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FF7 Fic: Another Chance

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FF7 Fic: Another Chance

This isn't Oh Gracious Twist of Fate, but another ficlet that's been driving me nuts. It's an alternate ending of Advent Children. What you need to ignore from the movie is under the cut.

Special thanks to [info]forgottenlover for playing beta for me. OT4 time, people. Now I have one for ever number from 2-5, and a 7 besides. *grins*

Warning: Alternate Ending for Advent Children. Basically, act as if Aeris and Zack don't say goodbye in the church.

Another Chance

On the first floor of the church, celebrations were still going on. Even though night had long since fallen, people were still appearing, guided by lights and rumors. Rumors that the water in this ruined place would cure those who had Geostigma. Water where Cloud Strife had appeared from nowhere, Lifestream itself flashing under the hands of the children before he had simply been there.

So people came. Those who had not been outside when the healing rain had fallen came to be healed. Those who were already cured, or who had never been sick, came to see the miracle with their own eyes. To see the stain of sickness fade away in the green spark of the Lifestream.

And yet others came to see the heros. Those people who had battled the creature in the city, who had fought Sephiroth himself just a few short years ago. One of them, Cloud, had even brought the healing waters with him when he risen from where ever he had come from. At least that was what was being whispered.

Those sort of rumors where what had finally drove Cloud into hiding. Unwilling to completely abandon his friends to the seething mass of humanity who were currently destroying the flowers and making far too much noise, Cloud had retreated instead. He had avoided people as much as possible for two years now, and suddenly being forced to deal with so many made him...twitchy. Especially with the near worship more than a few were already directing his way.

So he had escaped. Having been the only one to really explore the church since the destruction of Meteor, he quickly found himself a comfortable spot on the next level up. He managed to catch Vincent's eye so his friends would know he hadn't bolted, then settled back into the shadows. Sighing, Cloud leaned against the handy wall and watched the people. Now that he was no longer the center of focus, he felt much calmer. So many of those below had wanted to see him, talk to him, touch him. They kept talking about how amazing he was for simply appeared in the water, for being at the center of the magic. Ignoring him when he said he wasn't the cause of the healing, he just happened to be there. And far, far too many people had reached for him, running their hands and fingers on him without asking.

Damn it, wasn't a church supposed to be a place of sanctuary? Of peace? What had happened to that? Cloud saw the answer all to readily. Peace was shattered by so many joyous people and too bright lights. As for sanctuary....

Cloud's sanctuary had been ripped from him more times than he could remember. Than he wanted to remember.

Why was he always the one left behind?

"I'm tired," he whispered, the words lost before they reached even his ears. "Why do you constantly send me back? Why can't I ever stay? Is it because I keep killing him, or am I doing something else wrong?"

A hand came to rest lightly on his shoulder. Cloud didn't even flinch. Even though they had made not a sound, he knew his visitors were there. "It's nothing you've done wrong, Spike. You were never sent back as a punishment."

The voice, male and full of sad humor, was as familiar as the touch, and Cloud wished he could lean into it. But past experience told him that if he tried, he would fall, and the voice and touch would vanish. So, instead, he stayed slumped against the wall and simply wished this could go on forever.

"If it's not a punishment, I wonder what is. It certainly feels like one."

"Oh, Cloud," came a second voice, sweet and soft, and Cloud almost cried. "You weren't supposed to be this sad. It hurts us to see you bleed inside like you are." Slender fingers brushed through his hair. "We had hoped you would find someone new."

Watching people come together below him, Cloud felt his eyes burn. "Don't you get it," he whispered, voice rough. "I don't want to find someone new. I had all I could ever want, and you all ended up going away. All of you, and left me alone. And when I get the chance to see you again, to be with you, I'm told no and sent back."

He lifted a shaking hand and rubbed his dry eyes. They burned so bad, and Cloud almost wished the tears would come. Maybe they would drive out the pain. Or maybe not. At least tears would blur their forms so he would only see them as vague shapes, and not the details that would hurt even more.

"And the one I do see, I'm forced to destroy," Cloud continued. "I'm just so very, very tired."

His eyes, marked with Mako, burned bright in the shadowed place he sat in. It was so dim where he sat, it was hard to believe that the floor below him was lit so bright it had no shadows. Somehow, that seemed rather poetic. They were the happy ones down there, who's lives had been full of shadows, and who now had hope. And that hope made their world light up.

But Cloud's hope was dead. Dead and gone, in a place he couldn't touch, and was beginning to think he never was.

"One as young as you shouldn't wish to die so bad, Cloud."

The deep voice made him hurt even worse than the first two, the grip on his heart squeezed so tight that Cloud thought it would simply collapsed. An almost bitter snort escaped him. "You are one to talk. I've heard you talk about escaping your pain that way. And then we came along, and you feared for your life too much to try to die, because you knew we'd drag you back and kick your ass." A raspy, shaky breath. "And now I'm the same, but I don't have anyone coming for me. I've all ready had you."

"You have your friends, Cloud," she whispered again, and he shut his eyes as the feel of her braid slid across his back seconds before she wrapped her arms around him in a hug. "They love you, and it would destroy them if they lost you."

Silence for a moment. Instead of speaking right away, Cloud concentrated on how the stone felt cool against his skin, how the noise of the crowd seemed so much dimmer now, how the multitude of candles used to light the church filled the room with the overwhelming scent of beeswax. He did all that, and put his thoughts in order. Behind him, three ghosts were silent, giving him his time.

"They're losing me either way," he finally answered, feeling the truth of it in his heart. A growing darkness was there. It used to appear on his body in the form of Geostigma, but now it was a dulled, hurting emptiness that ate away at him. "I know they care for me, and maybe even love me, but it just doesn't fit right. Like a puzzle that's missing pieces, nothing else is going to fit in the blank spots without sacrifice."

