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His Lifestream

by Damien Valar

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Cloud stared, his unwavering gaze matching the color of their focus. The Lifestream. Holy. Meteor. He watched as they danced together, white and green luminescence rapidly consuming the darkness. The evil. Meteor.

The way his evil, his demons, had been consumed. Cloud watched the scene, and saw himself. He witnessed his own transformation. Cloud thought of himself as Holy. As the well intentioned force that tried to change the world.

Cloud watched as the Lifestream lent power to the spell, strengthening it and supporting its weakness. She had been his Lifestream. His strength and support. She had taken him and changed him, and made him strong enough to change the fate of the world. Cloud had no false modesty. He had saved the planet. Him and the Lifestream. Despite incredible odds, in the end the Lifestream, the light, had prevailed. The only difference was that his light had been taken. He had failed her.

He and his Lifestream would never again support each other. It might as well be the end of the world.

Cloud looked down, into the green and white haze. He would have no happy ending.

He was nothing without her.

Without a word, without a glance to Tifa and the others, Cloud fell from the sky.

-------

He woke in darkness, his body warm and tingling. The warmth lasted scant seconds, as the darkness around him immediately chilled the man to the bone. He opened his mouth in shock of the cold, only to have it filled with liquid. Though his mind was clouded, the man immediately knew his mouth had been filled with salt water. He was underwater.

The man began kicking frantically toward what he assumed to be up, from the barely visible light. His ears popped as he ascended, lungs aching for air he didn't have. Still he kicked and kicked, not giving a thought to anything except holding his breath. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he broke the surface, coughing and sucking in great gulps of air. It was nighttime, and he would need time to get his bearings and get to land.

Then he was hit by the first wave. About four or five feet high, it hit him right in the face, sending the man back under. He had gotten enough air to hold his breath longer, though he had sucked in some water. He came up again, prepared for the next wave. The man put his back to it, letting the strong current carry him with it. Waves moved toward land. He anticipated the waves after that, sucking in a great breath before they hit him, and using the momentum to swim toward shore.

He swam for what seemed like forever. Wait for the wave, take a breath, and swim. Over and over he repeated the process, until his arms felt as though they weighed hundreds of pounds, and his legs could hardly move. Still, he did not give up, as he could faintly see light ahead. Land, surely. Then his feet struck sand, and he could stand up. He was thrashed by two more waves as he continued to shore, one almost lifting him off of his feet.

By the time he reached the dark beach, he collapsed to his knees, and began to crawl forward. It was so dark he could barely see his hands in the sand, which still felt so heavy. He lifted one and discovered he wore a thick metal bracelet. Why, he did not know. The man removed it, letting it fall into the sand. He trudged on, dragging his knees onto shore. It was so dark, and he was so tired.

The man fell to his stomach, deciding that he would move more when he had rested, and the sun had risen. He rolled onto his back, and saw stars he didn't recognize. Constellations that didn't exist. As he swiftly slipped into the world of dreaming, the man uttered one quiet word.

"Lifestream."


-------

"Let's see, I know I left my credit card in here somewhere," the woman said, digging through her red Prada purse.

Aeris watched her as she searched, smiling even though she didn't much care for the woman. She had become used to rather snide customers, especially in the part of town where she had started her Flower Shop. It was all she knew how to do in this strange and wonderful world. And the only thing that kept her from losing all hope. She had been able to purchase the shop by selling only one piece of the equipment she had worn in her own world, which was made of material that this planet seemed to treasure. Still, even though selling flowers made her happy, she had to deal with people like this. Arrogant, rich, and gaudy.

"Make-up kit, cell phone, tampons..." The woman said, glancing at Aeris with a smile. "A half-used tube of cherry red lipstick. I thought I had lost that! Oh, here we are."

Aeris accepted the card, processing it and handing the girl the receipt. Aeris sold her flowers for so much cheaper than any other flower shop. She hadn't been in business long, but already her name could be heard across the small town.

The girl left the shop, and Aeris let her smile fall. She only smiled in front of customers. Every other time, her thoughts wouldn't let her find solace. She was alone in this world, and would continue to be. Forever.

The young woman walked to the back of the store, intending to check on the temperature of her roses. This world was filled with so many varieties of flowers. Surprisingly some she had known back in Midgar.

"I still think white roses are the best, they remind me of—" Aeris stopped in mid-sentence, her head snapping toward the direction of what she had felt. The woman gasped.

"Lifestream."

-------

"Wake up, you can't sleep here," a strange voice noted with a deal of disdain.

The man's eyes slowly opened, squinting at the bright light of a rising sun. A man in red shorts stood above him, a red flotation device and a whistle around his neck.

