Track Ten – Cloud/Aeris – Memories
“If I can’t protect you, promise you’ll run.”
“What? Cloud, no. I can’t–“
“Just promise. Protect Midori and run.”
I never realized when he said those words that he must have already known what was going to happen. I thought he was being cautious, making sure that I knew where my priorities lay. I never expected that I would have to actually follow through with my promise, that I would have to turn my back on the man I loved to ensure the safety of my child. I never thought I would have to leave him behind.
I know that if there was any other way, he would have found it. I should have known from the dreams what was coming, the whispered warnings and the uneasy ache that had settled inside of me. But I wanted to hope; I dared to dream that everything would come out all right in the end. After all, it had for Cid and Vincent, hadn’t it?
My hope turned to ashes, however, on that night. I do not blame anyone, not like some who would chose to place the fault on Sephiroth. He cannot help the plans of a creature determined to destroy all that we hold dear. Nor can he help my husband’s desire to protect Midori and me. I can only pray now that Cloud is finally at peace, that the Lifestream watches over him and that he is patient for the day that I can join him, well after Midori is grown and raised. When I, too, can rest.
It hurts. I don’t think anyone can understand just how much. To know that I am all alone now with a child growing in my belly but without a husband. I have my friends, yes, but they are nothing like having him beside me. We suffered so much to be together, and in the end, we were left with nothing at all. Midori is all I have left of him other than the memories. They ease the pain but do not cure it.
Every single smile and moment in our lives, they keep him close to me, deep in my heart. Sometimes, I feel like he is right beside me, quiet and contemplative, maybe even with that cute confused expression. My perpetually brooding blond… that was Cloud. He was fiercely devoted, and despite the rare occasions he just wanted some time to himself, I knew that he loved me. I returned the sentiment with equal fervor.
Now, every time I sit with a silent moment of my own, I cannot help but imagine him beside me, especially since Midori is growing, eager to break free of the womb and greet the world. I imagine that he is here, smiling gently as he feels her kick, just as he used to before Balaam took him from me. I am grateful that I did not have to see the final blow, even if I did feel it in my heart. Still, every memory brings nothing but silent whispers of loneliness and silent tears of longing.
“You’re stronger than me, but if something ever happened…” *Sigh* “I’m not sure what I’m saying. I just want you to be happy. Even if I’m not here.”
“Must you always be so pessimistic? Why can’t things work out in the end?”
“Aeris, I’m being serious here.”
“I know, and it’s cute. But you don’t have to worry about me, Cloud. I can’t promise that I’ll love again, but I won’t wallow in misery. Will that suffice?”
I used to think that my gift to speak with spirits and the Lifestream was a curse, especially when I was younger. I didn’t want to hear the voices or the pleadings. I didn’t want to hear their sad stories, ones that left me crying in my sleep. I didn’t want to hear what the Planet had to say or all the spirits trying to get messages to their loved ones. They frightened me, they saddened me, and as a child, it was far too much to handle.
As I grew older, I accepted that they weren’t leaving anytime soon, and slowly, I began to listen. I cried at the stories, laughed at some, offered consolation and comfort, and promised to deliver messages if the chance arose. I learned what words to look for in the Planet’s murmurings, and grudgingly, I began to understand. I still wished for occasional silence but stopped hating my gift.
Now, I am most grateful for it. While I have not been able to directly speak to him, I can sense his presence, his relief for my safety. It is the best that I can do to be assured that is okay. His relief is my only consolation that perhaps things turned out for the best. If I had been the one to die, losing our child in the process, I cannot believe that he would have survived. His guilt would have consumed him.
I am somewhat glad that our home was destroyed. I do not think I could have returned there, not with all the memories ingrained in every room. Despite having only lived there for a short time, it was where we planned to build our life and family together. It was where we had built all of our hopes and dreams, which were ironically shattered so easily by Balaam. It almost makes me wonder if there is some cruel deity out there laughing as he watches us suffer.
And though it hurts, I hold on to the memories because I do not ever want to forget. Every moment, every laugh, every tear, even every argument, I hold them close like precious jewels because they are what sustain me. I imagine I can hear the echoes of his voice around me, the soft coos to Midori in my womb or his laughter as he tells one lame joke after another. He tried to be a comedian, but more often than not, I smiled out of politeness. It was so cute though.
In the utter silence that surrounds me, I imagine I can feel his touch, just a brief caress across my arm, a soft whisper across my cheek. At night, when the tears are drying on my cheeks and I am clutching tightly to a blanket in a bed that no matter how small always feels far too large, I almost believe I can hear him whisper something soothing.
The others try to comfort me, but they do not understand how thin the ice I walk is. I am holding onto my sanity by a bare thread; my strength only just enough. If they comfort me, I will crack. If they offer their consolation, I will shatter in too many pieces to be healed. It is easier to cope if they simply let me handle it on my own. For Midori, I must be strong, so I cannot break.
“You have that look on your face again. Should I be worried? Why the grin?”
“We’re having a baby, Cloud.”
“I’m flying to the moon. What did you think I meant? I’m pregnant.”
He had smiled then, probably the biggest grin I had ever seen on his face. For a moment, I had been worried that he wasn’t ready to be a father, but in the next second, he had picked me up and swirled me around, embracing me tightly. He was ecstatic, laughing as he kept repeating, “I’m going to be a father. I’m going to be a dad!”
“What do you think? It’s not the greatest of places, and it needs a little work, but look, there is plenty of backyard space and even room for the baby.”
“It’s perfect. And close to both the flower shop and the church.”
“Where we first met.”
“You mean where you fell in and crushed my flowers. You still haven’t given me any compensation for that.”
“Reno came in and stepped all over them after I fell. Send the bill to ShinRa or better yet, straight to Reno. I’d love to see the look on his face.”
The first time we met, I knew there was something familiar in his eyes. A glow that I recognized from SOLDIER. He even dressed like Zack, carried the same sword. They were so much alike, and he had even adopted some of the same mannerisms. I couldn’t help but worry if my attraction to him was because of the lingering memories of Zack.
But I quickly learned that while he had much in common with my former boyfriend, they were also startling different. While I never fell in love with Zack, I found myself falling head over heels for Cloud, for his determination, his pride… his confusion. He was someone who needed to be fixed, and I was desperate to be needed by someone that I could actually help. For once, I could do something about the voices.
“I’m amazed that you don’t blame me.”
“Letting you die in the first place. Sephiroth was there; I saw him. But all I could do was stand and watch, letting him control me. I’ve always been like that. A failure in everything I do. Even protecting you.”
“Not that I made it any easier on my bodyguard. I left first remember? I did not expect you to fight Sephiroth. He was simply too strong, too… manipulative. I wanted to fight that battle for you, be your bodyguard for once.”
“…I don’t want to live through that again.”
Now, I know what he must have felt when I died. It is the same pain that strikes my heart everyday. Lonely beds, empty hands, lingering memories, nothing tastes the same anymore. Memories of us together, his smile, less rare the longer we were together, everything that I hold dear. I don’t think that he will ever be replaced in my heart. I am certain that I will love him until the end of time.
I have no choice but to live, to be strong for those around me and for my dear daughter. For the time until we are reunited again, I will keep my memories near to me. I will let the silent moments be my time to dream. And only in the dark, when I am alone and no one can see the pain, I will allow the silent tears with silent whispers of imagined comfort against my cheek.