childish expectations to desperation. He had imagined a scenario where he would be welcomed with open arms and they would cry with happiness upon seeing each other again. But Zack also thought that it might be different; that she would have hated him and slapped his face at his arrival, or that he would be treated coldly and get a long-delayed break-up. He gave up the hope of seeing her again the moment he fell to the ground in his last battle. But even so, he wished her the best; a long, good life. "I don't know if I should be happy or sad…"
"Funny, I was about to say that."
"Aerith…" Zack knew that their physical appearances were simply their preferred projections in the Lifestream, but she was wearing the ribbon that he gave her along with a pink outfit; the attire Zack told her to wear the next time they meet. Even though he had failed to keep his promise to return to her, she had kept hers.
"Zack, it's okay," she interrupted, "I'm glad to see you again."
"Heh, I was about to say that too."
She gave him a light laugh. It wasn't the girlish giggle he loved hearing a few years ago, but it was a charming laughter that lightened up the place even more. Easing up, he smiled back at her but his face contained all the words he couldn't find the ability say. Finally, it all came out, "But why? What happened to you? How did you end up here?" All sorts of frightening thoughts came to Zack. He knew that death could come unexpected to anyone and he had always thought that Aerith was kept safe by the countless gifts bestowed upon her such as healing and wit, as well as people like Tseng, Kunsel and the rest of Shinra. She was too valuable to lose.
"You tell me first, Zack. I was the one waiting for you all these years." Her palm faced him, with five fingers outstretched. "Five years Zack. Five years," she said with a little sultry face.
He knew that she wasn't really angry, but just acted like that to get what she wanted; still cute as ever. "All right, all right." Zack felt a little guilty for not thinking enough before asking what happened to her. He thought talking about her death might be still painful, especially being that dying young was never a good thing."So you never knew that I died?" Deaths of 1st Class SOLDIERS were usually publicized, even making newspaper headlines since they were glorified as "heroes." But on the opposite, the company can also make it look that the person never existed at all.
"I got the news a year after you left. Kunsel told me, but I want to hear it from you."
"Well… where do I start?"
"Can you begin after our last phone call?"
Zack told her his story. He told her how he and Sephiroth were assigned to a mission in Nibelheim, a place on the other side of the the Planet. Thinking that it was just a simple investigation, he was so sure that he'll go home right after. But then Sephiroth went mad after learning some secrets , he transformed from famous SOLDIER into a monstrous murderer who burned the village down. killed a lot of people, as well as how he confronted him. With shame evident in his face, Zack told Aerith how he did his best to bring Sephiroth down and failed.
"Then I saw Tifa in the reactor, she was hurt but-"
"Did you just say Tifa?
"Yes, did you know her?"
Zack went on and told her how his friend, Cloud, defeated Sephiroth when he was down. Aerith's eyes widened with every detail Zack gave her. At that moment, Zack knew that what he was revealing was part of a bigger tale.
"Cloud? And Tifa?" There was a great disbelief in Aerith's eyes.
"You know them?"
"Please tell me more." Aerith was more serious than before; her eyes were attentive and her brows expressed both anger and sadness over what she was hearing.
Zack continued, and although he wasn't very good at spicing up his story, his details were short and factual. He told her about being imprisoned in a laboratory, how he and Cloud were experimented on, and how they escaped when given the chance. He told her about his travels, how he left Nibelheim, and went to different parts of the world to evade Shinra. Cloud was a big part of Zack's story. He was very particular about Cloud's condition and repeated over and over how he managed to carry him all over the place and take care of him. Aerith's face became more painful with each event unfolding through Zack's words.
"And I got your last letter. I didn't know that four years had passed. I'm sorry."
"You got them…"
"You didn't believe the news right?"
Aerith was silent for a while; her face speaking with sadness. She opened her mouth to say something, but could not find the words to do so.
He went on and told her how he died in the battle on the outskirts of Midgar.
"You were so close..."
"Even if I reached Midgar, my fate would probably still have been the same. The moment I escaped the lab, I knew I wouldn't have a long life."
Aerith was silent for a while, absorbing all the he told her. "That's the saddest thing I heard from you. I almost forgot that you're Zack."
"Really? I have more if you want to hear them?" Zack loved how Aerith tried not to make things too depressing, and he had to try too.
"Why? Do you want me to hug you?"
