February 2021

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Fic: Lost Memories (FFVII, Cloud, Aeris, Zack, Tifa, Elmyra, implied past C/A/Z/S, PG-13)

Title: Lost Memories
Author: GW Katrina aka [info]icedark_elf
Beta: [info]skeren
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Characters/Pairing: Cloud, Aeris, Zack, Tifa, Elmyra, implied past Cloud/Aeris/Sephiroth/Zack
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 3,735
Warning: Angst
A/N: Sequel to Forgotten Times, and this came about from [info]artimusdin bribing me. Ah, I am such an art slut.


Lost Memories

When Cloud had first joined Shin-Ra, when he had first applied to the SOLDIER program, he had gotten the speech, along with everyone else in his section. It was a talk over the dangers of being a SOLDIER, of the things that might happen during the process that took people from normal to more than human. Of rejections, of people going insane, of people who seemed okay, then suddenly going nuts and trying to kill themselves or the people around them.

Zack had talked about when he had first gotten the shots, the pure mako pushed into his body, and the voices he heard. It was only in dreams, but it felt like a wave of memories hitting him. He didn’t know where they came from, just figured it was some type of odd reaction to the mako. It was a commonly reported symptom, and some people even reported similar things when using materia for long periods of time. Just one of the many odd things.

Cloud had never been sure about the wave of memories thing. He figured that had happened in the lab, but he didn’t remember, so it had never really occurred to him to think of what it felt like.

He wondered if this was what it was like. Everything he was remembering seemed to click two more things into place, and each of those triggered two more and so on. He wanted to scream, but he didn’t. Instead, he drove, pushing the bike as fast as it could go, even his reflexes barely keeping him from wrecking. The empty, dead ground around Midgar was no place to wreck, as very few people ever went out. Not to mention the hungry monsters that roamed the land.

When he had first fled, he had thought about going to the church. But he knew if he did, they would show up. Everyone knew about him spending his time at the church now, not to mention he knew Aeris could reach him easily there. He didn’t want the contact. Not yet. Not when it hurt so much to think of things lost like this.

Attention only partly on his surrounding, Cloud felt his eyes burn. He had lost his glasses somewhere, but he didn’t care. He could pretend the burn was from the wind.

Pretending.

He was good at that. Pretending to be Zack, pretending that he was all right and everything was right with the world after defeating Sephiroth at the Northern Crater.

Course, Aeris was good at pretending, too. And Zack. And Sephiroth. Well, maybe not Sephiroth, though Cloud wondered if the man was as bad as him at remembering this. At remembering what it was like to be with people who had cared unconditionally.

He remembered wanting to be in SOLDIER so bad. At first, it was just to prove to the people back home that he could, that he was good enough for anything he wanted to do. That he was -better- than them. Not the best of reasons, but he had wanted it. Later, it had been because he wanted to be with Zack and Sephiroth and not have them always worry. He remembered the care they took, the way that they had always had to be careful about not hurting him or Aeris. It was both a really good feeling that they cared so much, and somewhat frustrating that they -had- to be so careful. It had to be hard for them, even if they didn’t show it.

Then everything had gone wrong.

Feeling Aeris tug at him, he ignored it. She didn’t do what she had done before, in the forest, he would have wrecked. There was no nice path for him to follow like there had been there. He stopped focusing here, he would hit something. So all she could do was tug, to try to get his attention. Which he shoved away violently. It wasn’t a real sensation, but it was something, and he felt his chest tighten some at the indignation he felt going from her.

He couldn’t deal with it. Not yet. Not right now.

Chest tight and hurting, he sped on, mind emptying of everything except making sure he didn’t get himself killed.

///


Aeris huffed, eyes narrowing as she got pushed away again.

“This is exactly why I didn’t want to push it,” she scowled, glaring at the back of Cloud’s head, though she knew very well that he was ignoring her. Why did he have to be such a boy at times?

“Well, it’s been pushed. Now we got to help figure out how to get him past it,” Zack said softly, hugging her from behind. His chin resting on her head, she leaned back against him.

“Where is he going?” she wondered out loud, trying to figure out if there was a clear destination in mind. “I thought he would come here. This is where he used to come.”

“He’s not heading for the cliff, either,” Zack murmured, no sign in his voice on how he felt about the spot he had died. “I know he goes to visit there a lot, but it’s nowhere close to the direction he’s going. If he’s not heading there, I’m not sure where he’s going.”

Aeris scowled again. “He’s being difficult. Brat.”

