Tell Me Lies
By Alex Weitzman
Characters, things, events, and places based on Squaresoft's Final Fantasy
VII. Sue me.
She said it couldn't be done. They didn't have the power to do it. Nobody did. Only I kept it safe, within me. It meant so much to me, because I finally had something to make me better than them. At least, for me, I was better. It was the thing that could never be removed. The thing that was always a part of me, and no one else.
Then, what did he mean? When he said
"It's mine now!" Johnny yelled with malicious glee. "It's mine! I own you! And you can't have it back! Never in a BA-ZILLION years!" The six-year-old ran with the sheet of paper, towards the well in the middle of the town square.
Following behind him from a small distance was the one he was yelling at. "Give it back, you poopy-head!" Cloud screamed. The young, spiky-haired child kept running towards Johnny, despite not being as fast as his taller, skinnier classmate. Johnny, hiding behind one of the supports of the raised well, waited for him while ready to run again. Once Cloud got to the well, Johnny started to weave in and out of the supports, letting the short baby he didn't like follow him.
Now, Johnny's friends Will and Randy had caught up to the two feuding kids. Hanging back about twenty feet or so, they yelled happily, "Go, Johnny! Keep away! Keep away!"
Cloud, on the verge of tears, stopped chasing after a couple of minutes and sobbed loudly. "Stop it!"
"The baby's gonna cry!" Will howled without mercy. "Where's your momma, baby?" Randy added. Johnny just jumped inbetween pillars, grinning mischieviously at the tortured Cloud. Cloud shot him a look of extreme anger between tears and started to yell, "GIVE IT BACK!!!"
"What's going on here?!" bellowed Rose Wickes, the first-grade teacher. All the kids went silent immediately, except for Cloud, who was still audibly sniffling. She stormed up to the well, letting Cloud hug her legs tightly. "Why are you all so far from the playground? And why is Cloud nearly breaking down?"
Will and Randy, sensing punishment in the air, abandoned Johnny and hightailed it back to school. Johnny kicked the ground as he watched his supposed best friends leave him. He'd have to pinch their wrists later. But under the heavy glare of Mrs. Wickes, all he could do was slowly come out from behind the well's support beam and stand there.
Mrs. Wickes was a bit more observant than Johnny had hoped, though. "What's that piece of paper behind your back? Let's have it." Johnny quietly nodded and handed it over to his teacher. She held it up so that her glasses could make it out:
She sighed sadly, and put the paper in her pocket. "You may report back to recess, or what's left of it. You'll have to stay an hour after school for this, young man." Johnny started to go, "Awww," but Mrs. Wickes would have none of it. "No whining, or it'll be extra homework on top of that. Now go back to the school."
As Johnny walked away, he hissed at Cloud, "Teacher's pet." Cloud duly stuck his tongue out and continued hugging his teacher's lower half.
After Johnny was on his way, Mrs. Wickes pulled Cloud off of her and said, "Come, Cloud. Let's head back." They started walking towards the school, to the left of the Shinra Mansion.
As they walked, Mrs. Wickes said, "Why'd you let those boys get you so angry?"
"Well..." Cloud said, inbetween heavy breaths, "they had my soul..."
Mrs. Wickes smiled warmly at him. "They didn't have your soul. All they had was a silly old piece of paper. How could that be your soul?"
"But....they made it seem so important!"
The teacher stopped her student in his tracks. Kneeling down so that she could look him in the eyes, she said, "Now listen here. Your soul is the most important thing in the world. Your soul is you. It's who you are. And nobody - ever - can take that away from you."
Cloud sniffled a bit as his demeanor got slightly less melancholy. "Nobody ever?"
Is that true?
"They can never take that from you. How could you be stolen from yourself? Right, goofy?" she said as she tickled him to the ground. The laughter brightened Cloud up completely. Mrs. Wickes brought him up to his feet again and said, "So remember, you're unique. You're you. You're Cloud Strife. That's always going to be true."
It's true.......it's true! Of course it is! I can't be owned. Those jerks didn't mean any of it. They didn't have anything of mine except a dumb old piece of paper. And they wrote on it. I mean, that was....that is.....
....that's just plain ridiculous.
How utterly moronic of him. To bring us all this way and then throw what must be the weakest lie I've ever heard in all of my life at me. I mean, of COURSE I'm going to be in that picture. And if I'm not, then it's all just Sephiroth's stupid little illusion and it still doesn't mean a thing.
The flames were too real for Tifa's peace of mind, even though they were supposed to be illusion. As Cloud started to step towards the unharmed picture on the ground, she feebly protested, "Cloud....don't...."