"Did you hear me? You can't sleep here. Get a job bum," the lifeguard began to walk away.

Sitting up, the still soaked man pushed damp blonde hair from his eyes. He stood slowly, taking an inventory of the pain he felt. A lot of it was muscle pain from his swim the night before, though more of it consisted of cuts and bruises. He looked like he had been in a fight.

I remember now. I didn't get a chance to heal after fighting Sephiroth.

That name brought it all back to him.

He had dove from the Highwind and into the Lifestream. Cloud had meant to die, hadn't intuited that the Lifestream might save him. Apparently, it had. Even as much of a failure as he was, the planet's life force took pity on him.

Cloud's outfit was torn and dirty, and his hair was disheveled to say the least. He would have to find an inn, somewhere to bathe. He had enough Gil on him to pay for it, even though most had been left on the Highwind.

He stumbled up the beach, the ocean breeze cool on his back. He had no idea where he was. Cloud didn't even know if it was the same planet. As he moved from the beach to the street, Cloud was sure he had been thrown into another world. There were strange, and yet familiar vehicles all around, and people in clothing he had never seen before. They all stared at him as he walked down the sidewalk.

Cloud passed a shop that made him come to a halt. In the window of the store were masks and costumes. Some looked strange, some scary, most humorous. A man stood in the doorway, dressed in tattered rags with fake blood on his face. He appeared to be handing out pamphlets.

"What are you?" Cloud asked.

The man pulled on his tattered costume, and pointed to the fake blood on his face.

"I'm a zombie."

Cloud just stared at him, not understanding and not caring.

"Ya know, zombie? Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil, George Romero? Zombies?"

Cloud shrugged.

"Where am I?" Cloud asked nobody in particular.

A young girl, who was sipping on a drink of some sort, answered him.

"California silly," she said lightly, smiling.

"California?" Cloud asked, rubbing his temple.

"Yeah, San Francisco," the girl replied, as her mother tugged her away.

-------

Despite herself, and even though she had an entire store, Aeris still loved to sell flowers individually. To this end, she went to the Metreon mall. The name just reminded her of home. Aeris usually got good business as well, unlike back in Midgar. When people saw a young woman selling flowers on this world, most stopped, even in the season of autumn. She usually made sixty or seventy dollars a night, selling roses for a dollar a piece. It was cheap, but she didn't care. She enjoyed it, and met so many people. Aeris walked through the mall without a destination, smiling at anyone who would look at her. It was a farce, her smile, but just doing it helped. If anyone showed an interest, she would sell to him or her.

At the moment, she had no business. She paused at a perfume and make-up counter, looking at their selection. It was there she saw something that made her cringe.

"Six-hundred dollars for a half-used tube of cherry red lipstick!?" Aeris said, gaping at the price.

"It's well worth the price, I assure you," an older blonde woman, her face covered in the make-up she sold, seemed to come out of nowhere. "That lipstick was used by none other than Paris Hilton! It's worth every penny."

Aeris simply shrugged.

The young woman continued on, past clothing shops, an electronics store, and into the food court. The food court usually didn't get her many sales, but she always swung by just in case. It was always busy, even on a Tuesday afternoon. Aeris made her rounds quickly, selling only one flower to a boy and her girlfriend.

She was leaving when she heard the disturbance.

"What the hell is this? You can't expect to pay with this. What are you, Australian? Go to an exchange or something," a cashier said loudly.

Aeris turned to look at him, and watched as the cashier called for his manager, and the buyer slipped his money into a small pouch on his belt. The man slowly turned away, intending to just walk away with no further argument over the food he was ordering.

Aeris felt her stomach drop, her heart jump, and called his name.

-------

Cloud turned away, intent to let the food server be. He would find somewhere that could take his money. Surely somewhere on this strange land would know Gil. Or perhaps he would be able to sell some of his equipment. It was all very valuable, and he had no plans on fighting anytime soon. As Cloud moved to leave, he heard the voice that could stop him dead in his tracks.

"Cloud!"

He turned slowly, afraid that she really wouldn't be there, and he was imagining it all. As he finished turning he saw her, and froze. She had dropped a basket full of flowers, and was running right to him. Aeris looked different. Her hair was a bit shorter, and she was dressed differently, in a new dress and a shirt. Only the color of it remained the same. It was her, it had to be her. She had called his name.

Then she was there, her arms around his neck, standing on the tips of her toes. She rested her head against his chest, her breath warm through the torn hole in his shirt. She smelled good, like she always had. The scent of flowers and a cool breeze, he had once thought. Slowly, tentatively, Cloud circled his arms around her back, and hugged her. He really didn't know what else to do. Cloud decided to blame it on the shock of seeing her alive.