Arms tight around her, Zack laugh. “You sound like Seph, babe. And I’m sure he’d be horribly offended if he knew.”

She sighed, leaning against him again. Most people wouldn’t have heard it, but she knew that tone in Zack’s voice when he mentioned Sephiroth. “We’ll get him back. Someday.” A small, sad smile. “The four of us do seem to have our issues, don’t we. I wonder what will happen when it’s finally time for Cloud to join us? He’s what ties you and Sephiroth here, after all. I don’t know what we will do once it’s time to go. Or even if you guys can. Nobody has ever been tangled up like you guys before.”

“I know. But Spike doesn’t, so lets ignore it for now. And figure out how we’re going to get him to listen to us.”

“If he’d stop being such a boy, it would go better.”

Zack laughed again, and she couldn’t help but smile. It always made her feel better when Zack laughed. It was his special gift, she was sure of it. And she was glad he never really lost it, no matter what had happened to him in life.

Relaxing against him, she focused on Cloud, and simply followed him. It was all she could do for now. Until he decided to allow them to try to help.

She only hoped that they could help.

///


Tifa sighed, looking in the box. The others were still here, but she had decided to not watch any more of the videos. Not after Cloud’s reaction. She wondered what the smaller box had held, but she wasn’t going to touch that. Not after Cloud’s reaction to them watching the videos.

She felt guilty. Not as guilty as she should, she knew, but there was definitely guilt there. But, as much as she knew it upset Cloud, Tifa couldn’t help but be fascinated with the life he had had. It made her wonder what would have happened if Nibelheim had not happened like it did. Would Cloud have ever come home, would she have ever left, would the four who had been together still be together?

It was something that was strangely easy to picture. Tifa could see Aeris, safe from everything, somehow, with a kid or two following her around, most likely with adorable spikes of hair. Maybe even one with pale, silvery hair. Zack and Cloud would either still be military, or, somehow, Cloud would have gotten involved with chocobos. She could see that, as well. Perhaps even gotten Sephiroth out of the army. Though she was sure it would have involved Hojo dying in some way.

Of course, if that had happened, Vincent would still be asleep, she would have never joined Avalanche, most of the group would have never met each other, and Shinra would have still been killing the planet.

It was easy to see how things could have gone if Nibelheim had never burned, but, in a horrible way, she was glad it had.

Damn the greater good.

She still could hurt for her friend. He had gone through so much, and she knew that he was still missing such big chunks of everything. For her to know more than him....

Tifa was going to put the box away. She really was. If Cloud wanted to share with them, he would.

But as she put the vid-discs away, she saw a picture, laying loose in the bottom of the box. Collecting it, she stood there, ignoring the others as she studied it.

It was Cloud, Zack, and Sephiroth, dressed up.

Obviously some type of military event, Cloud was in the dress uniform she had seen troops wear on very rare occasions. Dress blues, and he looked so young. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen. She knew he had been sixteen when Nibelheim had happened, or close to it.

Zack wasn’t much older, but the officer’s uniform had helped. She had never seen the man in anything besides his SOLDIER uniform, but apparently Shin-Ra had officers uniforms as well, and made their SOLDIERs wear them too. Even Sephiroth, if this picture was any indication. Those seem to be black with dark blue markings. Why did Shin-Ra put its people into so much blue?

In the picture, Zack was grinning like an idiot, arms slung over Sephiroth and Cloud’s shoulders. Cloud had a small, bemused smile on his face, obviously rolling his eyes at Zack, and Sephiroth looked like he was only moments from doing the same. It was amazing what Zack seemed to get away with around the icy general.

Tifa hurt for them. All of them.

Nobody had deserved what had happened. Not even Sephiroth.

Sighing, she put the picture back in the box and folded it close. Cloud would share if he wanted to.

She hoped he’d let her explain. Even if she didn’t deserve it.

///


Elmyra wasn’t expecting to see him when she came home.

But when she walked up to her home, after catching a ride back to where she lived, she saw him, sitting next to his bike, and looking almost...defeated. That simply wouldn’t do, and she walked right up to him.

As she drew closer, she could see the tension in him, the way he trembled faintly. Even closer, and he looked up at her, and she saw that he was grey. It was visible, even under the dust he had all over himself. His eyes stood out even more than normal, and they burned so bright that she couldn’t help but feel worried for him. Absently, she wondered if it hurt, to have eyes that glowed like that.

