Exile of the Heart

By Maverick Hunter Zero

The pink corral of the City Of The Ancients loomed high up into the aqua sky, a shade of sky found only in this city, it seemed. The shell houses and eerily curving stairs gave this place a beautiful and yet sinister look. I walked briskly through the streets of this now deserted place and take delight in the slight nip in the cool air. I inhaled deeply and feel the slight bite of the air in my lungs and I smiled. I stopped wearing The Ultima Weapon on my shoulder over 2 years ago but I still felt slightly naked without it. Old habits die hard, I guess. I got a glance at my reflection in one of the windows that I walked by and I tried to smooth my hair down but it immediately stuck straight back up like, well, a spike as Barret and especially Cid constantly remind me when he comes to visit. I haven’t seen him much, (or many of the others, for that matter) but I guess he’s busy, being a new father and all. He and Shera had a baby boy and baby girl; Aeris and Cloud last year. I was deeply touched by this gesture and I know Aeris was even more so the I.

When I told Cid this two months ago on his last visit, he gave me a funny look and said “Cloud, she’s gone. She died. You realize that, don’t you?” I never replied and I just smiled back slightly. He left rather quickly a few minutes later and he seemed faintly disturbed. I shrugged mentally and stepped up my pace as I headed for the entrance to the City. Tifa, Barret and surprisingly enough, Vincent were coming to see me today and I was anxious to see them again. Tifa hadn’t visited in over 6 months, Barret in at least a year and I hadn’t seen Vincent since shortly after The Lifestream and Holy destroyed Meteor. Vincent had been a big help to me when I first moved up here. He had stayed around for a few months and then left shortly after helping me clean and restore the Great Hall; I hadn’t seen him since and I wondered how Lucrecia and he were doing.

I turned a corner and saw the three of them standing by a post of corral about shouting distance away. Barret was leaning his great bulk against it, Vincent was lurking in the shadow it gave off and Tifa was waiting impatiently beside it, tapping her foot with her arms crossed. She had her back to me and was talking to Barret about something when I shouted “Hey guys!” and then she whirled around and ran to me, her dark hair floating as she ran to me and caught me up in a close hug. “Cloud,” she almost sobbed “Oh, I missed you so much!”

“I missed you to, Teef.” I told her as she reluctantly let go of me. He was never a fast runner but Barret caught up to us quickly, his usual gasping and complaining offset by laughter as he gathered me in a bear hug, that, while, was just as heartfelt was much more painful. “Hey you spiky-headed punk!” he bellowed. “Where you been?!” crushing me tighter. He let go after a small eternity and as I allowed air to pour back into my lungs, I felt a slight chill and turned around to see Vincent standing behind me with no apparent effort of exertion in his manner although he must have sprinted to get over here this quickly. “Hello Cloud” he greeted me softly. “I am pleased to see you are doing well.” He, of course, no emotion to his cold voice whatsoever. I gave Vincent a quick embrace, which surprised him, and then let go just as fast. “It’s great to see you all again.” I said joyfully. “C’mon, lets head to the Hall. I set up one of the off chambers as my living quarters when I’m working here and we can eat inside of the waterfall in there. It’s still showing pictures of Aeris and it’s beautiful to eat inside of.”

“It’s showing pictures of her in there?!” Tifa exclaimed. “It wasn’t there when I was here last year.” She said it like it as a good thing but something in her manner told me that this bothered her. Vincent was the only person I had shown the waterfall to because I knew he wouldn’t be bothered by seeing images of a dead Aeris in there but I guess he hadn’t told the others.

“It was but I just never took you inside of there,” I said. Barret and Tifa both gave me strange looks and Vincent stepped in to defend me. “Cloud is correct,” he explained. “It was showing images of her when I was here nearly four years ago, however they are not visible from the outside, it seems.”

“Why didn’t you ever say something, then you creepy little bloodsucker?!” Barret demanded. Vincent shrugged a reply. “Shall we go eat?” I asked breaking up the tension and they quickly agreed and we set off arm in arm down the road. During the fifteen minute walk, I caught up on my friends lives. Barret had remarried some lady named Joni he had met in Kalm. Marlene and new mother adored each other and had wanted to come but Marlene had school and Joni had agreed to stay behind with her. “She’s grown so much,” he told me, a little reminiscently. Vincent had not found Lucrecia and had given up on her but he almost hinted in his few words that there might be someone else but he never said anything for sure, which was exactly how Vincent always was so I assumed he was okay. Tifa had opened new bars in Kalm, Mideel and in the Gold Saucer by the Ghost Hotel and her business was booming. She had made so much money that she only worked in her bars because she “loved to meet all the travelers” who stopped for a drink. When they asked about me I just smiled and said nonchalantly, “Oh, nothing much. Just me, Aeris, and Zack hanging around.” Barret gave a small chuckle at the joke, but Tifa gave me a bizarre look and Vincent’s eyes flickered to me for a second and then back away again.

