By Carlos P. Salvestrini
68/8/4, M. E.
The moon glinted through the spire-like coral branches, casting odd reflections on the surface of the pool and giving the conch shell standing in the centre an otherworldly, silvery shine. I stopped for a moment, dazed. Was it here that Aeris had gone to? I didnt know for sure, yet I felt her presence somehow. Tifa and Barret arrived shortly afterwards. Panting, Barret commented something about busting someones legs to force him to go more slowly, but I paid no attention. The voice in my head urged me to move on, pressing me, for time was running short. I hesitated for a moment. What if the voice was not Aeriss?
Lets go, I said. We moved into the conch shell, and found, to our surprise, that there was a stairway leading down.
This was not here earlier, I heard Tifa say.
Has Aeris gone through there? Barret asked.
Weve looked everywhere else for her, and this was certainly not here when we came, so I think we should go down and investigate. Unless, of course, someone has a better idea where Aeris may be I said.
I guess youre right, Cloud, Barret said. Lets go, then.
Cloud Tifa said, holding herself at the last moment.
Are you going to be all right? she finally asked. I could see there was concern in her face.
Dont worry, Tifa, Ill be all right, I said. Thanks for asking, anyway.
We walked down the stairway, which seemed to be made of pure crystal, and gave off a dim, pink glow. Halfway down, we stopped, awed at the sights of the Forgotten Capital.
This is amazing, Tifa muttered.
How did those Cetra guys do this? asked Barret.
I remained silent, and moved on. I didnt have the answers Tifa and Barret were looking for. I was thinking about Aeris. I could still remember when I had attacked her, at the site of the Temple of the Ancients. As I viciously slapped her, I could hear myself saying, What am I doing? Aeris is my friend! Why am I attacking her? while another voice, the same voice that had led me here, kept on whispering, You must attack her she will only hinder our mission stop her But it couldnt be this voice that had led me here was Aeriss voice How could she have wanted me to attack her at the Temple, to later urge me to come for her here? What if Sephiroth was mimicking Aeriss voice to lure me where she was, to use me later on as some puppet?
I dared not even think about that possibility. More than anything, I wanted to apologise to Aeris for turning on her the way I did. True, while I was in Gongaga, she appeared to me in my dreams, and told me it was all right, that it had not been my fault, and forgave me. But talking to a vision is not the same as talking to a real person. I had to tell her how badly I felt I needed to see her beautiful eyes glint the way they did when we were on the Ferris wheel at the Gold Saucer. I moved on, trying to block all my feelings and focus on looking for Aeris. At the bottom of the stairway there was some kind of arch-like structure, then a corridor, and another stairway. I crossed the arch, and caught a glimpse of the structure to my right. It seemed to be some kind of altar, and there was someone kneeling in it. I could not make out its forms, but something in my heart told me it was Aeris.
I dashed down the stairway into a platform at the edge of a pool of perfectly transparent water. Columns darted from the pool, their tops making out a path to the altar. My heart was almost leaping out of my chest I had finally found Aeris! Now, if I could only know what was endangering her, I could do something to protect her. After all, I was her bodyguard. I set out to meet with Aeris. I could hear Tifa and Barret move to follow me, but I held them back. I hopped from column to column, making my way to the altar. I could see her clearly now. She was kneeling down, praying. I dont know whether she heard me approaching. She did not lift her head, or move from where she was. As I approached her, I felt a sharp pain in my head, as if I had been hit with a lightning bolt. Suddenly I could hear the voice again.
Go, Cloud, go to your dear Aeris, it said.
I tried to resist, but despite all the efforts I made to stop, I moved close to Aeris. I could hear the voice again.
Good boy, good boy. Now, grab your sword. Once again I fought the voice.
I wont do it! Ill not let you control me this time! I thought. Still, I could feel my hands gripping the handle of my sword.
Excellent, the voice said. Now, take it out of its sheath.
No! I wont let you! I thought, desperately fighting the urge to take my sword out of its sheath.
Really? the voice said. Watch me.
