Disclaimer: See Chapter One.


Part One - Chapter 4

By Knowing Shadows


"Even though I'm the sacrifice,
You won't try for me, not now.
Though I'd die to know you love me,
I'm all alone.
Isn't someone missing me?"

Evanescence – ‘Missing'


He was lying on his side in bed; warm, for once. Curled up under the thin blankets not for that small comfort his own body heat might give him, but because it was comfortable and he was content. Tired, and more than willing to let his body give in to sleep.

He'd been dreaming every night, something of an unusual occurrence that surprised him not by its frequency but by the ease of remembering their events. He had never been one to remember dreams before this, not real ones anyway. They had always slipped away with the night, sand through his fingers, though he'd always tried to cling more to the warm sensation of knowing it had been a good dream rather than trying to grasp specifics. If it had been good, he knew who he'd been dreaming about, and that was enough.

He'd often mused on late nights where he couldn't sleep over the unfairness of the fact that he had never managed to have a proper one of those dreams about Sephiroth. He had shyly listened to others describe their own with no embarrassment and wondered how they could pull them off. He was one of those people who usually woke up once they knew they were dreaming, and even in sleep the idea of ever being with Sephiroth like that was so utterly unrealistic and downright ridiculous that he knew he had to be dreaming.

It also didn't escape him how "usually" was the operative word in that sentence. Unfortunately, luck had yet to be on his side and he had yet to have one of those dreams whilst knowing he was dreaming.

He knew he was dreaming now, but it didn't matter all that much.

Cloud sighed softly, lips curving into a small smile as he let himself indulge in something that shouldn't seem so vivid when he had never experienced it in reality. He had always had an active imagination – borne of so many days spent alone with nothing else to occupy him but making the best of what he had – and he had always been grateful for it, knowing that what was in his head couldn't be taken away from him. When the loneliness threatened to engulf him, he knew he always had a safe place to go, within his own mind or not.

Imagination couldn't take away the hurt of knowing that it wasn't real, and he had learned that the hard way.

He shivered as a hand ghosted along the line of his hip, the sensation surprisingly real. Cloud felt that large hand settle on his leg at the top of his thigh, cool against his warm skin, and oh so powerful. He shuddered, trying to imagine what it would be like to have the rest of that body over him like he wanted, moving inside him like he wanted.

This dream version of the man – he daren't even think the name, or the vision would disappear – seemed to be able to read his thoughts. He heard a low chuckle just behind him, ghostly, and for a moment he wondered if he'd heard it at all, but then that hand moved back up over his hip, brushing that tender spot where leg and hip met and made him shudder again. His response earned a laugh this time, but in that same low tone that made him shiver in delight.

Abruptly, Cloud found himself on his back, staring up in the dark at the figure that was now above him. He could only see a vague outline, but he knew the lines of that body better than he knew his own. The broad, strong shoulders thrilled him more than he could comprehend. The silky waves of pale hair fell over the shoulders, framing a shadowed face with eyes that burned. He was powerless against those eyes, always had been, so he lay there on the bed, waiting with bated breath and wondering if, just if, this time he might be just a little bit lucky.

He saw the muscles in the other man's shoulders tense as he moved, lowering his head down. Cloud closed his eyes, waiting, and not daring to breathe. He felt warm breath on his lips, felt his mouth part even as his back arched ever so slightly off of the bed as his own muscles tightened. Wanting, oh so badly, but not daring, not daring to close that gap-

"There's something," murmured that low voice just above his mouth, "not quite right about all this, isn't there?" Not entirely a question, because the elder knew very well that there was something wrong about him, but perhaps asking in the sense that he didn't quite know what about Cloud had made him feel so.

There was no question in Cloud's mind that he was being referred to as what wasn't right, because with that one sentence the whole feeling about the situation had changed. This wasn't his long-awaited hormone-induced dream anymore and the change from that to what it was now left him cold.

"Hmm?" Cloud could feel fingertips tracing along his jawline, trying to tease an answer out of him, but he didn't dare open his eyes to see the other man. "Something about you..." A soft intake of breath and Cloud's lips felt chilled for a brief moment as the warm air was drawn away. "And you know, don't you...You know what's wrong, but I can't figure it out..."

What was he supposed to say to that?

"I don't...I don't want to be here," he said then, fingers curling into the bed sheets until his knuckles went whiter than the other man's skin. "It's not my fault."