Cloud turned back to her with simple confidence. "I should be in the picture. And if I'm not, then don't worry. This IS Sephiroth's illusion." Tifa couldn't quite think of a counter argument.
Seizing the photo from the ground, Cloud stared at it with a knowing smile. "Just as I thought." How sad of you, Sephiroth. He's almost identical to me, apart from hair color. Don't you think you could have used a little imagination in your paltry deception?
Vincent and Tifa watched carefully as Cloud turned back to them with, oddly enough, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Yep, the picture's a fake," he said, tossing it carelessly in front of him. "Five years ago, I came back to Nibelheim to inspect the reactor. I was sixteen. The town hadn't changed at all."
Suddenly, Tifa started getting scared. Cloud wasn't talking to them. He was saying this to himself. "What did I do? Oh, yeah! I went into Tifa's room."
Vincent just watched silently. He'd already guessed where this path was leading. There was nothing he could legitimately do to help now. "I played the piano! Sucked at it, too. I looked in the drawers!"
God, I can't believe I'm reminding Tifa of that. Heck, I feel a little absent from that. You'd think looking at Tifa's under.......well, whatever.
Looking at the well, Cloud rambled on. "I spent the night and went to the reactor in Mt. Nibel. I was excited about it. what? Because that was my first mission after where am I going with this? becoming First Class in SOLDIER."
what was that last remark?!
Huh? What's I just say?
The smirk disappeared off of Cloud's face. "..SOLDIER, First Class?" Tifa lowered her eyes in sorrow.
do you even know what you're saying anymore?!
"...SOLDIER? When did I enter SOLDIER?" Cloud asked while shaking his head.
Why am I questioning myself? Now, of all times?
you don't know anything anymore.
Grabbing his hair, Cloud seemed to be forcing himself to give answers to the questions he posed. "How did I join SOLDIER?" He dropped to his knees, weakened by his anguish.
you don't know you.
But aren't I.....I? My past is....there is a past here, dammit! I know it! Why....
Choking on the words, he screamed, "Why...."
"Why Why can't can't I I remember? remember?"
just be you.
Me? But you said there is no me....what me? Who am I? Who is the Cloud Strife who joined SOLDIER? Is there one? Is he here? Wait. I'm confusing myself. There's a reason that I can't remember joining SOLDIER. There's always a reason. I have to be something.
He started to get up. "I'm...I'm....."
If I can't remember joining SOLDIER, then.......why labor over it? I can't remember it........it didn't happen.
Tifa and Vincent started to look at him with more attention. His recovery was quick. Strangely quick.
"I didn't have to worry about it, because I was..."
.....not a member of SOLDIER anyway. I didn't join SOLDIER.....I couldn't join SOLDIER. And there's a reason. If there's a reason, then there's a me. And there must be a me. And I didn't join SOLDIER because I....
The most frightening thing that Tifa had ever seen was the terribly blank look on Cloud's face. What had happened? She wished she knew. He never finished that sentence, and he had come so close to possibly revealing what had actually happened to him. Why he thought he returned 5 years ago when it was really 7.
But she held on. Cloud is strong, she thought. He can make it through this.
"...Cloud?" Tifa gingerly asked, testing the horribly tense waters.
That's not my name. "Let's go, Tifa. I'm...I'm alright." Why did I say that? That's not true.
of course it's true. now you know. let it be as it was meant to be.
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"...don't know..." Cloud muttered. Tifa heard it, but it seemed distant. Not that Cloud was distant internally, but that she was far away physically. Which didn't make any sense, because.....she was only five feet away. And they'd suddenly appeared beside Hojo, Rufus, and the Shinra bunch - in fact, how did they do that? Anyway, the stratum they stood in was not that big, so Clouds distant tones made no sense to her.
you know what to do now.
Cloud suddenly straightened up. Vincent and Tifa both reacted in shock in their respective ways - Tifa via gasp, Vincent via slight eye movement. Cloud was back to normal...wasn't he?
No, Tifa realized. It's more like he's trying to look like he used to be....
"This place is going to get rough," Cloud said authoritatively. "Better leave things to me and get out of here while you still can."
Rufus flipped his hair back by habit. "Leave things to you?" he said in his snotty tones. "Hmph, I don't know what you mean."
"This is where the Reunion is happening. Where everything begins and ends," Cloud stated, dropping the leader act.
He sounds like Sephiroth!, Tifa mentally exclaimed. She started to run towards him, yelling "Cloud!", but the words were lost in her throat and she seemed to be running in place.