By the time we reached the Great Hall I could tell Tifa and Vincent were faintly unsettled but I ignored this. We continued to make small talk as we climbed the stairs and turned the corner that brought us right up to the pillar in the room. Water poured from the roof and surrounded the pillar so that you had to squint really hard to even glimpse what was inside. Even squinting you could barely see a single piece of corral standing straight up but when we broke through the veil of water we were greeted by Aeris. Massive pictures of her in her life, some of them 30 feet tall, were played out upon a stage of fog and blue water. I reached down and picked up a picnic basket that had been left there and I began to pull out food as the others stared at this beauty in opened-mouth shock. Tifa just stared straight up, Barret whirled around and around trying to see it all, and Vincent stood stock still and seemed dumbfounded. “They have gotten larger and clearer since my last visit.” He said aloud.

I nodded and explained “When I started cleaning and fixing up the City, every time something was repaired the pictures got better.” I watched them gape in amusement as I pulled out several rather delicious sandwiches. “Here Barret!” I tossed him a sandwich laden with freshly roasted meat. He looked surprised but he caught it and then he sat down the corral and began to chew on it thoughtfully. He looked up in surprise at me.

“This thing is D@#$ good!” he said finally. “When’d your spiky head learn to cook?”

“Oh, nowhere,” I replied casually.

Tifa was already eating one. She looked up at me. “He’s right. And you never knew how to cook anything this good in the first place. What’s on here?” she asked peeking between the bread slices.

“I dunno,” I told her. “Ya know Aeris was always a pretty good cook. Anyway, did we come to discuss recipes or something?” Our talk moved on further to our lives, or lack thereof. Everyone was quite tired by the time we decided to hit the sack but the room I had been using was to small so only two people could sleep in there. They wouldn’t hear of me giving up my bed so Barret and Vincent ended up sleeping on the downstairs floor while Tifa and I slept in my room. Despite her protests I made her sleep on the bed and I laid down on a mattress of blankets on the floor. I was content to doze off but Tifa wanted to talk so I humored her by staying up another hour or so. “Cloud, she inquired softly. “Why do you stay here? You know you’re always welcome with me. Why not come live in Kalm?”

I sighed and told her “Teef, I love you like a sister but this is my home and I am going to stay here. The City Of The Ancients needs to be repaired. I’m going to do it.”

“That’ll take a lifetime and more, Cloud!” she almost yelled. “No one person could do all this in ten lifetimes! Do you think this is your repentance for you ‘sins’? You didn’t commit any in the first place, Cloud! You never did anything wrong; it was all Hojo- “

I raised my hand and she fell silent. “This has nothing to do with a repentance or atonement. This is simply what I wish to do.” I explained calmly. She looked at me like I was crazy… which maybe to her I was.

This time she did yell. “Wish to do what? You’re just exiling yourself! I’ll tell you what you’re doing, you put your heart in exile! You don’t seem to care about anyone or anything!” I bristled.

“That’s just cruel, Teef!” I cut her off. “You know I care about you and the others!”

“You didn’t care enough to come to Shera’s birth or Barret’s wedding or even to come see me once,” she roared back. “You just sit up here and keep thinking about her so much you never stopped to realize that I was the one that loved you, and that I cared for you, and that she’s dead!”

“I love you, Teef!” I replied softly.

“But only like a sister,” she whispered. “Not like how I love you…”

“I’m sorry Tifa Lockheart but I can’t love you how you want to be loved by, me.” I whispered back.”

She grabbed a pillow and a blanket and stormed out the door and down the stairs. I looked out the doorway and began to spread her blanket out on the ground beside Barret and Vincent. I looked down at her and I could see, even from this distance, that she was furious. She threw her pillow down on the rough blanket and threw herself upon it. Barret and Vincent stared at her for a moment and then Vincent looked up at me and I ducked back inside the door frame and laid back down on my blanket on the floor. I could hear voices from downstairs and cocked my ear toward them and strained to listen, even as I scolded my self for eavesdropping.

“Cid’s right,” she said bitterly. “He’s gone nuts. He just keeps talking about HER like he doesn’t even care about me. I hate him like this.”