It came out as a surprise to him, as she hurled herself and embraced him tightly. It felt like the one she gave him many years ago, when he was crying in the church. Only now, she was the one sobbing.
"Zack… I'v always…wanted to…"
Zack learned then that the dead can cry and comfort each other.
After the two of them finished laughing off the shameless crying they did together, she told him the much awaited story of how she met Cloud. The first mention of Cloud came out as a shock to Zack.
"So Cloud took your sword…"
"I actually gave it- hey, so you do know Cloud!"
"It's a long story as well. Where do I begin?"
Aerith continued with explaining the whole fiasco with Shinra, Sephiroth's threat to the planet, and finally, how she fell in the Forgotten Capital. It was a bit too much for him; they were hard facts to accept, and somehow he wanted to believe they weren't true, except the part where Cloud was a strong leader and fought using the Buster Sword. At first, he was despiteful of Shinra for what they had been doing to keep their power, but he also felt the same at Avalanche for using such extreme methods. One was more wrong than the other, but innocent lives perishing was what Zack hated the most. Even so, he was so relieved that Cloud made it to Midgar safely, and Tifa was alive and well.
Zack was ashamed that he had been a part of Shinra, much more a 1st class SOLDIER who had killed many people with the same ideals as Tifa. He regretted that part of his life, and blamed himself for being so naive. He thought that he might have done something to prevent things from happening, but was not able to prevent the greatest tragedy of all: Sephiroth, alive and well, took Aerith's life.
Zack never felt anything as enormous inside him as learning about Aerith's fate. At first it was a huge shock, like a bullet hitting his heart point blank. Hate gushed out from him; red hate that wanted revenge. It was painful and weakening; he was now powerless and dead, killed like her. Even though he had so much anger inside him, Aerith's serene yet strong expression calmed him. She was sad and wished for a different fate, but she embraced reality and faced it with hope and faith. She reminded him of himself when he lost his life; both of them had simply reached the end of their journey.
The truth then emerged as a surprise, Cloud's stories from Aerith's stories didn't fit with Zack's. Because of this, she worried even more about Cloud, as if she was not detached from the living world at all. She talked about his suffering and the difficulty of Cloud's mission, yet she talked liked she knew without doubt that he will succeed, although she was very troubled about the thought that there would be a lot of sacrifices. She didn't want Tifa and Barret to suffer the same fate as her. Though Zack and Aerith were a lot alike in tragedy, she was different in the way she saw her death; she could not be with her loved ones, but her mission was not over.
"Zack, I must help him." She stood there in front of him, strong and determined. The shell of the innocent girl years ago was gone. The man could only, admire her more than ever.
Aerith watched them like they were on the other side of a glass, close by and clear. He envied her abilities as a Cetra, but he knew too well that her gift was a huge responsibility that he could not imagine possessing. Still, if there was something he could do, even if he was just as himself, he wanted to do it. "I want to help too." It wasn't simply an offer, but a wish. She gave him a worried look.
In a way, Zack knew what Aerith was thinking. All the power he had at that moment was solely for keeping his existence, which wasn't meant to last, but what more did he have to risk, he thought. "It's not like I'll be losing anything."
"I... understand. Thank you, Zack." Her face told him that she knew exactly what he wanted her to understand.
"Then I'll be saying good night for now. I'll be waiting right here. Please call me."
"Yes, I will. I'm happy that you're here."
"Bye Aerith. Do your best." She nodded as he told her. He smiled, turned his back, waved his hand, and he faded just like a drop in the water. Her face, gentle, beautiful and reassuring, slowly vanished from his sight, but not from his dreams.
One day, Aerith called out to all the spirits of the Lifestream; her voice resonating all throughout the Planet to aid her as Meteor fell down from the sky. Zack answered, waking up with the rest, and was one with the flow of life that gushed out from the Planet to shield itself from the calamity. Countless spirits joined her to save those who were living, and the living watched the spectacle unfold before their eyes.
It was done, Zack thought; a victory. Aerith smiled beautifully, as she saw the ones she loved were safe and sound. A warm piece of happiness filled him as well, as he finally saw Cloud again, there with his friends, safe and strong. Zack never imagined he would share this wonderful moment with her. It was more than what he wished for when he was still alive.
Deep inside both of them, an ominous feeling remained. Both knew that it was never over and that peace was never eternal. Nonetheless, it was a time for healing.