"Don't want to be here?" Disbelief in that voice, then, and Cloud knew that he was smiling, and he knew that the expression wouldn't be pleasant to see if he was inclined to look. "What, like this?" The elder moved then, a slight shift in body, and Cloud bit his lip, head pressing back hard into the pillow as his whole body tensed. "Somehow I doubt it's me you're trying to convince, here."

"You're not real." Absurdly, it hurt to say that out loud.

"No, but this is as real as it will ever be for you." It was a cold statement, and it stung; made Cloud's chest tighten and his throat close and his eyes burn behind their lids. He opened his mouth to take a breath and it felt wet and sodden in his lungs.

"I know," he whispered, and the other man had moved ever so slightly until their lips just brushed as he spoke the words. "But I'm trying."

A soft, whispering laugh was all he got in response before he woke. He didn't dream anymore then, unable to sleep as Sephiroth's low, imagined laugh mocked him long into the morning hours.


Three weeks had passed by then, and Cloud found himself with another long-awaited weekend stretching before him. Being at ShinRa was something like being back in school: suffering five days of work for those two free days to come round, and then repeating the whole process again and again. The one difference, in theory, was that you were supposed to want to be at the ShinRa. In practice, it was much more a case of ‘the end justifies the means', and only dogged determination to reach the end got anybody through the years of training that Cloud knew he would eventually fail.

Not this time.

He was sitting on his bed, tangled in the blankets, trying to work out how he would spend his time. Usually Zack made it a point to do something on the weekend with him, as if afraid that Cloud would spend his free time locked up in the barracks if he possibly could, and not go anywhere. However, Zack had been sent out with Sephiroth and several other SOLDIER 1sts three days ago, and had yet to return. Zack hadn't even been able to tell him where they'd been going.

"I'm so bored," he said to himself, scowling.

Like I have so much time to be bored. Just over two months left. Time's ticking away. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

He cursed himself, slamming the heel of his hand into his forehead to startle him away from the thoughts of time. It didn't really work, and only made the dull throb between his eyes increase. The room felt too stuffy for a head that felt as stuffy as his already did, but where was there to go within the complex? He'd already ruled out the gym – not only would he have to concentrate on the types of moves he was doing, but doing much exercise on an empty stomach would probably make him faint. There was little else recreation-wise that he knew of, and he didn't know many within the complex to go and find to hang around with. Reno's invitation to lunch flitted across his mind, but he let it carry on without real consideration.

He pulled himself up off the bed and ran a hand through his hair, yawning. A walk might do him good, though he doubted he'd be happy with staying inside the ShinRa complex. Midgar was a big enough place to lose himself in without being big enough to actually get lost. He'd hoped that he'd have the chance to go with Zack but, as it had turned out, Zack wasn't there. He had never been one to let something like that stop him.

A walk in Midgar it is.

Midgar had few happy memories for him but he pushed that thought aside, dressing resolutely, features pulled into a frown. He had never fitted in in Midgar, as he'd never fitted in when he had lived in Nibelheim. Midgar, like Nibelheim, had been a place of failure. Its expectations had always been too high, and he had always been lacking or forced beyond his limits to reach a level he had never been meant to reach as he was.

Midgar brought me to Hojo. Midgar also brought me to Zack. Midgar brought me to him.

He pushed away those thoughts and left the room, turning down one of ShinRa's many winding grey corridors. It was relatively empty, which was what he had been hoping for, and he rode the elevator all the way down to the first floor before getting off to walk. It was easier to go through front reception than any other way to get into Midgar itself, so he decided to stick to that pathway.

He was halfway down the corridor towards the stairs that lead to reception when his luck ran out.

"President Shinra, I have good news."

Cloud froze on the spot, fear shooting like electricity up and down the length of his spine. Breathing suddenly shallow in panic, Cloud realised that he'd never even thought before now about the man whose voice he had just heard.

"Ah, Professor. I was just looking for you."

Without thinking, Cloud darted to the nearest hiding place, which was no hiding place at all. He stood with his back up against the wall, partly hidden by the corner he had just turned into to avoid notice. He closed his eyes, focusing on steadying his breathing first. There was no reason to be afraid - after all, until Nibelheim, his existence wouldn't be known to the man in charge of the Jenova Project. He pressed a hand to his chest for a second, feeling his heart pound erratically.

He doesn't know you. Stop being so weak. You're nothing to him yet.

"Hojo, you promised me a report on the project."

"I've been too busy to write a report."