"And if they choose to make that sacrifice? If they choose to try to fit into that blankness?" The deep voice again, this time Cloud could hear the worry that was so normally hidden. That was enough to tell him they were losing. And, while he didn't want them to lose, he didn't want them to win either, because it was his life they were playing with, and he was so tired of it. Tired of it all.

"Then that will simply leave other blank places, and I'm tired of sacrificing myself. Selfish, I know, but I'm just not willing to give up what little I have left."

"Spike...."

"No. Please.... Just, no." Cloud shut his eyes again, wondering when he had opened them once more. He couldn't deal with it, the flash of pain in the eyes that looked at him. He never wanted to hurt them, but he just couldn't deal with this anymore. He had saved the world once, save it from being in danger a second time. Died, at least once that he was aware of. He had watched as the three people who he loved more than anything died in front of him, because of him. Wasn't that enough? Hadn't he gone through enough?

He was on the edge, teetering dangerously, and found he couldn't care enough to save himself.

Somehow, he wasn't sure how, he could sense them looking at each other. There was no noise, no shifting of clothing or bodies, but he knew it just the same. Finally, a soft hand touched his face. "Cloud, please, open your eyes."

Not wanting to, but not willing to ignore the soft plea in that deep voice, Cloud did open his eyes. He watched as silver hair was swept back, and Sephiroth leaned forward to kiss him. It wasn't much, not even a real feeling, but Cloud could feel the sensation ghost over him. Either his own memories providing the sensation or, for once, the spirits being able to be solid for a moment. When Sephiroth pulled away, his own face was full of sadness.

"You can't enter the Lifestream, Cloud," he said, sounding almost as bitter as Cloud felt. "The Planet chose you. For her, you are her Knight, her protector. As such, she won't let you leave. Until she finds someone better, you will be forced to stay here."

Strangely, Cloud felt.... Nothing. All the bitterness, the anger, the fear, simply vanished. It was pointless. Everything he did was pointless. No matter what happened, he would be able to do nothing.

Cold washed over him, and Cloud curled in on himself, arms wrapping around knees and burying his face against them, shivering, and wished for nothing more than for everything to stop.

"Spike. Spike, come on. Don't do this. Please? Let us finish before you shut down, please?"

The almost frantic tone of the voice was what made Cloud uncurl enough to watch them with vacant blue eyes. "Come on, Spike. Don't look like that. It reminds me of after the labs."

Another shiver racked Cloud's body at the reminder of what had happened after the labs, but a bit more life appeared in his eyes, and he looked at Zack finally. "What else is there to say? I'm stuck here, and I can't leave."

"There are some choices for you, if you wish," Aeris said, her eyes full of pain as well. "Gaia, as her gift, is letting you decide what will happen next."

"Next?"

A bit of relief crossed the other three's faces. At least Cloud was responding, and that made them relax a bit. "Yes," Aeris continued, her hand reaching out to brush Cloud's cheek. Again, he felt the phantom touch. "You're first choice is this. Sleep. If you want, the Planet will let you sleep between the times she needs you, and let your spirit access the Lifestream. You wouldn't be dead, but neither would you be awake and alone."

"Second choice," Zack started, picking up where she had left. "Rebirth. You know that life is constantly being reborn, recycled like cans, almost. Well, you would stay here, but we three would continue to be reborn, over and over, and coming to find you. She would let us remember you, and let us find you." A grin. "Like a giant Cloud homing device."

Sighing softly at his lover's comments, Sephiroth continued. "The last choice is that we are brought back as we were. Before the madness and the death, and we are tied with you forever. We can't die until you do, and can't enter the Lifestream until you do."

Aeris picked up the explanation again. "The choice is yours, Cloud. What ever you decide will be what happens. Just say it."

It was tempting to just say the third choice, to have them back as his side, but....

"What do you guys think?" For the first time in a while, Cloud smiled softly at the three identical looks of shock. "We were together," he said, answering their unasked question. "Whatever I decide, it will affect you as well. And I will not chose without your opinions."

"You know, I remember why I love you, Spike," Zack said, his smile brilliant. Aeris and Sephiroth were also smiling, each a bit more subtle, but there. Cloud felt relieved. He had been so afraid that asking might break the spell, void all the options. Gaia was a bitch at times, and he didn't want to anger her if possible.

"It is your choice, Cloud," Sephiroth started, but held up his hand as Cloud opened his mouth to debate. "But you are right when you say it will affect us. So I will say this. Number three is my favored one, because it would mean we would be together all the time."

Zack grinned. "Rebirth would be interesting just to see what we would look like, but I already grew up once." He ignored the snort that came from Sephiroth's direction, and the eyeroll Aeris and Cloud shared. "Don't really feel like going through it again. And I don't like the idea of your body just sitting here empty." The black haired man shivered. "I vote for three as well."

In the end, Aeris said it best. "I love you, Cloud Strife. I want to be at your side forever and a day."

Looking at all of them, Cloud felt his eyes burn again. He nodded. "Choice number three it is, then." A pause. "How will you come back? Where do I need to go?"

Aeris grinned. "All you'll have to do is to reach for us under the water. Down there, "she pointed to where the water glittered in the candlelight as people still watched as it healed newcomers of Geostigma. "Just reach down and pull us out."

With that, she, and the two men, vanished.

Cloud stood, and started making his way for the ground floor again. There would be chaos, there would be problems as the others saw who had come back, but it wouldn't matter. He would have them at his side again. And with them, he could face anything.