Suddenly I could see the sword I had acquired in Wutai, Murasame, in front of me, its blade reflecting the silvery light of the moon.
You cant resist my power, Cloud. Lift the sword.
I felt my arms rise above my head even before I could do anything to stop myself.
Unable to resist, I struck.
Cloud! Stop! Tifa screamed.
What the hell youre doing, Cloud? I heard Barret shout out.
Suddenly I felt my arms stop Murasame from striking Aeris.
Well, it seems like if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, after all I heard the voice say.
What is it? What do you want me to do? I asked.
I looked at Aeris. Apparently she had finished her prayer, for she looked up, and smiled at me. At the same time, I saw Sephiroth plunge from above, ready to strike. I rushed towards her, but it was too late. Before I could move her out of the way, Masamune had impaled Aeris through the back. I was speechless, motionless. I could only watch as Sephiroth looked at me with his evil Mako-blue eyes, and sneered sadistically. Aeris slumped forward as Sephiroth withdrew his blade, and I heard something fall down the steps, but I could not see what it was. I reached forward, catching Aeriss limp body in my arms.
Aeris I said, gently shaking her. This cant be This cant be real!
I heard Sephiroth blabber something about her soon becoming a part of the Planet, and of him, but I didnt care for his speeches. All I knew was that Aeris would never smile, cry, speak, or get angry again. Worst of all, I could not bear the thought of her beautiful, emerald-green eyes never seeing the light again.
Sephiroth looked down at me, and said something about me stopping to pretend having emotions as he flew up, dropping something to the ground. I only heard Jenovas battle cry ahead of me.
We fought the Jenova incarnation Sephiroth had left behind, but somehow I felt as if Tifa and Barret were holding back, letting me have the first strike at it. Eventually, we defeated it, but this time around we didnt congratulate ourselves for a good battle as we always did.
We stood in the altar, watching over Aeris. None of us could utter a word. I felt Barrets good hand hold my shoulder, and saw him shake his head. As he walked out of the altar, I thought I saw him brush his eyes with the back of his hand. Tifa kneeled by Aeriss side and brushed her hair. I could hear her sobbing as she ran away, tears filling her eyes.
I carried Aeris back up, to the conch shell and the world above. Barret and Tifa followed me, quietly. She seems so peaceful almost as if she was asleep, I heard Barret mumble to himself. As we stepped out of the crystal stairway, I heard a faint breeze, and turned around. The stairway was gone. In its place, there was a statue of a fish. I paid little attention to it as I walked out.
Well bury her here, I said.
But where? Theres no land around I heard Barret say.
I wasnt thinking of burying her in land, Barret. Ill lay her down in the water.
Do as you wish, Cloud, he murmured.
I went to the very edge of the path that led to the conch shell, and stepped into the water. I immediately sunk down until the water was at my waist, but I sank no further. I looked down. All I could see were endless shades of blue, yet something was holding me, preventing me from sinking any further. I walked on, holding Aeris in my arms, to the very middle of the pool. I looked at her one last time as I laid her on the surface of the water and let her go. She lingered on the surface for a short while, almost as if saying good bye to me, and sank down into the blue eternity of the well, her hair spreading out and crowning her head like the aura of a saint. I followed her descent with my eyes until I could see her anymore, and somehow managed to return with my friends before collapsing in Tifas arms.
5/8/4, A. M.
Good morning, dear! Tifa said, stretching her way out of the bed in her feline-like way.
Morning, Teef Slept well?
Besides you, who wouldnt? she said, hugging me and stamping a kiss in my cheek.
You know, today is the day, I said.
I know, dear. But do we have to bring our little baby with us this time?
It would make her so happy I started.
I guess youre right, Cloud, Tifa said.
Its the right thing to do we are going to name our baby after her, right? She would have liked to see this, I said.
I got out of the bed, and walked to my daughters room. She was lying on her crib, asleep. There were many toys around her fuzzy bears, dolls, stuffed animals of all kinds, and a big mobile right above her crib. She was so small, I was afraid of holding her too tightly, but Tifa was just as strong as I was, and yet she seemed not to have my problem. I could hear Tifa walk into the room, and gently squeeze my arm.