It was a time also to prepare for the next battle.
Zack's existence became a cycle of deep sleep and Aerith's presence; a good change from being alone. Unlike when they were young where he marked each date in his calendar, he now had lost count of his meetings with her. He didn't know if they were too few or too many; too short of too long. Everything was different from the way before. He wondered who he was to her now. Was she visiting him so he wouldn't be lonely, or was it the other way around? Maybe it didn't matter. As long as she's here.
Zack had learned a great deal about her in the times they were talking. She had changed so much, being more gentle now; mature, wise, and strong. Years ago they were talking about different things, simple things like the weather, riding the train, and eating some nice food; things that he felt people may have thought were trivial, but gave them precious memories. They were talking about things to see and to do; the idea of a quiet life after an adventure outside, and the excitement of spending it with each other, was so great.
Six years ago, Zack and Aerith talked about the future; now they talked what they missed in the past years when they were apart, and sometimes, what it could have been. In death, life was the only thing to remember, and they talked and talked, just like when they were living. They had the longest conversations they ever had, even longer than when they were young. They still talked about silly things, though they were a little less silly than before. There were no flowerbeds, no creaking wood, not a bit of sunlight escaping from the old roof of the church, nor the fragrant smell in the air where they were. There were no cluttered streets to walk onto, no noisy and lively market to visit, or a secret playground for them to pour out their secrets. He was never able to deliver the blue sky he promised her, but he was happy to learn that she had seen it with someone else.
Zack knew more about her as everything went on but she had kept her mystery; there were so many things in her heart. He felt them in her words, but they were not spoken of. He knew it was love, but not entirely love itself; the way she talked about Cloud was different than the rest. It was similar to the way she had talked to him at their last date, and it was also the way he had imagined her when he was reading her last letter. However, there was something in her that he knew very well: the sadness with him when he was apart from her.
"You love Cloud don't you?" Somehow, he pictured the two of them on the top of the slide in Sector 6.
"Huh?" She was taken aback by the sudden question.
"It's too obvious. Come on, tell me about it."
"Ummm, let me see..." With a lovely smile she confessed. "Yes, I love him."
"Heh, what a lucky guy," he snickered at the thought of the shy, awkward Cloud being teased by Aerith. He could imagine the two walking on the streets with her taking his hand and leading him instead.
"I can see that you're jealous."
Zack signed a pinch with his fingers as he looked at her with a mildly amused expression. "Maybe a little."
At that moment, Aerith's face became unreadable; her eyes moved away from his, and then her words came out like a door that was forced to be opened. "Do you know how hard it was to wait for your return everyday? And I was thinking that you probably found someone else better than me. You're so insensitive," she blurted out with a tone of anger.
"Hey, I... I'm so sorry." The subject was very awkward for him, and more for her. Still, he felt a sense of achievement from pushing her to tell the truth.
But instead of a grouchy face, Aerith let out a laugh, as if it was her last defense from the uncomfortable topic they were in. "Ha! I can't believe you fell for that." She blurted out laughing as she pointed her finger to his troubled face.
"I can't believe you're not taking this seriously. My feeling... my feelings!" Zack beat his chest and came up with a fake, pained expression; his back hunched in so-called agony.
"Oh, Zack!" She pushed him back, and before he knew it, he was laughing with her. It was fun but beneath it all he knew there was something more: her pain, the will to move on, how she looked at her future, and now, how she looked back.
"How many boyfriends did you have when I was gone?" He asked, wanting to tease her more, but unexpectedly, Aerith became serious. She looked at him with a sincere expression and said "Zack, you were my one and only."
"What do you mean…?"
"Isn't it too obvious? Do I still need to tell you about it?"
"You said you love Cloud right?"
Aerith extended her hands towards streams of light around her.
"So it would have been you and Cloud together…" He poured out his thoughts in words without him being aware of it. Oops! I shouldn't have said that!
"Who knows? Tifa really loves Cloud too. It was tough competition."
"Whoah whoah whoah! Tifa? That Tifa?" He hit his palm with his fist at the moment of realization. "I knew it! That makes sense!"
"Now you know the real story, huh?" Aerith made a triangle shape with her fingers.
"A love triangle."
"Hey! What about me? Don't leave me out!"
"Sorry, but you don't count!"