“I dunno Tifa,” Barret said softly, “ He finally seems, I’m not sure, he seems at peace finally, like he’s content to stay here.” I was surprised. Barret usually doesn’t play the philosopher and he’s not exactly sensitive to other people’s moods.

“Well, what about me?” she shot back. “He acts like she still alive. She’s not and I am and he should realize that I’m the only one who loves him right now.”

There was an awkward silence

“Tifa, Cloud has had it worse then any of us. He was tortured by Hojo, manipulated by Sephiroth and blames himself for everything from Aeris’s death to letting Meteor be summoned in the first place. Maybe we should let him have his rest, his sleep to the world. If you love him enough, maybe you should let him go.,” Vincent said at last. For Vincent, that was a pretty long speech.

“Maybe you’re right Vincent, but I don’t care. I’m leaving first thing tomorrow. Good night everyone.” I heard her roll over and the others settle down for the night. I turned over and decided to hit the hay myself, but I had trouble dozing off so I lay more asleep then awake for a few more hours. The but the last thing I remember hearing before I dozed off was Barret’s footsteps on the stairs and then him saying into my door frame. “Why couldn’t you just love her, you little freak? She loves you so much.”

I responded groggily, “Because I love her like a sister, but not like I love my wife.”

“You ain’t got no wife, or has that hair of yours finally poked into your brain?!” he demanded.

I laughed softly and went to sleep.

When I awoke the next morning, they were gone.

I strolled out of the Great Hall and out into the morning sunshine with it’s crisp air. I strolled deeper into the city until I came to a large pool that was perfectly clear and was yet tinted the most beautiful blue I had ever seen. I waded and then swam out to it’s center. This pool was where I had buried Aeris when Sephiroth had killed her. The pool’s underwater current, I recalled, as I began to dive deep into it, ran right into the Lifespring and had pulled Aeris’ body directly into it. I strained to reach the bottom of the pool where I found a small cave that I began to kick my way into since it was to small for stroking. Hole was most likely a better word for this little 2 foot by 2 foot circle but I kept kicking down into and swimming around it’s little bends. My lungs now strained and I swam deeper and deeper into the tiny crevice toward a faint green light. I swam around a bend and I was suddenly outside Aeris’s house in Sector Seven before it was crushed.

I was dry and quite warm now and I meandered into the gardens where I knew I would find my wife. The garden was bright with blues and yellows and reds of different plants. The air was laden with the scent of a thousand different flowers. She was bent over a small patch of roses that she was watering and the spray off of the waterfall behind her created a beautiful rainbow around her. I walked over to her quietly and picked her up and swung her around and gave her a kiss. Sometime later when the kiss was finished, her emerald green eyes looked up into mine. “Honey! I thought you wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. I missed you so much!” she told me joyfully as she put her arms around my waist and I held her close.

“Everyone left early, they think I have been eating Loco Weed I guess,” I told her laughing and this set her off giggling. We walked over to a bench and sat down. I kissed the top of her light brown hair lightly. “Maybe next year, I’ll bring Tifa down here, if she ever comes back ,” I said, biting my lip. I decided not to trouble her with my “fight” with Tifa. “But I don’t think Barret’s gonna make it down here until we carve out the new way in. This set her to laughing again with her emerald eyes twinkling and her long hair shaking in its ribbon as she rocked back and forth with mirth.

“No, I doubt that too. By the way, Mom, Dad, and Zack are coming over tonight for dinner. Zack’ll be glad to see your back. Us three can go chocobo riding tomorrow outside of Mideel. I’ve been wanting to get out for a little while and the Mideel entrance is the only one I can really swim out of.”

“Sure thing dear,” I said touching her button nose, “but for now let’s just sit here okay? I missed you, even if I only was gone a few days.”

We sat down on the bench and held each other for a long time until night in the Lifestream finally fell.

“I love you, Cloud Strife,” said the angel next to me.

“I love you Aeris Gainsbourgh Strife,” I told my wife”


<Author’s Note> Yes, I am going to leave a note. Whew! That turned out longer then I thought it would and it still stinks.. Well thanks for having the patience to sit through my story. This was my first fanfic ever so please don’t judge to harshly. And just so I don’t get e-mailed by an idiot reader, Cloud was not insane. This story was also my little smack at those sick, twisted people known as Tifa Lockheart fans. Rest assure that in my stories, I can almost guarantee that Aeris will get the guy unless I am writing a comedy. Although I doubt anyone will read this story, I would love the idea of getting some feed back. You can reach me at TheMavHunt@hotmail.com if you wanna tell me how badly my story stinks, how much better Tifa is then Aeris, or if you actually wanna compliment me (Yeah, Right) hope you enjoyed!!!

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