Shes so pretty I managed to say.
With a father like this, who wouldnt? Tifa said.
And with a mother like this, who couldnt? I replied.
We stood there, watching our daughter, unable to move or speak, lest we startle her.
Im afraid to pick her up what if she wakes up? You know the racket she makes when she gets startled.
I know, dear Tifa said. Ill pick her up and get her ready. Why dont you get the buggy? Ill wait for you.
Ill do that. First, though, lets have some breakfast Im famished.
Good idea Im starving too, Tifa said.
We went down to the kitchen, and I prepared the bottles for the baby as she put the fruit on the table, made orange juice and prepared a quick toast-and-jelly fix for the road.
I went to the garage, and started up our old buggy. Strangely enough, it started up the first time. It had never, ever done that ever since it had broken down at Cosmo Canyon five years ago. I drove out to the streets of Kalm, and, surely enough, Tifa was in front of our house, waiting for me.
I parked the buggy, opened the trunk, and put our travel gear in it.
Shall we get going? asked Tifa, impatiently.
Coming, I said.
I finished packing our gear, and we were out of Kalm shortly afterwards.
From here to Junon its three hours via the new road through the mountains, then its two hours by ferry to Costa del Sol, and from there on its half an hour to Bone Village.
Half an hour? It used to be a whole day to get around those mountains the other times! And how are we going to cross over to the Northern Continent? Tifa started.
Relax. I talked to Cid last week. He will be waiting for us with the Highwind at Costa del Sol. Itll be just a moment.
Cid and the Highwind will be waiting for us at Costa del Sol? Cloud Strife, why are you making us go all the way to Costa del Sol when Cid could perfectly pick us up here at Kalm with the Highwind? Tifa protested.
Teef the baby I said, noticing she was starting to fuss, startled by her mothers louder than usual tone.
Oops said Tifa, and started to gently rock the baby to sleep. Cloud, You still owe me an explanation, though she said.
I guess you deserve it, I said.
So? she said, glancing questioningly at me.
I managed to squeeze us into Cids schedule by a sheer chance. Hes very busy flying tours of the Northern Crater, and he could not manage to come and pick us up because it would completely throw off his schedule. So he agreed to take us to Bone Village before his day started, but we would have to meet him at Costa del Sol. It would be really tough on him if he had to come all the way down to Kalm, then to the Northern Continent, and back to Rocket Town. So I said, okay, well be at Costa del Sol. But you better be there, Cid.
What did he say? asked Tifa.
He said, you bet your spiky head Ill be there.
Tifa looked at me for a moment, and then returned to cooing and playing with our baby.
Eventually, we made it to Costa del Sol. I spotted Cid at the heliport, with the Highwind ready and waiting for us.
Teef would you mind waiting for me here? I said as I dashed out of the buggy.
Sure, but whats wrong, Cloud? she asked.
Nothing I just got to talk to Cid for a sec. Ill be right back, I replied.
I ran towards the Highwind. It was the same as I remembered it five years ago, on the day of our final confrontation with Sephiroth.
Cid! I shouted.
Whassup? I heard a voice shout from above.
Cid! Come down here this instant, you moron! I said.
Yo! Who dares to call me a moron? I heard. Ya just wait there and Ill show ya who the real moron is around here!
Im waiting! I shouted.
I saw a blue-coated figure plunge towards me, spear pointed directly at my chest. I easily dodged it, rolling to one side as the spear hit the concrete with a hard clang.
Huh? Nobody could have dodged that but
Cid! You chain-smoking bastard! I yelled.
It cant be No way! Yo! Cloud! Ya spiky-headed numbskull! Whats up?
Its good to see you again, pal, I said, shaking his hand. Its been a long time! Did you even recognise my voice over the phone when I talked to you last week? I said.