“Why?” he asked suddenly, voice sounding so very, very broken. Elmyra realized suddenly that the marks on his face were where tears had washed away dust. She decided to be honest.

“Do you know,” she said softly, crouching slowly in front of him, “how much it hurts to lose everyone that means something to you?” The look he gave her told her that, yes, he did. “Did you know before you remembered them? You have Tifa, the children, your friends.”

“I watched each of them die,” he told her softly. “I’ve helped kill them all, really. It’s -my- fault my people died. How do you think that makes me feel?” The tone of his voice told her more than his eyes did. He was far too good at keeping his eyes blank of emotions, but his voice, oh, she could hear a heart falling to pieces in that voice.

Sitting, as her old bones weren’t going to go along with the crouching idea, Elmyra studied him. “What do you remember?”

Rubbing his hand across his eyes, he sighed, and she was struck again by how young he seemed. How old was he? Twenty two? Twenty three? Couldn’t be older than that. He was sixteen the year he had vanished, twenty one or so when he reappeared. How much of that time had he really gotten to live? She was aware that he had been held prisoner, trapped in a place she wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

“I remember bits and pieces. Aeris’s birthday, a few of the little day trips we were able to steal time for. Not as much as I’d like to remember. But enough.” He looked at her, far too young, far too lost. “Why did you do it like this?” A child’s question, and she couldn’t help but feel her heart hurt.

“You took my baby from me.” It wasn’t a good answer, but it was a true one. Standing, she dusted herself off, then offered a hand to him. “Come inside. I’ll make you something to eat, and we’ll talk. I didn’t approve of what she had with the three of you, but I did know about it. Let’s see if I can’t fill in some gaps, and you can tell me what happened.”

He looked at her, uncertainty in his eyes, and that hurt her a little bit. But he took her hand, and let her pull him along.

Well, lets see if she couldn’t help piece him back together.

///


Cloud wasn’t totally sure how he ended up here, but he was. Sitting in Elmyra’s kitchen, drinking a cup of hot tea, with a lot of honey in it, and blinking a bit dazedly as she puttered around and fixed food. So -that- was where Aeris had gotten it from.

His fingers tightened on the cup, and he hurriedly forced himself to relax before he cracked it. That wouldn’t do any good, and just cost Elmyra a good glass.

Still unsure of why she had done what she had done, he found he had a good idea of it. Punishment. Something he wasn’t sure if he really needed more of, but she seemed to think so, and if anyone had a reason to feel that way, it was her.

Sipping at the tea, he remembered, now anyway, the way she used to look at him. At first, it hadn’t been bad, but when Aeris has introduced him as someone who worked with Shin-Ra, he remembered her eyes going hard. Now he knew why, but then he had just thought she was one of the many people who just didn’t like Shin-Ra. It wasn’t too uncommon under the plate. Part of the reason he never went under with his uniform on, not unless he was with a group. It was dangerous, especially for normal people. He couldn’t remember how many times they had been told about troops being rolled by people underplate, and a good number of them ending up dead. Still, he wasn’t sure how many of the stories weren’t exaggerated, but, still, he did his guard up.

Now he knew why she had acted the way she had, but it was still just something to be accepted and moved past. Still, it hurt, what she had done.

Setting the plate in front of him, she settled on the other side of the table, watching him, a glass of her own in her hand. “Eat. And tell me what you mean about the comment on killing them.”

As if he’d want to eat while talking about that. Still, he picked at the sandwich, eyes focused on it as he talked. “Sephiroth, well, him it’s easy to explain. I keep killing him. Done it three time now, I think. In Nibelheim. In the Crater. And in Midgar. He needed put down, but....” How was he supposed to explain how much it hurt now? In Nibelheim, well, fury had carried him past the shock and hurt Sephiroth’s betrayal had caused. Now, well, he was still mad at the man, but more tired of it all, really.

“Zack got us out of the labs. I wasn’t in the best of shape. Don’t remember much of what happened, but I know he died protecting me. And I was too out of it to do a damn thing to help.” Bitterness was hot in his throat. If he had been better, stronger, more aware, maybe he would have been more active and been able to help Zack. Maybe the man wouldn’t have had to die.

Cloud still wished sometimes that he had been the one to die, not Zack.

“As for Aeris.... I almost killed her myself. But I didn’t. But I just...stood there. She looked up at me and -smiled- and then Sephiroth....”

The glass cracked, and he spat out a curse, only to flush as he caught himself. “Um, sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Elmyra said softly, moving to collect a towel and take the glass from him. Giving him the towel in exchange, she moved to set the cup next to the sink as he cleaned up tea. “Have you talked to her?”