Alive.

After a moment Aeris broke the embrace, stepping back and wiping tears from her beautiful eyes. Cloud was dry, and felt ashamed for it. He couldn't remember the last time he had cried.

"I'm sorry. I just... I never thought I would see you again," Aeris said, casting her gaze downward and reaching for where her materia once hung from her neck.

Before Cloud could say anything, Aeris took his hand, pulling him away.

"Come on, you look awful. We'll get you cleaned up and fed." Cloud let her pull him along, numb to the world.

-------

As they stepped into her apartment, Cloud was quietly impressed. It was huge, and it was beautiful. He could never picture Aeris living in such a place, from his experiences with her. Then again, he reminded himself, he had very little experience with her at all. Aeris led him into what was surely the living room. From there she immediately set to work making food, while Cloud stood dumbfounded at the door.

I can't even buy myself food, and Aeris has food, a home, a vehicle...

Cloud glanced at the car outside, surprised that the girl was so well off in a world that he barely understood. Then again, he had no idea how long she had been living in this strange place. He had arrived just that morning.

"What would you like to eat?" She asked cheerily, leaning on a counter.

"You're dead," Cloud said bluntly, causing the woman to take a step back. He hadn't meant to sound so forceful.

"I... I know. I mean, I was dead, yes." Aeris walked around the counter, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"I don't really know exactly what happened. I remember the pain, the inability to move. And I remember you, Cloud," she said warmly, turning to look up at him. "I remember looking up and seeing your face. Then... everything went dark. It was quiet. For a long time it was quiet. And then I opened my eyes, and realized I was underwater."

"I did that," Cloud replied. "After you... died. I let you sink down, into the water."

"No, I mean here, Cloud. I woke up here, in this world. Earth."

"Earth?" Cloud asked, feeling out the word.

"Yes. I washed up in the middle of the day, onto the beach in this city," Aeris said, clasping her hands together.

"That's how I came here. I found myself deep under the water."

"Did you... die?"

Cloud took a moment to think about the last moments. He plunged headfirst from the Highwind, and that was all.

"I don't know. Could this be the promised land?"

"I don't think so," Aeris said immediately, she had obviously given this thought. "It was strange. When I arrived here, I could feel the Lifestream flowing through me. As though I had been in contact with it."

"I fell into the Lifestream," Cloud said, not wanting to tell Aeris how he had done it. "It must have brought us to this world for a reason."

"Perhaps..." Aeris said, smiling slightly.

Cloud could only think of one thing. Sephiroth. He had killed the man, the beast, inside the Lifestream. If they had come here because of it, had he as well? Could he be on Earth right now, alive and well? Cloud shuddered at the thought. He'd had enough of that man to last a lifetime.

"Cloud..." Aeris said, so quietly it was barely audible.

Cloud turned as she went onto her toes, pressing her lips gently against his. Suddenly, he didn't know how to breathe. He stood rigid, torn between grabbing her waist and pulling away. So he simply stood as she kissed him, her lips soft and smooth. Aeris rested her slender hands on his neck, pressing the kiss a little bit harder, before breaking it abruptly.

"Sorry... we need to get you cleaned up," Aeris said softly, moving to a closet. She removed a drying cloth, handing it to him.

"The bathroom is down there and to the right. Once you're done with the shower you'll have to put on your old clothes. We'll go buy you some after you get some food. I have a Halloween party tonight with some friends, so we have to get you a costume too. I'll explain Halloween later."

Cloud merely nodded, not yet trusting himself to speak. He felt like an idiot for not doing anything. He was cold, reclusive, and quiet. And he was an idiot for not taking what he wanted so badly. He could tell she was hurt. Could see it in her eyes, even behind the smile.

She thinks I don't want her...

"Well, hurry. We don't have all day you know," she said, and Cloud silently complied.

He walked briskly to the bathroom, pausing just outside the door. Cloud shot a green eyed glance back at her, to see the woman watching him. She moved away, blushing.

"Aeris..." He said quietly.

"Yes Cloud?" She said back, her voice almost as quiet.

"Thank you," he said it with the most sincerity he could muster from his cold, reclusive, quiet self. He wasn't sure if he was thanking her for the towel, the house, or the kiss.

-------

"Did you enjoy the party?" Aeris asked.

"Did I have to wear cherry red lipstick? We must have gone through half a tube," Cloud replied; removing the wig he had been forced to wear, again.

Aeris laughed, looking off toward her bedroom.

"There's only one bed, so..."

"I'll sleep on the floor. I'm used to it," Cloud said before she could finish.

"Actually, I thought we could share it. We're both mature adults, right?" Aeris asked, turning so Cloud wouldn't see the red creeping up her cheeks.