The two were walking along the corridor towards him. Cloud looked along the corridor he had turned into, but it had a dead end. In the shadowed corner lay a mop and bucket propped up, and a door in the wall read "Cleaning Closet" in peeling letters. He moved forward as quietly as possible and tried the door handle, but the door refused to budge.

"I don't employ you to disregard my orders, Professor. I wanted a report." Shinra's voice held a note of irritation, but the Professor ignored it or didn't hear it. Cloud knew that Hojo was too observant a man to have missed it.

"I haven't finished working on the things to put in the report, Mr President." The Professor's voice lowered to a horrible, delighted whisper that made Cloud's skin crawl. "Jenova and her son are endlessly fascinating."

Cloud stilled. Sephiroth?

"General Sephiroth is a ShinRa employee, Hojo, not just your guinea pig. I strongly advise that you keep that in mind whilst deciding just what to test on him." The President's irritation was getting more and more pronounced as the conversation progressed. Their voices grew louder as they closed in on the opening of the corridor where Cloud stood.

"I know that," Hojo muttered flippantly. "I've been wondering, though, how to test just how strong he really is. His body still absorbs the Mako treatments I give him as if he's never had them before in his life. His healing capacity is simply amazing. His strength can't have been fully tested, not even during the war with Wutai." Hojo chuckled, and Cloud could easily picture the man rubbing his hands in glee. "He shows more of Jenova's traits as time passes."

"You're too close to having to deal with your new subjects to do more tests on him now. He's capable enough, we know that. I'd like that report a.s.a.p."

They're going to pass by any moment now. If they see me, they'll wonder why I'm here. Why would a cadet be coming out of a cleaning closet, even if they believe I haven't been lurking down here listening to them?

Cloud toyed with trying to hide in the shadows as Hojo murmured over getting the report to the President. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply. You'll face him once. Just once. He won't know you.

Resolutely, he stepped out into the main corridor and continued walking the way he'd been going, acting as though he hadn't even noticed the two men. He heard their conversation die off as they saw him and the silence made him uneasy. He could feel eyes burning into his back. He carried on walking, and made it to the next corner without incident.

Thank God, I didn't even look at them. And they don't' seem to have taken much notice-

"You, cadet."

Cloud came to a stop and turned slowly, belatedly pulling himself into a proper soldier stance as was befitting the President's company. The President - only slightly less portly than he had been just before Meteor - and Hojo had stopped parallel to the corridor he had been hiding in. He let his gaze fall on the Professor and tried not to take an automatic step backwards.

Hojo had been the one to call him. Dark eyes narrowed suspiciously behind his glasses, his sallow-skinned face looked particularly unwelcoming. He would still have that same face in five years time. His black hair, thin and limp, was shorter than he last remembered but still tied back in the untidy ponytail, very dark against his white lab coat.

"Yes, sir?" he asked.

"What were you doing down here?" Hojo's gaze flickered doubtfully to the dead end, lingering for a moment on what must have been the mop and bucket outside the locked closet.

Mop and bucket. Mop and bucket. Mop and- "The mop," he said suddenly. "I took it out to clean up a spill someone left in the dorm. The door's locked, so I had to leave it outside." Please believe me. Please believe me. "Someone must have locked the door whilst I was gone." Please, please-

Hojo sneered, ever so slightly. "What's your name?"

Oh no, please don't. Please don't.

The President turned to Hojo then, and coughed. "Hojo, he's a cadet."

The emphasis on the word 'cadet' irked Cloud, but he hid it. Not for much longer, sir. Not for much longer at all.

Hojo cast Shinra one scathing look before turning his glare back to Cloud. "Name, cadet."

He swallowed nervously. "Strife, sir. Cloud Strife."

Well, now look what you've done. He knows you now.

"You are dismissed," Hojo muttered. Cloud turned and had to fight not to run all the way, feeling Hojo's glare on his back all the way.


His feet took him to Sector 6, and as the ramshackle huts, houses and shops came into view Cloud wondered if Sector 7 might have been the better destination. Eyes slid over him as he passed among the throng, and most slid onto the next person with little thought of him. He caught a few unwelcome stares but ignored them with a wince, hurrying along the shadows in a bid to attract less attention. It struck him, as he stared out at the residents and their homes, that it all seemed very dull, as if he was looking at a painting made up of greys and browns. The people - hunched, dirty and ragged - were much the same. Their skin was as dead a grey as the mangled, re-used metal around them. In SOLDIER, Cloud had seen more than one person with the same hue to their skin, marking them out as indigenous to Midgar. Years of metal dust from the plates above the poorer sectors had taken its toll on those whose families had lived there for generations.

