The Final Sacrifice Epilogue
By Sydney Kyle
"Cloud, yo...y'all sure you wanna do this?" Barret queried.
Cloud Strife rested the handle of his Ultima Weapon on his hand, as if testing its weight. "Yeah."
Cid Highwind took a long drag of his cigar, flicking the ashes off as he stared at the grass. "So whaddaya gonna do 'bout Villa Cloud?"
"Sell it." The blond youth ran his finger experimentally over the opalescent blade. "If you want, you can have it. It's all yours."
"You don't have to do this, you know," Vincent informed him quietly.
The younger man shrugged. "Hey, come on. It's not like I'm going off the deep end or anything. You have my word on that, right?"
The others traded looks, and Barret cleared his throat. "Cloud, we know how much...how much Tifa meant to you, but that's no reason to--"
"Chill out, Barret. I'm fine." Cloud shot him a halfhearted grin. "I know it's a little sudden, but trust me, I'll be okay."
"Cloud." Yuffie spoke falteringly. "Cloud, where're you gonna stay?"
He slipped the sword into the scabbard that was strapped onto his back. "I don't know, Yuffie. I honestly don't know."
"Forgive me for voicing this, but that's a bit vague, my friend," pointed out Nanaki, not bothering to suppress the anxiety in his tone.
"It is, isn't it?" countered Cloud, rummaging through his leather bag. "I told you, I'm just gonna wander around for a bit. See the world--or whatever I haven't seen on it yet. I just need some space, you know?"
"We're talking about the entire planet here, Cloud." Vincent flipped his blood-red cape over his shoulder. "That's quite a bit of space, if you don't mind my saying."
Cloud pulled his lips back in a toothy grin. "The easier then, to get lost in it, eh?" he quipped, hoisting the bag onto Lance's back.
Cait Sith timidly traced a circle on the ground with his big Mog foot. "I still don't get why y'all're doin' this."
"Simple." Cloud patted Lance's beak, and he warked in reply. "I want to. I need to. I need this."
Cid racked his brain for a reason--any reason--that could somehow convince Cloud to reconsider his decision, and came up dry. "Y'know, I hate feelin' so damn mushy and all that $#!%, but I can't just let you wander off into God knows what. If you need somewhere to stay other than Midgar or Villa Cloud, you're welcome to stay with me and Shera--I mean, me--at Rocket Town. 'Course, she'll be distracted all the time 'cause of that new rocket she's workin' on that she'll forget to pour the goddamn tea or do them damn house chores--"
"And to echo Cid's offer of hospitality," Nanaki interrupted Cid's rambling, "if you want, you're always welcome at Cosmo Canyon..."
"Yeah, or Wutai," chirped Yuffie. "And I won't ogle your Materia--much."
Cloud smiled at his friends, but he shook his head. "I'm touched by the offers, guys, but really, that's not necessary." He swung up onto the saddle of golden chocobo and seized the reins. "I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself, right? So don't worry! I'll be all--"
The assemblage swiveled at the interjection of a female voice, and sure enough, it was Aeris Gainsborough.
"Cloud--Cloud, wait, I want to give you something first," she told him breathlessly as she loped up beside the chocobo.
Cloud glanced down quizzically at her. Her arm snaked out from behind her back. She was holding something.
"Here." She handed the object to him.
It was a single, perfect white rose, barely past its blooming stage, its petals slick and wet with dew. Cloud smiled as he ran a finger down the blossom. The color reminded him of the shirt Tifa always wore...
"I hope that every time you look at it, you'll think of me," Aeris whispered, clasping and unclasping her hands as she stared up at him.
Cloud's face darkened for a second, feeling a twinge of guilt, but he schooled his features back into a gentle smile. "Thanks, Aeris," he said politely.
He turned then, but Aeris grabbed his hand and held it fast in her own. Twisting around, he studied the brunette, a perplexed expression registering on his face.