"Well, I'm just recently out as well." Aerith broke the triangle she made, and instead showed him her index and middle finger standing side by side. Slowly, she locked the two fingers together. "And this was the ending. A happy one."
"I can see that you're jealous," he teased.
"Sheesh. Why do we like repeating each other's words? Oh, well. My answer is… maybe, a little."
"Don't worry, I'm still here for you." He looked at her and winked.
Again, laughing and visibly amused, she replied. "Of course, I'm not going to let you go anywhere again!"
Aerith woke him up from time to time and told him about Cloud, and how she went around and visited different people when she was not with him. Sometimes she would tell him of her conversations with her mother and some of the friends she met. Zack was happy that she was able to meet so many people and makes friends when he was gone. He learned from her how the living moved on and started new lives, although some had failed and met despair. Always excited and eager, she spilled out everything she wanted Zack to hear, as well as the one he had been hoping for: Cloud, is now with Tifa.
Finally! Zack wanted to jump around like an idiot upon hearing the news.
Aerith said that Cloud seemed happy, although she saw him mourn for their deaths. She told Zack how he visited her watery grave to deliver her mother's flowers, and how he marked his resting place with his sword. Even if Aerith's vision of what was happening was very limited, catching only portions of reality, even a bit of good news was a good to him. The times she was away seemed short and muddled to Zack, and the times she was with him were long, clear and exhausting, but pleasant all the same. He couldn't deny looking forward to her all the time.
The two of them had a silent agreement that nothing was over. Sephiroth's spirit was lingering around and he was infecting the Lifestream. People were dying from the sickness caused by the Jenova cells, and children were the most vulnerable. Aerith and the rest of the Cetra acted tirelessly to save lives and to end the suffering. During this time, the talks Zack cherished with her diminished, but he knew quite well that a long period of rest was exactly what he needed.
"I'll be here," Zack told her. He was determined to hold on.
Sephiroth was moving again. The former SOLDIER had been using his power to gather his remnants for his revival.
Cloud was losing the battle, not because he could not fight, but because he could not win over himself. According to Aerith, his guilt over her death, and the failure to live up to his promise was haunting him again as well. Things were also not going well with Cloud and Tifa. Aerith told Zack that he now lived in the church, and worse, he was very ill because of the Jenova cells in the Lifestream. Her voice sounded distraught and the graveness of the situation was written all over her face. Zack could only give her the reassurance that he believed in her, in Cloud, in Tifa, and the rest of the people they knew.
As much as Aerith wanted to help, she was very hesitant about the extent to which she should intervene and what she was capable of. Sephiroth had used a despicable method to interfere with the living, which the Cetra would never do. Such an act threatened the balance of the physical and the spiritual parts of the planet.
Aerith, decided to act as what she had always been; a guardian spirit of the planet.
Like Aerith, Zack hoped he could be one too, awaiting to be called. There was a war outside the world he could see and all he could do was wait. He felt time run again, slower than ever. His impatience ticked with every second, and fear for his friend, Cloud, was becoming greater.
The moment then arrived; Aerith woke his spirit up, "Let's go, Zack. Cloud is fighting Sephiroth. He needs you."
Zack readied for his mission. He wanted it to be his final one.
Everything turned white. At that moment, Zack felt that he was inside Cloud's mind. The battle had been long and tiring, and loss was just a footstep away, as the enemy stood high in the sky preparing to deliver the final blow. Cloud's life ebbed away with every drop of blood pouring into the cold concrete, and the pain was searing in his flesh. It all felt real to Zack. There was a lot of anger and frustration, but he knew that Cloud had something much more- people he loved and was lost and the ones he loved he would never want to lose.
Zack did what he had always wanted to do: lecture Cloud. "Do you really think that this is hopeless? Are you giving up, Cloud? Do you really think that is all you can do? 'Embrace your dreams and whatever happens, protect your honor as SOLDIER.' Well... I know you weren't one, but I'm sure you would have made it. You have the heart. "
Gasping, Cloud called back, "Zack!"
Yes, I'm here Cloud. You're not alone! "Do you need my help?"
"No..." Cloud struggled to stand up, blood seeping from his fresh wounds.
"You are strong. You defeated him before, right?"
He readied his sword and replied back. "Yes!"
"Cloud, remember what I told you."
"I know, I'm the proof that you lived!"