Pulling his coat closer around him, Cloud picked his way through the residents with a growing feeling of dread. He suddenly felt very alone, and wished that he'd stayed at the barracks on the off chance that Zack would have returned to come with him.

Stop making excuses. You know why you came here rather than Sector 7. Funny how you can't face Tifa but you can face her, isn't it?

So far - perhaps a blessing, and perhaps not - the little shop island in the centre of the area had blocked his view of his destination, but he knew once he moved much more he'd be able to see the house. It was a stupid idea anyway, he thought bitterly, to come here, where it would hurt so much to know that he truly was alone, and that even the Cetra flower girl wouldn't recognise -

The Cetra.

His breath caught in his throat for a moment and he almost choked, eyes widening. He ran his hand through his hair, knowing that he was shaking, and was moving before he knew it. He cleared the central building and the gap between the two end houses presented itself before him. The welcoming light from beyond the edge of the circle of houses made his breath short with remembrance. From here, he could even see the edges of the tiered garden, and how the blooming flowers seemed still in the breeze-free air of Midgar.

And from here, Cloud could even see a flash of pink that meant Aeris was gardening.


Nibelheim was quiet and empty. The storm that Vincent had initially braved had passed three days ago now, and yet Vincent found himself experiencing a sense of déja vu as he stood in the square of the town once more, squinting against the rain.

Cloud won't be very pleased when he sees me.

He moved off with a soft sigh, keeping his eyes once more averted from the ShinRa mansion as he came level with it. Behind him, sticking close to his back, he could feel the presence of the two others with him, and knew that he'd be lucky to leave Nibelheim with all his body in one piece.

He had not intended to come back here, intent on letting Cloud get on with whatever it was that he had decided he should do for the rest of his life, unable to truly grasp the blond's reasoning. He had decided that, after all, it really wasn't much of his business. If I were Cloud, I wouldn't want people prying either.

Not that that had stopped other people, and he wasn't at all sure that Cloud would be half as forthcoming with his reasons for living up on the mountain with them as he had been with Vincent. Especially with her...

She won't understand, though I wish that she would. Her opinion is important to him, whether she knows it or not. Her hate could ruin him.

She'd have to be kept from the plinth, that much was certain. Vincent knew that he had invaded a personal area when he'd gone near it before, and still got the feeling that he had been allowed closer than any others might have been.

He'd tried to stop brooding then, preferring to ponder how anyone could endure such awful weather until they reached the start of the mountain path and a soft thud caught his attention. He turned at the sound, moving his back into the wind, and frowned at the last of their number, who had abruptly sat down on the cold stone, their fur matted and dark from the rain.

"I can smell the Lifestream from here," Nanaki said, his orange eyes narrowed into a squint. "Perhaps it is the reactor, perhaps not." He paused, lowering his head slightly. "Perhaps not."

Vincent didn't reply. His sense of smell was nowhere near as accurate as Nanaki's, and he'd merely thought that it was the reactor, as Nanaki had suggested. Something didn't sit quite right with him, and he turned slightly back into the rain and wind, ignoring the burning, questioning gaze that Tifa Lockhart had settled on his back.

"The smell is stronger than last time," he murmured after a moment, half to himself. "In this direction."

"What's wrong? It doesn't smell any different to me." Vincent glanced over as the dark-haired woman moved to his side, the worry evident in her eyes.

"I can barely tell the difference, and my sense of smell is much more acute than a normal human's," he explained, looking back towards the mountain, and the direction of the smell that was beginning to bother him so much. "You wouldn't be able to tell."

"What does it mean?"

"It means that we should definitely check." Nanaki's voice obviously startled Tifa as he wound his way between them to continue along the path towards Cloud's home. Vincent allowed Tifa to follow Nanaki, choosing to bring up the rear. "I don't like it."

The Lifestream? How could it have got all the way up here? And what else would smell like that? The Cetra, maybe? But what would they want with Cloud? He's already done them enough service to last longer than a lifetime.

"Shall we continue, then?" Vincent urged, beginning to pick his way up the narrow, slick path again. "We will do no good standing here in the rain."

"Too right," he heard Tifa mutter darkly, and half-smiled behind the sodden material of his cloak.

