[Shattered] Refrain 01

Track One – Cloud Strife – Crawlin’

Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal.

Fear is how I fall, confusing what is real.

I never thought for one second that it would be easy to simply forget Sephiroth, not after everything that I had been through or we had been through. Not even when I am lying next to Aeris at night. The woman who I love with all my heart, except for that tiny piece I kept locked away for a General with glowing green eyes. He was my first crush, my first obsession, and my first addiction. You can’t just forget about something like that.

No matter how much time passes or what he had done, I can’t forget about him. I never believed that was the real Sephiroth anyways. It couldn’t have been. He wasn’t the man I remembered. Just as cold and powerful, yes, but the Sephiroth I knew never hated mankind so much as the one I had been forced to fight. He never would have hurt me, and he never would have hurt Zack.

The Sephiroth that I knew wasn’t the type to stab someone through the back. He knew Aeris; he knew her before it all when she was still with Zack. He wouldn’t have hurt her. The Sephiroth that I loved wanted to protect people; he wanted to be better than the heartless monster that ShinRa tried to make him.

I don’t know how he got into my head, save that it had always been easy for him to have power over me. When you love someone, there are many things that you would do for them, give up for them. And who knows? Maybe my love really was just an unhealthy addictive obsession. Maybe it wasn’t even love at all but full-bridled lust. I never did have any self-control around him.

There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface.

Consuming, confusing. This lack of self-control I fear is never ending.

I lost all sense of self when it concerned Sephiroth. I wanted to be him when I was young. I mean, I was sixteen, just a kid with an idol, a beautiful and powerful idol, who was well-known all around the world. I wanted to be Sephiroth or to be with him, to be a part of him. I looked into the mirror and saw a scrawny spiky-haired kid who couldn’t even protect the girl he might have had a crush on.

Instead, she fell from the bridge and was in a coma for a long time. I got blamed for all of it because I was weak, because I couldn’t do anything. But Sephiroth, he was strong. He was everything I was not, and I wanted to be that. I left Nibelheim wanting to meet him, to train like him, to become the next Great General because the prospect of remaining Cloud Strife was dismal. I didn’t want to be that pathetic weak boy from Nibelheim any longer. I wanted to be a leather-clad sex god who could take out a whole damn army with a single sneeze.

Or if I couldn’t be him, I wanted to be with him. He was everything I was not, everything I wanted in the world, and everything I wanted to become. Sephiroth was… I don’t even think there are any words to properly describe him. You know, I don’t think my memory loss started when Hojo first screwed with my mind. I lost my identity a lot sooner, when I idolized everything that Sephiroth was and hated everything that I was. Lack of self-esteem can bring about a lot of changes in a person.

Controlling, I can’t seem to find myself again.

My walls are closing in. I’ve felt this way before so insecure.

In the beginning, I may have had some feelings for Tifa, but with every dismissal, every time she told me I wasn’t good enough, it was a wound on my soul that wouldn’t ever go away. And Sephiroth, he might not remember it now, and he probably won’t ever, but even if I was only an obsessive fan, I was something. Even if I was nothing but a lowly grunt with an admiration that bordered on fixation, Zack knew; he understood. Of course, someone like him wouldn’t know how it felt to be teased and mocked and ridiculed for something that I couldn’t help.

Yeah, I was clumsy. And perhaps I’ve always been a little bit loose in the head, who knows. I’ve never been quite right or ever completely straight.
But while my entire existence now seems to stem from my obsession with Sephiroth, that is not who I am anymore. Now, I’m Cloud Strife, loving husband and soon to be parent. I never would have expected that, not in a million years. From the moment I first met Aeris, I knew there was something there. Zack’s feelings of recognition and care floated within me. His memories of her face and laugh, they were the first things I felt when I saw her.

It was a long time before I could distinguish between his personality and mine, before I realized I wasn’t even half the person I thought I was. I don’t think I’ll ever be me. I don’t even know if there ever was a me.

Discomfort endlessly has pulled itself upon me.

Distracting, reacting.

Who is Cloud Strife, I wonder? The bumbling, weak boy from Nibelheim? The obsessive military cadet, who could never make into SOLDIER? The spiky-headed blond, who attempted to save the world from the only man he had ever loved? The loving and attentive husband attempting to live a normal life now that the world was saved? Did I even know how to be a parent?

Humans spend their entire lives searching for who they are, and sometimes, even at death, we don’t know. I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t think I ever will. Sometimes, it feels like there are walls closing in around me, the walls of my memories, the walls of his memories that won’t ever fade. They are the walls of choices I made or mistakes I’ve suffered: torture, broken hearts, unrequited lust, failure. It weighs heavily, consuming and confusing me until there is nothing left but misery.

So maybe I’m a bit okay now. It doesn’t matter that I still can’t stand to look in the mirror, terrified that I won’t see my eyes but mako green staring back out at me. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself again, if there ever was a myself to begin with. It’s buried so deep beneath the fear and the confusion, the lust and the love. The blood and the pain that has become so ingrained into my existence that I don’t think I can exist without any of it.