Just then, Red XIII came in, clutching the Black Materia in his mouth. Dropping it in front of him, he called out, "Cloud! I'm here to help you!" His words were audible.
Cloud suddenly violently wrestled with his head, as if he was fighting off a force. It didn't last long, as his head raised up once more with that blank look. It was like he had no thoughts left to fight with on the mind's field.
Stepping towards Red XIII, he stopped again and wrestled more with his head, but more fiercely. .......................no...........................DO IT. NOW. His face floated upwards again, but this time a tear was in his right eye.
He finally reached Red and said, "Thanks...Red XIII. Where's the Black Materia?"
"Cloud!" Tifa yelled again. Nobody seemed to hear her or acknowledge her whatsoever.
Red was a little put off by the fact that Cloud couldn't see the Black Materia right at his feet, but he brushed off the suspicion. They were a little too far on the journey to start getting paranoid about each other now. "It's safe. I've got it right here." He moved it slightly with his paw to indicate its location.
Cloud finally looked down, a change from glaring directly into Red XIII's eyes. "I'll take it from here. Give me the....Black Materia."
"You can't hear my voice?" Tifa asked rhetorically, trying to figure out what could possibly be holding her back like this.
Red, still suspicious despite himself, looked Cloud in the eye and said, "Are you all right, Cloud?"
why, yes, he......I am.
Cloud simply nodded.
After a few seconds, Red decided that was enough for him. "Then...here you go. I was a little apprehensive holding this thing."
Now Tifa knew it - it was Sephiroth behind it all. He needs Cloud to give him the Black Materia, and do what he planned to do the whole time. She yelled with all her might, "No, don't! Stop, Cloud!" Still, Sephiroth's hold on her made her more silent than ever.
Cloud kneeled down and picked the glowing black stone up. Blandly, almost ironically, he said, "Thanks. Leave the rest to me."
come on.....the black materia......
please....just a little longer....I have something to say.....
Cloud's demeanor suddenly regained some emotion. But it was that of dejection and depression. He led himself to the middle of the stratum and addressed everyone. "Everyone...thanks for....everything. And I'm sorry."
He turned to Rufus. Guess you were right all along, you sanctimonious bastard. "...sorry."
Next to Red. You deserve this planet more than me. "...sorry."
Finally, to Tifa. .......I wish I was Cloud. you're not But I'm not. "Especially you, Tifa. I'm really sorry. You've been so good to me, and I really don't know what to say."
He was finally looking right at her. Tifa could see it in his eyes. Cloud didn't live there anymore. His brilliant blue eyes seemed faded somehow, like he was defeated.
Cloud continued, "I never lived up to being 'Cloud'. Tifa...maybe someday....you'll meet the real Cloud." I must've been one terrible facsimile.... Letting emotion overcome her, Tifa dropped to the ground in tears, still sobbing silently.
Laughter from the side. Cloud turned to see Professor Hojo joyously laughing at everything transpiring before him. He hadn't been aware of the scientist's presence here before, but now, it seemed like Hojo was the only one there.
why don't you ask? ask about who you are.
Yes....Hojo would know. Cloud started to walk towards the scientist, with the awe of someone walking into Heaven.
Hojo, still tickled, started to speak, ".....this is perfect! My experiment is an absolute success!" Regaining some composure, Hojo looked at Cloud's upper arm.
"What number were you........huh?" Hojo's search, proving fruitless, brought him up to the dead eyes of Cloud. "Where is your tattoo?"
failures.....both of you.....
"Professor Hojo, I don't have a name a label an initial anything! a number. You didn't give me one because I was a failed experiment."
The news shocked Hojo so much that he had to turn to hide his emotion. "What the-? You mean only a failure made it here?"
Cloud stepped closer, speaking to Hojo's back as if it were consolation for not seeing the front. "Professor....please give me an identity a number. Please, Professor...."
Tifa's heart felt nothing but pain at these words from Cloud. It sounded like all Cloud ever needed in the world was to be given a number. Like his hopes, dreams, and desires had all vanished without a trace.
Hojo sharply turned around, glared Cloud in the eyes, and barked with a hidden smirk, "Shut up, miserable failure."
that's enough! now you'll come...
.............lost.....I feel so lost.......what happened? Why can I even think? I thought I was dead. I hoped I was dead. It...did...feel like I was dead. Have I passed on?
No, that doesn't seem right. I'm...hearing so much. So many voices. Some quiet, like men who had accepted their individual fates long, long ago. Some remote, speaking endlessly about things that for some reason they can have no part of anymore. Some screaming, yearning with all their passion and rage to extract themselves from the world they now inhabit....