Cloud leaped into the sky. The whole experience only lasted for seconds, but it felt longer as it wasn't a simple conversation of words, but rather, it was of two spirits.
Destruction, the proof of battle, was all over the place, the powers colliding were resonated even in the Lifestream. There was then a huge burst of energy that ended so quickly leaving everything in peace. It had ended.
In the infinite white space, the SOLDIER saw his best friend after so long. Lying on the air, Cloud looked so torn, but at the same time, he never looked so tough. Even if his face remained gentle, there was something in him so strong; the way he protected his loved ones, and the way he fought for the fallen.
Without waiting, Aerith moved towards her beloved and touched his face affectionately. Deep longing could be seen in her eyes.
"Mother?" Cloud said weakly like a child who was stirred in his sleep.
The woman simply smiled and said, "Why is everyone calling me their mother?"
"They must be fond of you." Zack remembered how he first called her "mother" the first time they met.
"Do you want to adopt this big kid Zack? I can take care of him."
"Nope, the mother of his family is waiting for him. "
"Then sorry, Cloud, I forgot you're a dad yourself." With a final prayer, Aerith healed his wounds. Slowly, they drifted away from Cloud until he disappeared. Zack felt sad at his departure, but soon after, Aerith asked."Want to give him a final visit?"
A final visit huh?"I've always wanted to."Zack knew that it was time to let Cloud go and move on.
With a step forward, Zack wasn't in the Lifestream anymore, but back to the familiar doorstep of the Sector 5 church. Aerith stood by him, this time waiting again for someone to arrive. Inside, sunlight poured in beautifully onto a pool sprinkled with white flowers, and there was Cloud, sleeping peacefully in the water. Not long after, the children whom Aerith had called ran forward to meet Cloud followed by the others who were sick. Zack and Aerith were invisible, except for a young boy, who stared at them quizzically.
Tifa then appeared with her children, Cloud's too, along with their friends behind them. Years ago he left the girl hurt, hateful and broken, but now she looked like strong, loving mother. Seeing her close up made him realize how beautiful she had become, especially with the gentle smile on her lips. Without saying a word, he gave her his utmost admiration and his best wishes.
To Zack's surprise, Tifa stopped at the entrance beside Aerith, who was standing by the door. "Thank you, Aerith." She whispered under her breath and smiled before running towards the sleeping Cloud. Zack didn't know if she knew or if it was just a coincidence.
Slowly, the young man in the pool finally opened his eyes to see what was before him: his family, friends, and the people he wanted to protect. He smiled shyly at everyone, but knew he had something to do. Without further ado, he invited the sick, little boy who was with Tifa into the pool to be healed. Because of the crowd's reaction and the children jumping in right after, it was obvious that the cure worked. Zack could see Aerith let a sigh of relief before her face glowed with pride for the work she had done.
Everyone was cheering for the hero, for Cloud. Zack joined them. He was happy to be there for him, and for a while, it was as if he and Aerith belonged there as well. Why not?Zack thought. She had squatted down, and was talking to the boy who saw her earlier. Zack heard her say, "You can play here, but don't step on the flowers..."
When Aerith stood up to walk away, Zack saw Cloud looking in their direction, stunned and speechless. It lasted for just mere seconds, so the people around him hadn't noticed, but it was enough to know that he could see them.
Aerith turned towards Cloud for the last time and lovingly told him, "You see, everything will be all right."
Simply said. Zack waved his hand to Cloud as a last hello and farewell before fading into the light with Aerith. As they walked forward, deciding never to look back, he felt her gentle hand holding his. His eyes met hers, and she looked at him with her smile that had always reminded him of life. At that moment, Zack knew that he was not alone.
Thank you Ghost X for taking care of my shabby fanfic. I give you four materia as a tokens of gratitude for your hard work, and they have same colors as your highlights in my paper.
I usually write something long at the end, but I'm too sleepy to think of one. Let's just say this fic reflects much of my feelings regarding the LTD, which I'm partly obsessed with. Sorry with the title, I can't think of anything else.
EDIT: FYI almost all my fanfics originated from music, and this one was made from piano. Therefore, I shall give thanks to the pianists who indirectly helped me create this fanfic.
HypochondriacPiano (Why, Maiden Who Travel's the Planet, Promised Land)
Yiruma (Time Forgets)