"I need to take a shower and wash off this make-up. Make yourself at home," Aeris walked down the hallway and into the bathroom.

For a few minutes Cloud sat in a chair, thinking about nothing in particular. It was strange to no longer have the burden he carried back home. The responsibility and the stress. Cloud wasn't sure if he missed it or not.

He stood, walking into the bedroom that belonged to Aeris. It was immaculate, yet in disarray. The woman kept everything in a little chaotic order that only Aeris could understand. Even so, everything was clean. Cloud opened one of three dresser drawers that Aeris had given to him, removing a pair of soft pants. She had insisted that if he lived in this world, he would have to learn to dress and act accordingly. He didn't much like it, but if she wanted it, he would comply.

He changed quickly, slipping the pajama pants on and picking up the plain cotton t-shirt she had bought for him.

"Cloud?" Aeris called from the bathroom.

Cloud set the shirt down, walking over to stand outside the door.

"Yes?"

"I forgot a towel," she began. "Can you grab me one from the closet?"

Cloud snatched one out, walking over to rap on the door lightly with two knuckles.

"Just bring it in," her muffled voice came quieter.

Cloud opened the door, stepping inside and averting his eyes. Steam filled the bathroom from her hot shower, fogging up the mirror and filling Cloud's lungs. He heard the water turn off, shooting a glance over to see Aeris' silhouette behind the shower curtain. A second later she peeked around the curtain, dripping hair falling into her face. She extended one hand to Cloud.

As he handed her the towel, she accidentally took his hand. Aeris held it for a moment, staring directly into Cloud's eyes. Then she smiled, pulling the towel into the shower with her.

Cloud took a step back, watching her outline dry off with the towel. Her eyes. The way she had looked at him. He'd seen that look on her before, a few times. Their date at the Gold Saucer, in Midgar, and when she had kissed him just that night. Cloud wondered if it was an opening, a doorway into Aeris. Did she want him? Was the kiss more than just a friend who missed him? Had he been wrong to doubt it?

Enough stalling. He would find out.

As Aeris opened the curtain, steam rolling out past her towel wrapped body, Cloud was there.

He took her by the waist, pulling the slightly older woman almost out of the bathtub. The kiss was dry from his side, though Aeris' lips were still wet. At first Aeris seemed surprised, her hands moving to his neck as though she would try to break it.

She didn't.

The woman moved her slender hands up his neck, damp fingertips stroking his skin. Aeris draped both arms around his neck, locking her fingers in his hair to keep him from moving away. Cloud backed away from the tub, pulling Aeris with him as he kissed her again, breathing through his nose. The stumbled into the middle of the bathroom, Cloud turning the girl until she was pushed up against the sink. He broke the kiss, leaning back enough to look up at her.

That look. Those eyes.

"...I..." He began.

"Cloud, hush," Aeris replied, kissing the side of his mouth. She stroked the back of his neck, stepping away from the sink. She kissed him again, and again, as they traipsed out of the bathroom and down the hall toward her bedroom. It was her turn to take control, as she shoved Cloud against the wall with a strength that would make Barrett's jaw drop. She pulled her face a scarce bit away, and dragged her tongue across the bottom of Cloud's lip.

They continued to stumble into her room, kissing and pressing together as hard as they could. The couple bumped into the dresser, causing Aeris to laugh aloud, and Cloud to smile. Cloud navigated them toward the bed, as he began to kiss her neck. Aeris pulled her hands away, fumbling with the front of her towel, until it fell from her body.

She was too close for Cloud to get a good, full look at her beautiful form, but still he began to freeze up. His insecurity taking over once more. Aeris silently took his hand, and guided it to her breast. She looked up at him with those eyes. That look.

Cloud pushed her backward, onto the soft bed.

She was his Lifestream. She made him Holy.

Cloud had forgotten one factor, however.

Meteor.

-------

He woke in light, his body cold and numb. The man sat up, finding himself in an almost blinding white room, on a firm white bed. He wore only a pair of shorts, and a strange machine was attached to his arm and chest through several long cords. He removed them, not knowing their purpose. Looking over his body, he noticed many injuries and many more scars. Running his fingers through short cropped, silver hair, he found stitches in the back of his skull.

What happened to me?

At that moment, the door to his room opened, and a man in a white lab coat walked in.

"Oh good, you're awake," the doctor said. "We noticed the diodes had been removed, and decided to check up on you."

"Where... where am I?" The man asked, baffled.

"You're in California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco California."

The man looked around, trying to get his bearings. He had no memory of arriving at this place. In fact, the ache in the back of his head made thinking at all a struggle.