I wonder if I'm a voice of that last kind....so many voices....
But I couldn't be one of them. They used to be real. I never was. How could I be? I believed I came back to Nibelheim as a member of SOLDIER, but we know now that it never happened that way. It was......wait.
Why am I thinking about this? What's so important about figuring out who was at Nibelheim? I should be wondering why I'm even able to have an internal monologue.
But....this makes sense, for some reason. I can focus on just my inner thoughts. Block out the voices all around me. So...I can't be dead. And I can't be nonexistent. Nobody who's nonexistent could ponder their fate.
So, there's a past here. There is an answer. I almost feel like my brain is on auto-drive. Taking me to places and thoughts......
...like the well. I can feel it. I can sense its tangibility in my mind. Could that have been false? Because I know I didn't come back to Nibelheim. Dammit, something in here must be real!
Okay...calm down. Little by little, right? No other way to work through a quagmire like me with any speed. The well....it seems so beautiful, under the stars. The night where I said goodbye to Tifa. I can recollect so much of that night that it doesn't seem dead to me at all.....
...but this is exactly what Sephiroth was talking about. Tricks....games with no end.....devious patterns set down by the Jenova in me. I can't depend on a meager memory that most likely came from me just agreeing with whatever Tifa would say.
Tifa? Hold it. I'm figuring this out. I don't think I'm really on auto-drive. That's why it didn't make sense. I'm still not figuring this out. Tifa is. Tifa....she's in me? Is that it? But that's impossible.
Except...for the Planet. We're in the Lifestream. Those are the voices. I think I'm gaining some control now. Tifa...thank you. You helped me get a sense of where I am. I, at least, am still physically bound to this world. There is more of a "me" than I'd guessed.
But Tifa's not going to know......is she examining me? We....we can discover me together.
Her voice.....I can actually hear her! Why.....why SOLDIER? I don't remember....but she's proven that there's a past in here somewhere. Think about the well.
Think of why I invited her.
Think of why I'd take that risk.
I...was devastated. I wanted to be noticed. Yes...that's it....
Who? YOU KNOW WHO!.....I mean.....you, that's who.
Now it's back. I can feel what wasn't there. The girl sitting with her head just out of view from the window. Crouching down to avoid the world, because her mother had just passed away. She....you....ran after your mother towards the dangerous mountain....and I went after you.
Because I loved you.
This was there all along. This wasn't missing. This was blocked. Someone tried to block out who I truly was. I remember....
I remember what you did to me, Hojo. It's clear to me now.
"I can't believe you're the one who did this," Cloud said angrily. "The illusionary crime against Sephiroth..."
As Hojo laughed maniacally, Cloud's hand floated over his sword's handle, ready to pull it out at a moment's notice. Tifa got into her fighting stance. And Vincent, already brandishing his gun, aimed carefully at Hojo's head.
I do know what you did, Hojo. You, Sephiroth, and Jenova found me very useful. That's because, with me, there wasn't much work you had to do to get me to follow your orders and be your puppet.
Since I was the one who started stealing my identity from me.
That's clear to me now. The man who blocked my memories was me. I couldn't stand to be the weak little Cloud Strife who never made it into SOLDIER. For all my best efforts, I remained stuck in the Shinra army. And so I hid from it. I hid from who I was. Which means that Cloud Strife first died the day I decided to keep my helmet on, so that Tifa wouldn't see me.
"No, you're wrong!" Hojo cried between laughs. "It's my desire as a scientist!"
God, you disgust me. And don't think that I'm levying all my blame on just me. You took me and put Jenova in my body. And then you worked in tandem with Jenova and Sephiroth to deprive me of who I am. With nobody else in the SOLDIER corps did you have a soul so close to being a puppet already. I was the perfect sucker for you, to bring you three the Black Materia.
Piece by piece, Hojo? That's how you constructed me? You lied. As did your vile son. And you did what nobody else could ever manage to accomplish. You stole me from myself. You did it so fully that I even thought I was nobody. I remember what that was like. And it's the most painful thing I can recall. Which means that you, your son, and his alien "mother" have officially caused me the most pain I've ever felt.
Hojo started to transform, yelling, "Here are...the results!" As Hojos skin became green and his own legs became unable to support him completely, Cloud unsheathed his blade and prepared for battle.
I do feel closer than ever to Vincent. I know now how devastating you can be to someone, Hojo. And blood will spill for this crime.
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