“Um....” He hedged, not wanting to admit he talked to dead people, and that they talked back sometimes. People thought he was crazy enough as it was, and he really didn’t need to help that impression along, even if it was more true than not.

“I’m not completely out of touch, Cloud. I know she talks to me at times. I get the feeling I’ll be getting an earful tonight when I try to sleep over all of this. So I know she’s watching us. Try talking to her. It might help you feel better.”

Cloud didn’t say anything for a long moment, instead focusing on the towel. “Would you come with me?” he asked suddenly, not looking up.

“What?”

Now he did look up, and he didn’t even try to hide the pleading in his expression. “Please? There’s something I want to show you.”

He hoped that Aeris didn’t let him down, and that she was still willing to talk to him, even after him ignoring her earlier.

After a moment, Elmyra nodded. “All right,” she said. “You deserve that much.”

///


Zack was relieved when Cloud showed up at the church.

The guest, however, surprised him.

“Mom,” he heard Aeris murmur, and she moved closer to the pair. Cloud helped Elmyra off the bike, and they both moved into the church, Cloud keeping an eye on the older woman, making sure she didn’t trip over anything. The blond waved towards where the pool was. “That’s where Aeris’s flowers used to be. But now it’s the healing water. Aeris’s gift, I think. It cures Geostigma.” Zack didn’t miss the way that Cloud absently rubbed his arm, but he and Aeris had known the man had been sick before anyone else except for Sephiroth.

“Aeris, Zack. I know you guys are watching. Come out and say hello.”

Cloud’s voice, sounding loud and clear, and Zack exchanged a startled look with Aeris, both surprised that he was calling for them with someone else around. Still, it didn’t seem to slow Aeris down at all, and she let her image shimmer into existence in the waters she had helped call forth.

Hello, Cloud. Mom. It’s been a while since we talked.

Elmyra was pale, and Zack hoped she didn’t do anything like passing out. That would have been bad for everyone, but the older woman rallied herself and sat next to the pool, still pale, eyes wide. “Aeris?”

Yeah, it’s me, Mom. I’ve missed you a lot. But don’t think I’m not upset with you right now for what you did to Cloud. The younger woman frowned faintly, then smiled at the pair. But it looks like you guys are making up, so that’s good.

“Zack,” Cloud said again, looking for an image of the dark haired man, though Zack was hanging back. He and Elmyra’s last talk had not been the best, and he really didn’t want to cause any situations. Best to just hang back, though he did ruffle Cloud’s hair, just to let him know that Zack was there. As if he was ever far away from Cloud.

Zack, no need to be shy, Aeris said to him, voice soft as she reached out for him. She’s not still upset with you, I promise. He knew that her voice was just for him, and he smiled at her.

It’s okay. No need to stir up bad feelings. I know she was never fond of me, anyway.

You were stealing her baby girl from her, in a way. Didn’t even have anything to do with you being a SOLDIER.

I know, babe. Trust me, I know. Still hadn’t helped the last conversation they had had, and he really didn’t want to get tangled up with that now.

“Zack,” Elmyra’s voice caught his attention. “I’m sorry. I never should have said what I did. Why don’t you make your grand appearance so I can apologize properly.”

No need for apologies, he said, taking his place next to Aeris in the pool. I know you were just trying to protect her. Which is always a good thing in my book.

“Still, it must have hurt. I think I’m going to be doing a lot of apologizing today.” Elmyra’s voice was soft, and she had a rueful look on her face.

Zack gave Aeris a hug as he watched the woman, and then grinned. No need for that. At least not to me. Let’s talk about happier things. I know that they are there.

Cloud broke in. “Tell me,” he said softly. “Please?” A shaky breath. “Tell me about us?”

We can do that, Aeris said softly, her eyes full of affection and sadness. We can tell you as much as you want to know.

Zack got comfortable. This was going to take a long time. But it was about time this had happened. Cloud needed to remember what had happened before. Needed to remember the good times.

They all did.

So that was what they were going to do.

Comments

MEh! *Tears up, cuddles Cloud* Poor Cloud! That hurt my heart! The fact that he went to Elmyra....well, there's really noone else he could have gone to, poor thing. *Huggles all of them* They need to Fix Sephiroth and then the Planet needs to spit the other three out so they can make happy little Spiky Haired Babies! This was just amazing. The not so happy conclusion to events, sadly. But still amazing! Thank you for writing this.