"How did I get here?"

"A surfer found you washed up among the surf. You've suffered severe trauma to your body, and to your head. This explains any disorientation and memory loss you may experience."

"Who am I?" The man asked, eyes narrowing in thought.

"Well, we had meant to ask you that. We have some of your things. Mainly, your sword. I'm sorry we had to cut off most of your hair. We had to administer stitches to the wound in your scalp."

"You said something about a sword?" He asked, the word sparking something in his brain. It faded quickly, however.

"Yes, would you like me to take you to see it? Perhaps it will help jog your memory."

"I would," the man said, climbing to his feet.

The doctor helped guided him out of the room, and to an elevator nearby. They stepped inside and the doctor pushed the B1 button. The elevator descended.

"We had to turn the weapon over to Security, since we aren't equipped with an armory for these sort of things. It looks like a Japanese Samurai sword. Are you from Japan? You do look a little oriental."

"I don't even know where Japan is," the man said coldly, staring at the numbers as the descended.

"Oh, well, I'm sorry," the doctor said, as the elevator pinged softly. "We're here."

They stepped out onto a concrete floor, which was cold on the man's feet. The doctor led him over to a caged room. After a buzzer sounded, they entered past two men in uniform, who both nodded to the doctor.

They rounded the corner, and the man saw the only three things he had were in a sealed box. A pair of tattered, shredded pants, boots, and a shattered sword.

"We found the weapon clutched tightly in your hand. Not sure how it was broken, but it was almost impossible to get you to let go of it."

As he stared at the Masamune, Sephiroth's memories flooded back.

He had been at a standoff with his opponent. Each could destroy the other with one simple blow. It would all come down to who found the right opening. He had chosen to stay on the defensive, for while the other man's attack was powerful, it was much slower. He would be able to parry it, and kill him with little difficulty. After all of this time, Cloud would finally be dead. But something had gone horribly wrong. Sephiroth had blocked the first strike of the Omnislash, as planned, and was preparing to kill Cloud before the fool could even land a blow.

But he had underestimated Cloud's strength. His cherished sword had been broken, shattered. He remembered the pain as Cloud's weapon sank into him, and then he remembered the feel of the Lifestream.

He remembered it all now. He was one of the Ancients. He could not die. Such a thing was impossible. His kind was immortal. And the Lifestream knew this. For this purpose he was kept alive, and transported to another world. Meteor had destroyed the planet, and Sephiroth had been sent here to take this one as well.

And take it he would.

"Well, do you remember your name?" The doctor asked with a smile.

"Sephiroth."

"Hmm... that means numbers, does it not?"

"It is the name of your demise," Sephiroth said coldly.

Before the doctor could speak, Sephiroth had jammed his hand through the man's stomach, gripping the very column of his spine itself. He spun, throwing the dying and destroyed man into security guards behind him.

He would bathe this world in the flames of his mighty retribution.

-------

It had been the best week of Cloud's life, by far. He had already learned so much about Earth and its inhabitants. Aeris was a calm and reasonable teacher. After that first night they shared a bed every day, and every day Cloud became more and more comfortable around her. The days were longer here, too, so Cloud got to spend even more time with her. He had a tendency to get tired in the afternoon, but Aeris insisted that it would pass as his body got use to the change.

It was the morning after Halloween, and he woke in the same bed with the same woman. He was content with that. The night before Aeris had carved some strange vegetable with him; something called a pumpkin. By the time they were done, both of them were covered in pumpkin seeds and the stringy insides. It was fun.

Then there were the trick-or-treaters. Probably a couple hundred kids had come to Aeris' apartment. And she had a flower and a piece of candy for every single one. It was a wonder the woman wasn't broke by now, the way she gave things away. All Cloud heard all night was. "Are you supposed to be Goku or something?"

He didn't understand. Probably some American idol of some sort.

Aeris had said he was charming, telling the children who stayed long enough stories from back home. None of the children took him seriously, but they were captivated all the same.

He didn't want mornings like this, alone in her bed, to ever end. Leaning forward, Cloud tucked several strands of loose hair behind Aeris' ear. She was beautiful, and he didn't want to wake her.

He slipped silently out of the bed, moving toward the doorway. It was still before dawn, but Cloud couldn't sleep. He stepped out into the hallway, moving into the kitchen to get a glass of water. It still felt strange, living a normal life. No real responsibilities. Well, other than Aeris and the Flower Shop. She hired him as a bodyguard. It was an inside joke between them, and Cloud found it endearing of her.

He stepped to the counter with his water, flipping on the radio next to the sink. He then walked away, listening to the news report as he sipped.