"I love you, Cloud." The words came out in a rush, unbidden, unrestrained. Her green eyes were bright with tears. "You understand, right? I love you...I've loved you since the beginning...I..." A melancholy laugh rippled out of her throat, and she sniffled. "But I guess that it won't make any difference now, will it?"
"Aeris..." Cloud tried again.
She waved him off and stepped back. "I know, Cloud. Believe me, I know." She dusted off her pink dress, smiling slightly, Princess Guard dangling loosely at her side. "Goodbye, Cloud."
Cloud regarded her wordlessly for a moment. Aeris was still feeling remorseful about the fact that she had failed to mention to Cloud that she'd spotted Tifa at the City of Ancients. If she had revealed that to him the minute she returned from the Lifestream, would they have been in time to save Tifa? Cloud wondered. Then he pushed the notion away. He'd blamed Aeris enough that first week after Tifa's death, and he'd already regretted it immensely. What was the use in pinning the blame on others? It certainly wouldn't bring Tifa back.
He wished that Aeris knew just how sorry he was for her. Unrequited love was never easy--he knew that more than anyone, having undergone seven tortuous years of it. But he knew that he was doing the right thing leaving her. Aeris deserved better than a man whose heart already belonged to another.
He dug his heels into the chocobo's side and guided it into a light trot.
"Are we gonna see you again?" Cait Sith wanted to know.
He ran a hand through his blond hair, glancing off toward the sunset. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "Maybe. Maybe not." He urged Lance into a light trot.
He looked back one more time.
It was Cid. "We meant what we said. If you ever need a home, if you need someone to talk to--if you need anything at all--we're here for you, all right?"
The corners of Cloud's lips tugged upward. "All right."
And that was how Cloud Strife galloped out of Barret Wallace's, Cid Highwind's, Yuffie Kisaragi's, Vincent Valentine's, Cait Sith's, Nanaki's, and Aeris Gainsborough's lives.
They were still gazing after him until he became a speck on the orange-speckled horizon.
Aeris squeezed her eyes closed, and two fat tears trickled down her cheeks and splashed onto the grass at her feet.
I'll always love you, Cloud.
* * * * * *
Cloud swung the Ultima Weapon with well-practiced expertise, reveling in the weight and feel of the powerful sword as he maneuvered it back and forth, twisting and twirling it in his hands.
He paused at the sound of soft warbling coming from Lance, whom he'd tied to a nearby tree.
Breathing hard from his exercise, he drove the blade down into the ground and looked up.
Rays from the setting sun seeped into his spiky blond hair, making it glow a vivid golden hue. High above him, the sky was a canvas of mauve and crimson, with fleeces of golden clouds strung across for added effect.
It's beautiful, he remarked mentally.
"Yes, it is. Beautiful."
He smiled at that now-familiar voice. It held the softness of a summer breeze, the richness of autumn leaves, and the texture of a mountain brook bubbling with life.
Down below, Cosmo Canyon quieted down as the shadows began to lengthen, chasing away the golden pools of retreating daylight as the sun descended over the faraway peaks of Mount Nibel.
Be dark soon. Think I'll stop by Nibelhelm and get a room, for old times' sake, he thought.
With tired legs, he scrambled up from the rocky precipice he'd been perched on and brushed absently at his loose dark pants. Trudging over to his faithful steed, he immersed himself once more in a conversation no one else could hear.
You were right, you know. You never left me.
"Of course not. I promised you I wouldn't, right? Even here, in the Lifestream, I'm all around you. All you have to do is feel..."
He closed his eyes as a gust of wind ruffled his clothes and hair.
And for some reason, he couldn't stop smiling as he untied Lance and hauled himself onto the saddle.
She hadn't broken her promise. She was part of the Planet now, and yet part of him as well. No matter where he went, or what he did, she would always be watching over him, making sure he lived his life to the fullest.
I love you, Tifa Lockheart, he said silently.
"I love you back, Cloud Strife."
She would be waiting for him in the meantime.
Sydney Kyle's Fanfiction