So it was YOU who made that weird-ass request to go to Bone Village I could have sworn the voice was familiar, he said, returning my handshake.
That was me all right. So are we on? I said.
Everything is aboard and ready.
Good. Shall we get going, then? I said.
Anytime now, dude, Cid replied.
OK then. Let me get Tifa and the baby and well be on our way.
Whoa, hold your horses you got a kid with Tifa? Cid asked.
Dont you remember anything, Cid? I said. You were at my wedding a year ago, I said. Our baby is just three months old now, and were taking her there
Oh, yeah there now I remember Cid said, his face dulling suddenly. Just like you do every year, dont you?
It would have made her so happy to see Tifa and I together like this I started.
Yeah, probably though I did catch her making goo-goo eyes at you more than once, you know, said Cid.
Really? I said.
You can bet your spiky head, Cid replied. Actually, Id like to see Tifa and her baby before we get on board, if you dont mind.
Sure. Come along, then, I said, as I started towards the buggy.
Cid and I walked silently towards the buggy. I heard him mutter, Unbelievable. Clouds become a family dude! Man, Im getting old.
Hi, Cid, its good to see you again, Tifa said.
Hello, Tifa, congratulations! I heard Cloud and you are the proud parents of a beautiful baby! Cid said, showing his face through the buggys window.
Thats right Would you like to see her?
Uh I dont know Im afraid my scruffy old mug will scare the living daylight out of her Cid replied.
Dont worry, Cid, shes very calm except when she gets startled, Tifa said, unwrapping our baby from her blanket. She was just waking up, and, fortunately, Cids scruffy but benign expression did not startle her. She yawned, and looked at us with her emerald-green eyes, smiling angelically.
Wow! said Cid, startled. Shes really pretty! But why are her eyes green?
Cloud had green eyes before Hojo messed him up I always thought they were gorgeous Tifa said, looking up at me, lovingly.
I was at a loss for words.
Shall we get going, then? I finally asked.
Oh, absolutely, Cid replied. Let me set up a ramp for Tifa to get aboard, and well be on our way soon, Cid said, starting towards the airship.
Loading our scant gear into the Highwinds huge cargo hold was no difficult task for Cid and me. We were done in no time at all. Shortly afterwards, we took off from Costa del Sol, heading north to my yearly meeting at the Forgotten City.
The Highwind landed upon the grassy fields outside of Bone Village with a soft thud. The airships door opened, and Cid leapt out into the ground. I waited for the ship to settle down, and extended the ramp out. I looked towards Tifa, who was patiently waiting, gently holding our baby.
After you, Teef, I said.
Thanks, Cloud. Always the gentleman she said.
Anytime, I said.
As I walked out of the airship, I could feel it again. That old pain, that feeling of guilt and impotence that I felt every time I came near the Forgotten City. This year it was not as bad. It was more of a foreboding than an actual feeling. Last year, though, shortly before I married Tifa, I had almost seen everything happening in front of my eyes, and had collapsed into Tifas arms, just as it had happened when I had laid Aeris to rest at the pool.
Are you all right, Cloud? asked Tifa.
Yeah, I Im fine, I said, softly. Lets move on, we have someone to meet.
Walking through the Sleeping Forest with the baby proved to be more challenging than what I had thought. We had to stop several times along the way to allow Tifa to check on her, and feed or change her as necessary.
Eventually, we reached the Forgotten City. Its otherworldly peacefulness still was as intense as when I had come here for the first time. We went directly to the centre conch shell, to the place where we had buried Aeris. It struck me how similar this time was to the day Aeris passed away. It was dark, and the moon shone through the corals casting filigrees of shadow and light over the conch shell and the pool. As it was our use, Tifa and I knelt down, lit a votive candle, set it over a lotus leaf, and put it on the water, saying a word of prayer for Aeriss eternal rest. We got up, and I started to speak, as I had done before.