"The perpetrator of the triple homicide at the California Pacific Medical Center yesterday afternoon is still at large. Witnesses describe the man as tall and muscular, wearing tattered slacks and with silvery white hair."

Cloud stopped in his tracks.

"The John Doe was discovered approximately one week ago washed ashore the Ocean Beach area. He was rushed to the medical center for severe injuries. No further information on his identity is available at this time. The fugitive was last seen near the Golden Gate Bridge. We advise all motorists to lock their doors and roll up their windows in that area. The man is considered to be armed and dangerous."

"It's him," Aeris said, making Cloud jump.

He turned to look at the woman, her eyes still fogged over with sleep. She was so achingly beautiful that he prayed what he was hearing wasn't true. Sephiroth would come for her, surely.

"He was... hiding himself somehow," she said quietly. "I felt him as I awoke."

"Impossible. I killed him."

"He followed us Cloud. We have to... have to stop him," Aeris stammered, biting her bottom lip. The fear was plain in her eyes.

"I know."

-------

By the time they got to the bridge, the sun was beginning to rise, and the police had already blocked it off. The columns of smoke billowing up from the bridge told them that Sephiroth was there. Aeris skittered to a halt near the closest police cruiser, and they both climbed out, Cloud staring past the cops to try and catch of glimpse of his mortal enemy.

"I'm sorry, you have to turn back. It's not safe here."

Cloud ignored him, walking toward the opening between two cars.

"Hey, I said you can't come over here!" the cop yelled.

"You won't be able to stop him," Cloud said calmly, staring right past the uniformed man.

"What? Who are you?"

"Move. I have to get on this bridge."

"Cloud..." Aeris said, her voice indicating urgency.

"Now," Cloud repeated more forcefully.

"The hell I will. I'm thinking about taking you in just for—"

The police officer was cut off in mid-sentence as Cloud punched him hard in the stomach. As the man doubled over, Cloud snatched the nightstick from his belt. He moved with incredible speed and grace, rotating the baton into a firm grip in his hand. Two more officers rushed him, attempting to draw their own batons and respond in force.

They had good training, but they weren't a match for his altered physiology. Cloud caught one of the men's wrists, jerking him off balance and slamming the blunt end of his club into the man's neck. He dropped, unconscious, to the pavement. Cloud then kicked a leg out from the other cop, stepping forward to jam his knee into the man's stomach and thus stunning him. He left the bruised and breathless officer on the ground, bending to take his handgun, and dropping the nightstick.

He checked the weapon out. Very similar design to the sidearms used in Shinra, if a little primitive. Cloud had been trained in all forms of fighting from hand to hand, to melee, to firearms. He had honed those skills in AVALANCHE, practicing them with Tifa and Barrett when time permitted.

Clutching the gun tightly in his right hand, Cloud strode quickly onto the bridge, Aeris right on his heels. He made a direct line toward the smoldering fires on the bridge, as the source of the thick black smoke gradually became visible. Cloud picked up his pace as he went, his stride almost turning into a jog.

"When we get there, you stay back," Cloud commanded Aeris, without looking back.

"Cloud, I'm scared..." She replied quietly.

Cloud stopped near an abandoned car and truck, turning to look back at his love. Those eyes. That look. His Lifestream.

"I'll protect you."

"So you survived Meteor? Interesting..."

Cloud jerked his head to the sound, following it up onto one of the suspension cables that held the entire bridge up. There he stood, staring down at Cloud with cold, compassionless eyes. He wore the tattered remains of what Cloud had last seen him in, and held the shattered Masamune in his left hand.

"Sephiroth..." Cloud muttered, adjusting his grip on the handgun.

"The end is here. Yours, and this planet's." Sephiroth said calmly, before leaping from the cable.

He fell like a stone cast from the heavens, the Masamune held in front of him as he descended. Cloud took a step back; time seeming to slow for him. He snapped the pistol up, his senses making time crawl. Cloud leveled the weapon at Sephiroth, remembering the firearms training he had received long before.

Aim for center mass, don't overcompensate, tug gently. Stay loose.

Sephiroth was over seventy yards above him, a nearly impossible shot. Cloud was no mere gunman, however.

He pulled the trigger lightly, the nine millimeter jumping in his hand. The shot was wide, missing Sephiroth's shoulder by mere inches as he plummeted. Cloud had time for one more shot before the Ancient would be on him. He aimed and squeezed. His aim had been perfect.

The round tore through the air, flying right at Sephiroth's chest. With a blinding speed that Cloud could hardly follow, he deflected the bullet with his half of a sword, following through to swing the sword downward. He was going to try and take Cloud's head off with it.