Nanaki sighed, almost too softly to hear, and got up to follow, bracing himself against the wind and the stinging rain. He looked much more like some kind of panther, Vincent mused, with his fur dark from the wet and slicked down close to his body. Nobody would dare follow them now if they had been so inclined to do so before.

The sensible thing to do would have been to have Nanaki go first, the fire at the end of his tail helping to light the way for Tifa behind him, with Vincent going last so that if either Nanaki or Tifa might slip, he would be there to help. No-one had said anything to him, but he knew that Nanaki must have been curious about the arrangement he had chosen instead. But he dared not change it - not with what might be up ahead.

They turned the main curve in the path that lead them closer to the hut and Vincent stopped abruptly, nostrils flaring. "The smell," he said. "It's stronger."

Nanaki held one heavy paw over his nose at the rear of the group. "That is not the reactor."

"Cloud?" Tifa stepped up to Vincent's back, putting a hand on his arm to catch his attention. "What's this got to do with Cloud?"

Vincent shook his head, looking up to where the path dwindled out of sight. The hut would be visible soon, just around the curve. "I do not know. But we'd better keep moving, as fast as we can."

With a sense of urgency they clambered along the rest of the path, one behind the other, in silence. It grew more slippery as they walked, and twice Vincent almost lost his footing on the narrow path. Tifa seemed resolute, her cloak pulled tightly around her body to ward off the worst of the weather. He knew that she was still soaked through, however, as the rest of them were.

What possessed you to come here, Tifa? It's been nine years, and you've left a young child and a husband behind with little explanation to come here. Surely you still don't feel for Cloud. I would not want to be the one to tell you that you have no chance with him, or the one to tell Richard that he is apparently only second best.

The hut was hard to see against the blackness of the Nibelheim rock it stood against. No lights were visible, but Vincent wouldn't be surprised if Cloud had deliberately made it like that. Tifa made no comment, so he assumed she hadn't seen it. With Nanaki he couldn't tell, but he didn't point it out. The smell of the Mako grew as they moved closer, but not enough that Tifa could detect it.

What happened since I was last here? I've only been gone a few days. And why now?

"I can smell Cloud," Nanaki said suddenly. "His scent is all over that hut. I'm assuming that's where he lives now?"

Vincent nodded, and didn't need to turn around to see Tifa's horrified look as her gaze settled on the hut as they approached it.

Cloud's home stayed as dark as they came upon it as it had been from so far away before. Frowning, Vincent knocked on the door. There was, as he had suspected, no answer, so he pushed the door inwards. Tifa, dark eyes wide, stayed with Nanaki outside, waiting.

It was dark inside, and it didn't seem as if Cloud was home. He could see the Ultima Weapon still propped up in the corner, the mussed up bedding and the lone chair. Cloud was nowhere to be seen.

"His scent here is a few days old." Nanaki had pushed inside, his nose in the air. "Perhaps he left after you came?" He turned curious eyes towards the dark-haired man.

Vincent stared at the feline for a long moment. "No, I don't think he did." It's dark outside. If you're where I think you are, why are you out there in this weather with no light? It makes no sense. I would not think you stupid or foolish enough for this. "Can you wait here for a moment? I think I know where he is. I will try and bring him back."

Nanaki nodded and backed out. Tifa stood silently, watching. Vincent walked past them both and carried along the path to where he knew the little rock plinth would be.

He hadn't gone far when he saw a figure on the plinth, collapsed over the headstone. He broke into a run, his footing slipping with the motion. "Cloud!"

The blond was soaked through to the bone and, as he felt as he pressed shaking fingertips to the man's wrist, as cold as ice.


Aeris knelt on the dry ground amongst the knee high plants, her hair tied back and her hands encased in gloves that were too big for her. A smudge of dirt marred one cheek, but she was smiling and her eyes were bright with the same simple joy that she found in the garden she so lovingly tended.

Cloud stood on the top step that led up to the garden, and Aeris hadn't seen him yet. He was in two minds whether to let her see him or not. After all, what good would it do? She would not recognise him. She wouldn't know him until he would decide that the church needed a nice hole in the roof, but that wouldn't be for a while yet. If he ever made it that far again. Maybe, this time, she would never know him at all.

She might know how to send me back. Or forward. Or wherever I'm meant to go. She's Cetra. She has to know something. Even if she thinks I'm crazy.

He didn't really have a plan, he mused as he watched her sadly. She began to hum as she worked and the soft noise made his chest ache. She was just one more person he had lost. He didn't know how to approach her, knowing that the last time he had seen her he had sent her body into the water to lie forever.