Hello, Aeris, how have you been? I said, bending my head down. Many things have happened since last time I spoke to you. Tifa and I got married shortly after my visit last year. She came along, as she has always done, but she told me not to tell you, even though I thought youd have liked to know about it. We also have a baby. Shes three months old now, and were thinking of calling her after you. Meanwhile, Tifa held the baby, cradling her sleep with a gentle rocking motion. Isnt she lovely? I said. She even has green eyes, like yours and like mine before my Mako infusion. But heres more I need to tell you tonight, Aeris.
Cloud, you dont have to do this, I heard Tifa say. For the firstand the lasttime in our life together, I ignored her. I must, Tifa, I said.
Aeris, you always wanted me to be happy. I tried to be, but until now Ive been holding something back inside me something that makes my heart heavy each and every time I think about you, ebbing away on that altar after youd prayed so much for the Planets salvation I stopped, words choking in my mouth. Aeris, I failed you, I finally managed to say.
That night on the altar, I actually tried to kill you. I can remember it all how I lifted Murasame to strike you, how my blade almost cut you in half and then, Sephiroth came down on you like a dark angel cutting through you like a demon, and taking you away from us. I could not take you away from his blade. I failed you, and Ive felt it like a weight in my heart ever since. Im so sorry Aeris I said, as I fought with all my energy to contain the tears that were welling up in my eyes.
Cloud? I heard Aeris say. Or was my mind being handled again by some mysterious power?
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Cloud, you should turn around, I heard Tifa whisper. Was it me, or did I notice a tint of surprise in her voice?
I turned around, and what I saw shocked me like a lightning bolt.
Aeris was standing in front of us!
I reached out to grab her hand, but I only grabbed air.
Poor Cloud, youve been beating yourself up for so long about me and what happened at the altar? she said, questioningly.
Yes, Aeris. It was my fault my fault, I hiccuped, unable to control my tears. Tifa was crying too. I could hear her sobbing, quietly, lest she woke up the baby.
It was not your fault, Cloud, said Aeris.
Yes, it was! I was your bodyguard, and I failed! I said.
Cloud, said Aeris, what is past is past. Its all right, seriously.
But I cant forgive myself because I could have saved you and I didnt, I said. Ive always thought that your last gaze to me as you slumped to the ground was so full of reproach, I said.
Oh? So thats what it is, isnt it? said Aeris. Rest easy, Cloud. That was not it at all. I must admit I was somewhat surprised when Sephiroth impaled me, she continued, but my last thought before I joined the Planet was one forgiving you, Cloud. I knew Sephiroth had forced you to try to strike me, just as he forced you to attack me at the Temple of the Ancients. If someones to blame, thats me. I went out alone after Sephiroth, thinking I could take care of him by myself. Truth is, I should have stayed with you all the time, and I didnt. What happened to me was entirely my fault, Cloud. Yet it was something that had to be done if there was to be any hope of saving the Planet, and only I could do it. Do you understand that, Cloud? Aeris asked.
Yes Aeris, I understand now.
Ive already forgiven you, Cloud, and you should forgive yourself. If not for yourself, at least do it for me, Cloud, said Aeris, almost pleading.
I couldnt manage to say anything for a short while.
Aeris I murmured.
Yes, Cloud? Aeris said.
Have you seen my baby? I brought her along with me, because I though youd be happy to see her Isnt she beautiful? I said, grabbing the baby from Tifas arms and showing her to Aeris.
Oh, Cloud, shes so cute! Whats her name?
Were calling her Aeris, after you. That way, youll live in our memories and in our hearts.
Oh, thats so nice of you, Cloud, Aeris said.
I thought youd like it, I replied.
I wonder how you could know my taste so much, Aeris said, her face almost glowing with energy. Cloud, my time here grows short. I must leave now. Its been good to see you again. Remember your promise to me, Cloud, said Aeris, her image starting to vanish in the night.
Aeris, before you go will you be here next time?
Yes, Cloud, Ill be here next time. In fact, Ill always be by your side. You may not see me as you did today, but Ill be there right by you, Tifa, and little Aeris.
Thank you, Aeris I stuttered.
Its the least I could do to repay my bodyguard of his debt to me she said, as she vanished in the night.