Cloud tucked his body forward, diving to the pavement. He took a smooth shoulder roll, even as he felt the impact of his foes landing, and the sound of his sword slicing through the air. Cloud came up in a crouch, rotating on his heel to aim the gun at Sephiroth's left side. As he pulled the trigger, the Ancient spun as well, using the side of his blade to deflect the bullet skyward.

The movement left him open, and Cloud was already moving. He rushed under Sephiroth's upturned sword, using one hand to shove his sword hand further away. Cloud tried to jam the pistol into Sephiroth's chin, only to have it knocked from his grasp by a hard backhand. Cloud spun, throwing his heel into the Ancient's chest, sending him sliding back. Both of their hand-to-hand skills were excellent. It would be a near stalemate if both men had been unarmed.

But one had a sword.

Most of Cloud's Materia had been lost during his shift to this world. Still, he had some tricks up his sleeve. Raising his hand before Sephiroth could really recover, he used a fairly potent distraction. Just something to keep the Ancient on his toes. He cast Fire 3. As the massive blast of flame essence took shape, appearing and consuming the area in which Sephiroth stood, Cloud made a dash for the gun.

Under normal circumstances, the weapon would have been useless. But Cloud had felt the effects of being on this new world. One of which was a weakening. A mortality that he could feel in his flesh. The gun might not kill the Cetra, but it would do something at least. Hopefully enough to slow him down. He had to be stopped before he went after Aeris, as surely he would.

Cloud bent to snatch up the gun, shooting a glance to the area his spell struck. He looked just in time to see Sephiroth leap through it, swinging the three-foot remains of his blade at him. Cloud spun, backpedaling and trying to aim the firearm at his enemy. Sephiroth sliced the barrel clean off, as a round discharged near his face. Cloud leapt into him, slamming his knee brutally into the taller man's stomach. Sephiroth wasn't fazed.

Ducking under a slash, Cloud landed a punch into Sephiroth's solar plexus, rising to jam the top of his head into his nose. Sephiroth leaned back, using an outrush of energy from the palm of his hand to send Cloud flying back. He hit the ground hard, rolling twice before finding his footing once more.

He stood just in time to be clipped by a missile of energy. It hit Cloud's shoulder, causing him to stumble. He'd never seen the technique before, and had no idea where Sephiroth had come up with it. The Ancient fired another, this one easily avoided as Cloud moved to the right. He continued to dodge the spells as Sephiroth made variations of it on the spot. He kept working Cloud backward and to the right, leaving massive holes in the concrete where the blast struck the bridge.

He's better than this. Why isn't he trying to hit me?

Even as the thought ran through his head, he knew the answer. Glancing behind him he saw a massive vehicle, a large cylinder attached to the rear of it. It was a fuel container of some form. Cloud's emerald gaze turned back to the Ancient as he smiled, firing one last blast into the tanker itself.

Cloud was lifted and thrown by the massive explosion.

---------

Aeris watched in horror as Cloud was forced to circle away, avoiding the spells Sephiroth cast as best he could. She moved her hand to where the Holy Materia once rested, clutching at nothing but air. Sephiroth was toying with him, playing games.

By the time Aeris realized where Cloud had been manipulated to, she didn't even have time to scream.

The blast was incredible, the shockwave rocking her back onto her heels. She stayed on her feet, but barely. The heat made her wince, and take an involuntary step back.

Cloud, no...

Aeris felt tears threatening to spill from her eyes, the heat drying them before they even had the chance.

Then out of the flames came a humanoid form, leaping high into the air. Aeris watched, unable to move, as Sephiroth flew above her, aiming the point of his blade downward. He descended fast, planning to finish her off in the same manner as he had before. She could see the sadistic smile on his face as he directed the blade down toward her chest.

Cloud was gone. Aeris didn't even want to move.

Out of nowhere, Cloud saved her.

-------

Cloud rolled countless times after he had hit the pavement, slamming into a small support on the side of the bridge. Pain shot through his whole body. From the searing burns to the metal that had sliced open his side. He could not lie down and die, however.

He thinks I'm dead. He'll go after Aeris.

Cloud was up in an instant, the pain he was feeling temporarily forgotten. He sprinted along the side of the bridge, staring at where he had last seen Aeris. She stood but a few feet back, staring up. Cloud followed her gaze as he ran, seeing Sephiroth falling toward her, poised to shove the Masamune straight through Aeris again.

"No," Cloud said to himself, leaping up.

He sprang from one of the support cables, even as he realized that it wasn't tensioned, as it should be. Part of the bridge was seriously damaged from the explosion. The momentum from his leap shot him like a rocket toward Aeris, as Sephiroth came closer and closer to her.