He thought, maybe, that he might have been able to ask her without letting on too much, but she would probably be suspicious. As far as she knew, he could be working for Tseng, and be here to gather information on the Cetra as a Turk. His other choice could have been to ask her straight out how the Cetra could send him to his own time, but if she thought he was crazy – if the Cetra couldn't, in fact, have done this – where would that leave him?

Cloud preferred not to find out.

He stared at her back for a long time, watching her work. She didn't know he was there. Carefully, and as quietly as possible, Cloud backed down a step. There was no point in being here. To stand in that place much longer would be his undoing, and eventually she'd look up and find him.

But as it was, she looked up and found him anyway.

He froze, his foot barely touching the bottom step, and his eyes widened as hers did. She stood up, still watching him, but Cloud couldn't move. There was utter silence for a moment, and then the girl smiled with no hint of wariness, and self-consciously rubbed at the dirt on her cheek. "Can I help you?"

For a moment, as she'd smiled, his hopes had risen. He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I thought you might be able to, but...It doesn't matter anymore."

Her smile never faltered. "Are you sure?" Her expression turned apologetic, almost embarrassed, as she clasped her gloved hands in front of her. "You look like you're looking for something."

"I don't know what I'm looking for." Cloud shrugged.

"Not many people do, I suppose," Aeris said conversationally, looking thoughtful for a moment. "Some people find it, some people don't. But you...you look like you're looking for something important."

He grinned at her, because it sounded like something she would have said to him. "I don't know. Aren't you looking for something?"

"I might be," she said, secretively, and her smile widened until her eyes crinkled at the edges.

He shared her expression for a moment. "I hope you find it," he said honestly, and backed up some more to leave. "Goodbye."

She didn't stop smiling as he turned away. He could feel her watching him, and wondered if she had thought him strange. It didn't matter too much, anyway. He'd probably never see her again. And if he did...it wouldn't be under better circumstances.


He turned in an instant and she was still watching him, but she wasn't smiling anymore. Aeris' expression was troubled, and suddenly older and more burdened than it had been before.

"Aeris?" He hadn't told her his name, had he? There was no other way that she would have known him. "Aeris, is that you?"

"You weren't supposed to be this sad, Cloud." She started walking towards him, pulling off her gloves. "We thought..." She bit her lip, her eyes watering as she descended the steps. "I thought...that you'd be happier..."

"The Cetra did send me back." He was almost angry, and a sense of betrayal settled heavily across his chest, but it abated as he took in the depth of Aeris' sorrow. She stopped a few feet away, her green eyes filled with a sadness that made him wonder if she was feeling his own pain as well as her own.

"You were so lonely...and so unhappy..." She wiped her eyes. "We couldn't think of anything else to do. I thought that this would be better than leaving you up there by yourself...and there's only so much the Cetra can do..."

"Only so much?" Cloud stared at her in disbelief. "Aeris, look at what you've done! Where you've sent me! And this isn't power?"

She grabbed his hands, which were busy indicating their surroundings, and held them firmly. "Cloud, the Cetra don't have the kind of power you think we do. If we were that strong..." She sighed, shaking her head. "You weren't supposed to come here, either."

"Does it matter?" he exclaimed, breathless with relief. "Do you know how much it means to me that you know me? That I'm not the only one who knows what's going on? That I don't have to lie to you about who I am?"

He thought that it might make her feel better, but instead her face crumpled and she held him, crying silently into his shoulder. Bewildered, all Cloud could do was hold her, stroking her hair softly as he waited for her to calm down.

What's going on? What don't I know? Everything that she's said...

She looked up at him, her face streaked with tears. "Cloud, you can't see me again. You can't. If you do...I won't know you. I won't recognise you. It's not meant to work out this way. If you keep coming back to me..." She looked away, and then pulled out of his embrace, backing slowly towards the house behind her. "Cloud, you have to leave."

"Aeris..?" He made to go after her, but stopped as he looked up at him again. "Aeris, what's wrong?"

Her back hit the door, and she fumbled behind her for the handle. He heard a click and the door opened. "I'm so sorry." And then she slipped inside, the door softly closing in her wake.

Cloud sat down on the ground, defeated.




End Chapter 4.


1. Yes, I have succumbed to Evanescence. Quite willingly.

2. If they're OOC, it doesn't flow, or whatever, it's because my brain currently has Yami no Matsuei camping out in it, and Muraki's prowling around for an outlet. Eep.

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