I can feel it sometimes, wanting to break out, crawling from beneath my skin. There will always be parts of me, scars like vivid reminders of my failures in my flesh, wounds that won’t heal no matter how much I love or how much I repent. I’m happy, I think, as happy as someone like me can get.

Zack is alive. Sephiroth has returned to some semblance of rationality. I am married, and soon, I will be a father. A dad. I don’t even think I know how, and I’ll be damned if I think I can succeed.

But I do know one thing. I would never let any harm come to my daughter. Ever. That’s just one mistake I refuse to make.

Against my will I stand beside my own reflection.

It’s haunting how I can’t seem to find myself again.

Even when I lose myself to memories of the past or when I’m filled with such a hatred for my own being that I have to run away from it all, I won’t forget that promise that I made. I will protect her. I can’t fail Midori like I failed Aeris. And Zack. And Sephiroth even. It doesn’t matter that they are alive now. Scars like death don’t fade. You never forget that you died once. Trust me, I know. Take this from a guy who’s died several times over.

I suppose that in the end, there’s nothing left to say, but I have accepted it for the most part. I have accepted the subtle insanity that’s come with my existence. I have accepted my lot in life, the things that I have had to suffer. There was really no point in running away from it. None at all.

I may have found my redemption, my peace. Even if I’ll always be confused and always searching, I know that I have somewhere to come home to, someone whose arms will accept me, multiple personalities and everything. Even the obsession for a guy who once tried to destroy the world and all.

People always say that you must first accept yourself before you can expect others to like you. I don’t agree. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to show that they care, and everything after becomes easier.

I won’t ever be able to forget the past; every scar on my body is almost like a trophy to what I suffered and survived. My tattered, patched heart won’t ever forget Sephiroth. I won’t ever push away those memories because they are a part of me. They make me the insane, somewhat deluded man that I am. Even if I don’t know who I am or what I am, I know what I am borne from, what created each and every part of me.

Collectively, I am nameless, but apart, I am so many things. Hero, Friend, Husband, Lover, Obsessive Stalker… heh, yeah, that one’s a bit out there. So it doesn’t matter that I am scared or that I don’t know who Cloud Strife is anymore, if I ever will.

All that matters is that I am who I am, and nothing’s going to change that. A little bit of Zack, a little bit of mako, some Jenova to mix it up, Sephiroth to even it out, Aeris to make me sane, and bits and pieces of the people around me.

So if I can’t seem to find myself again and walls are closing in, I’ll just take it as it comes, letting the wounds and the memories crawl beneath my skin to fester and grow and become a part of me like everything else I’ve suffered. Above all things, I am a survivor. I take each hit and keep on going. For all my failures and faults, that is my strength.

I’ll never give up; I’ll never give in. I’ll always fight to the end, even if the confusion isn’t just in my head… even if the confusing world is real.

Cloud sighed, putting down the pen and folding up the paper into a neat square before allowing his cramping hand to rest. That was possibly the hardest confession he had ever forced himself to write, but it had to be done. There were things he simply couldn’t say aloud but that needed to be admitted nonetheless. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring or the future but to simply have that account somewhere had him relieved. Somehow, someone would understand him.

With a groan of pain, Cloud leaned his head back against the chair, grateful for the relief to his aching neck as he tucked the paper into the top drawer of his desk without looking, shoving it to the very back amidst other piles of nearly forgotten but surely important documents. He clicked off the lamp that leant him its soft glow and stared into the darkness, easily permeated by the glow of his mako eyes.

He could hear Aeris breathing softly in the bed behind him, still blissfully asleep and completely unaware of his doings. There was a battle coming soon; he could feel it in his bones. Every scar on his body ached and tingled, his blood thrumming through his veins. It was a war to end all wars, when even enemies teamed up for the greater good.

His gaze slid over to the Ultimate Weapon, set in its hooks on the wall above him, blade a dim glow in the cloaking darkness of the room. The most powerful weapon he had ever wielded, and yet, it was still nothing in the face of the Masamune. Sephiroth had proven that to him, and Cloud knew he had made the right decision in choosing the former General to take his place.

Even if no one else could, he trusted Sephiroth. Where his memories and his mind had failed him, Cloud trusted his heart. And his heart told him that this Sephiroth was the true one.

Scraping a tired hand through his still jauntily spiked hair, Cloud rose from his chair, silently pushing it back into the desk. He winced as he shook out the lingering cramp in his head before crawling back into bed beside his wife.

She mumbled something in her sleep, immediately turning towards him and nestling into his arms. She wasn’t Sephiroth, but he loved her all the same. This was his future, she and the tiny life growing inside her.

Weariness attacked Cloud from every angle then, and he shuttered his eyes closed against the encroaching darkness and the lingering memories, some good, some bad. He fell asleep to the sound of Aeris’ breathing, Zack’s laughter, and the trill of Sephiroth’s blade as he practiced his kata day after day. Memories of the past, the present, and the future, all soothing his fractured sanity.

And maybe, if he tried hard enough, he wouldn’t even dream.

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