For a moment, all I could do was to stand there, watching at the spot where Aeriss ghost had been. Once more I felt tears welling up within my eyes, but this time I didnt fight them. I knelt down, crying like a child, and holding my baby tightly against my chest. Tifa ran by my side, and held me tenderly. I could feel her warmth, her heart beating against my chest, her little sobs as I felt an immense weight finally lifting from my heart and from my conscience.
Thank you, Aeris, for being so kind to me, I muttered. Ill keep my end of the promise.
Tifa and I knelt there for a long time, praying, but this time our prayers were not only for Aeriss rest. They were for us as well.
5/8/5, A. M.
Thanks for the ride, Cid. Ill talk to you later, old bum! I said as Tifa, Aeris and I left the Highwind. The ships hands efficiently unloaded our gear, setting it in the buggys trunk, and I could hear Cid say, Sure thing, dude! Hey, and remember to pass by Rocket Town someday, willya? Lets have a drink for the old times!
Sure thing, I said, as the Highwind took off with a load of tourists to the Northern Crater.
On our way back to Junon, Tifa asked me, Are you feeling better, dear?
Much better. Thanks, Teef, I said.
You beat yourself up more than usual this time around, Tifa said.
I know, honey, but I needed to let go of my guilt for failing to help Aeris. Thats whats been keeping me from really appreciating all the good things I have now a beautiful, loving wife, a precious little daughter, and a life thats more stable than in any of my wildest dreams. Thats what I have not been able to see, and thats what Aeris showed me yesterday.
You know, Cloud, Aeris also talked to me, said Tifa.
Did she? How? You hardly spoke a word
Actually, her contact with me was more as if a voice was whispering into my ears.
What did she tell you?
She told me not to say a thing. Cloud, you dont know how badly I wanted to talk to her this time. After all, Aeris and I were good friends by the time she died. I had so many things I wanted to talk to her about, but she told me to let you speak instead. I remember her saying, Tifa, Let Cloud exorcise his demons. He never had a real chance to do it since I died, and these anniversaries are his way of finding peace within himself. Yet, he still has a way to go. Now more than ever, and even more than when you helped him pull his consciousness together, he needs you for support and love. So this time let Cloud be the one who talks. We can always talk next year, right? Yeah, I guess youre right, I said. So I stayed quiet and let you speak to Aeris.
How did Aeris know you pulled me back together? I asked.
I dont know, Cloud. Maybe she was there all along, watching over us, protecting us from the Lifestream Tifa said.
Maybe I I dont know what to think I stammered.
Then dont think anything, said Tifa, soothingly.
We went up to the ferrys deck, and looked out to Junons approaching skyline.
It must have been scary for you back then, Teef locked away in that gas chamber, while Weapon was trying its hardest to reduce Junon to pieces Im so sorry, Tifa, I should have been there.
Cloud, Tifa said, Dont blame yourself for that as well all that matters is that were together now, and nothing will ever change that.
Yeah nothing, or no one, I said, looking straight into Tifas eyes.
By the way, Teef This is for you, I said, producing a small, gift-wrapped box.
Cloud, whats this? Tifa said, curiously looking at the box I was holding in my hands.
Its a little memento of this day, I said, smiling mischievously. Open it, I said.
I watched as Tifa tore the wrapping off, and opened the box.
Cloud It its beautiful! Tifa finally managed to say.
Happy anniversary, Tifa, I said.
Cloud I love you, she said, looking tenderly into my eyes.
I love you too, Teef, I replied, as I kissed her.
We stayed on deck until the ship docked at Junon Harbour.
Good bye, Aeris, I said, as we disembarked. Well see each other next time.
Good bye Cloud Ill miss you too, I heard a voice whisper in my ears.
Ill be there next year, dont worry.
I know Happy anniversary, Cloud, the voice whispered.
I looked out to the setting sun, and I managed to surprise Tifa even more than Aeris had done.
Finis (The end)
Carlos P. Salvestrini's Fanfiction