Cloud hit the ground running, summoning all the strength in his body to push himself harder. He was so close now; a couple more steps and he could protect her. Time crawled as Cloud bent at the knees, and pushed off, sliding across the pebbles and loose concrete toward Aeris. He twisted his body as he moved, struggling to keep his balance from the momentum of the slide.

He timed it right, coming to a stop as the blade impaled his stomach.

Cloud stared into Sephiroth's eyes, his hate and disdain plain to see. The Cetra looked surprised, letting go of the swords hilt. Sephiroth took two steps back, the shock fading from his eyes.

"Cloud, no!" Aeris said, her voice giving away that she was crying.

"It is finished," Sephiroth said coldly, his eyes calm and without sympathy.

"Yes," Cloud replied, gripping the Masamune's hilt. "It is."

He felt no pain as he jerked the weapon out of his stomach. He felt nothing at all, in fact. The Masamune, true to its nature, absorbed all the blood that had come in contact with it, so there was none on the blade. Cloud flipped the weapon in his right palm, his focus solely on protecting her.

Cloud lunged forward before Sephiroth could react, and drove the point of the broken blade into his chest. Sephiroth staggered, not prepared for such an act of desperation. Cloud shoved harder, intending to put the sword through the bastard's spine.

His wounds had caught up with him, however, and he could hardly muster the strength to stand. He began to sag to the right, only to be propped up.

Aeris wrapped her hands around his, helping Cloud to grip the sword. She pushed forward, lending strength to Cloud to finish what he alone was too weak to do. His Lifestream. Together they shoved the point of the blade through Sephiroth, who screamed in pain. The Ancient tried to pull himself off of the blade, but couldn't.

Cloud felt warm, his previously numb body tingling all over. He looked down to see a green glow emanating from his body. From Aeris as well. It flowed quickly from them and into the sword, using it as a conduit, a bridge to Sephiroth's body.

"The Lifestream?" Aeris said, her voice barely above a whisper.

The green tendrils of life energy flowed outward through the sword and into Sephiroth's wound. The Ancient had stopped screaming, his body trembling. He began to stumble back, as Cloud and Aeris let go of the hilt.

"This cannot be. Ancients... are immortal..." Sephiroth said, as the Lifestream began to consume him.

The same as it had done to Meteor.

Cloud turned, wrapping his arms tightly around Aeris, and using his falling weight to force her to the concrete. Behind him, out of his vision, he felt the explosion as Sephiroth was finally destroyed.

It took a moment for Aeris to realize that Cloud was no longer using his body to protect her, but was unable to move off of her. She sat up, rolling Cloud onto his back gently. He lay with his eyes shut, a look of pain and anguish on his face.

"Cloud, no, please..."

She moved his head into her lap, praying that he wasn't dead.

"You can't die. You just can't!" She cried, tears spilling down her cheeks.

Slowly, Cloud opened his eyes.

"...I..." He began.

"Cloud, hush," Aeris replied, kissing the side of his mouth. She stroked the back of his neck.

"I tried to kill myself," he said bluntly.

"Why would you do that?" She asked, crying even harder.

"I just... I wasn't the same after I lost you. You were my blood. My Lifestream. After you died, I didn't have it in me to live either."

"Don't talk, okay?"

"I have to. I'll be dead soon," Cloud said matter-of-factly.

"No..." Aeris said in between choked sobs.

"I couldn't let you die again. I promised to protect you."

"I love you..." Aeris pressed her face down against his neck; her tears warm against his seared flesh.

"I love you too. Since the moment we met, I felt it. I couldn't name the feeling."

"You can't go Cloud..."

"I have to," he said, sitting up slightly. His eyes became focused, looking directly into her own.

"Aeris, I'll find you again. In another world, another time, another life. I will find you. Never forget that," Cloud let himself rest in her lap again, his eyes focused only on her. Tears slid slowly down his face as he cried for first time in so many years.

Aeris stared right back into his eyes, as he died in her arms.

-------

The media had called it an act of terrorism that had destroyed a portion of the Golden Gate Bridge. It had been blocked off for weeks. The entire middle of the bridge had been destroyed, a gaping hole looking down into the water below.

As soon as the blockade had lifted, Aeris went there every morning at sunrise. Every morning she prayed, and dropped a single flower into the hole which she had dropped Cloud through that day. She cried every morning, and the pain never went away.

This morning, she brought a white rose, her favorite. She held it over the hole, spinning it between her fingers.

Aeris looked down, into the blue and white haze. She would have no happy ending.

She was nothing without him.

Without a word, without a second thought, Aeris went to find him.


Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VII
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

All fanfiction and fanart (including original artwork in forum avatars) is property of the original authors. Some graphics property of Square Enix.