You'll find better love
Strong as it ever was
Deep as a river runs
Warm as the morning sun
Please remember me
Remember me when you're out walking
So much had happened in so short a time. Everything had been turned upside down. Some people had lost everything, including their lives. Yet, somehow our small group, eclectic yet strangely tight-knit, had managed to escape. Those last events remain a blur in my mind. All I remember is facing Sephiroth and the blood that spilled forth from his body. And then everything around me began to crumble. I remember seeing one woman's face in my mind and I found myself reaching for her outstretched hand, only to find that the hand that grasped mine was not hers, but another's.
All that happened a little less than a year ago. At first, we all stuck together, using each other as an anchor in the chaos. While the earth had been saved by the lifestream, it had not escaped unscathed. A lot of dust and debris had been blown into the atmosphere and this soon messed up the weather patterns all around the planet. It's amazing how one impact can do so much. But I witnessed the transformation of luscious meadows into arid deserts. I saw snow melt from mountaintops, flooding valleys and rendering farmland unusable. Monsoons raged against the coastlands. But don't get me wrong, the planet wasn't completely destroyed. We were never forced to live underground and eat grubs or whatever. I also saw desert lands bloom and I saw life triumphing everywhere. In the aftermath, people banded together and enemies put aside their differences.
Life continued, as it always will. I'm sitting here now, writing this and I'm almost feeling like I'm someone else...like these words aren't even mine. Because one year ago, I wasn't really sure about anything. I didn't know who I was. Sometimes I still don't.
But we stayed together in the beginning in Nibelheim. Then gradually one by one, we parted ways. First, Barrett left. We all knew he would. He wanted to get back to Marlene as soon as he could. That much was evident. So as soon as he saw that life was becoming stable again, he left. Yuffie returned to Wutai soon after. Her home had been ravaged by monsoons due to the changing weather patterns. I just wish I had checked my supply of materia before I waved goodbye to her. Come to think of it, she had a kind of smirk on her face. But I don't think she meant us any malice. Some things just never change.
The next to go was Vincent. One morning, we woke up and he simply wasn't there anymore. But none of us were surprised. He wasn't the type to wait for long, drawn-out goodbyes. He knew he had to move on when the proper time came. Nanaki returned to Cosmo Canyon and Cait Sith was called back to Kalm Town by Reeve. And so there were only three of us left: me, Tifa, and Cid.
Cid was restless. He wanted to stay and help us out. There were many refugees settling in Nibelheim. They sought us out and for a while, he seemed content being in the middle of everything and being considered a hero. But Tifa and I both knew he was thinking of Shera the whole time. She woke me up in the middle of the night one night.
"Cloud, get up..." She gently shook my shoulder.
She didn't have to say anything more. Silently, I rose from my bed and followed her outside. Cid was sitting in the middle of the ground, staring up at the sky. It seemed a pretty strange thing for him to be doing. I cleared my throat and he jerked his head around to face us.
"Are you alright?" Tifa asked with concern in her voice.
He shook his head and after a few seconds hesitation, opened his mouth. "Can I give you two a word of advice?" Tifa and I exchanged glances but looked back at Cid and nodded. We walked towards him and sat down. I began to graze my fingers lightly over the cool grass, feeling the dew that had started to collect. Cid continued, "Always be true to what you feel inside." His gaze shifted back towards the stars. "I've had a lot of time to think, especially with everything that's happened lately. I'm crazy about Shera. I really am and yet, at the same time, I've let trivial things get in the way. Figure out what you really feel inside and act on it before it's too late. Don't ever jump into anything half-heartedly because, well...because you may @#%^$& screw yourself later." He stood up and brushed himself off. "I'm going to bed now. I'm @*#%^ tired!" We watched him walk back into the house. Tifa laughed lightly.
"I've never seen him so serious!"
"I know," I agreed.
"He really misses her. Well, I'm going back to bed too." She stood up and leaned over to kiss me.
"Goodnight," I told her and watched her walk back into the house. Cid's words stuck with me. Figure out what you really feel inside and act on it before it's too late. He was right. I had a wonderful person who would never leave my side. She was smart and beautiful and everything I had ever wanted in a companion. More than that, she was my friend. My best friend. Act on it before it's too late. We had kind of settled into a relationship with each other, and yet nothing was actually ever said, but rather implied. Maybe I needed to act on it and make it something more. I nodded to myself. Yes, that was exactly what I needed to do and yet...
But something else Cid had said was intruding on my thoughts. Don't ever jump into anything half-heartedly because, well...because you may @#%^$& screw yourself later. I tried to tell myself that loving Tifa and spending my life with her wouldn't be half-hearted, but I knew that wasn't the case. Every night, I kissed Tifa on the forehead, caressed her, and held her in my arms, swearing that I would always be there for her and always protect her. Yet once my eyes closed, another person's face would appear in my thoughts. Someone good and kind, beautiful and brave. A Cetra who sacrificed herself. A woman who saved us all. How could I promise Tifa that I would always be loyal to her when my subconscious thoughts and desires turned my words into lies?
I didn't go inside that night. I laid back on the grass and fell asleep under the stars. Cid returned to Shera that next morning. He said he only hoped he wasn't too late and that he could show her what he had really felt all those years and that he hoped he wouldn't revert back to the way he had always been. I hoped the same for him. I knew it wouldn't be easy. It's hard to wake up one morning and change who you are. But at the same time, if anyone could do it, I knew he could. Tifa embraced him and I shook his hand and then watched as he too walked away.
"Tifa, can I talk to you?" I asked after Cid left.
"Of course! Is something wrong?" her eyes widened with concern.
"I was just thinking about what Cid said to us last night," I began. I didn't know how to tell her what I needed to tell her. Her reaction made it harder.
"Me too!" Her face brightened and she threw her arms around me, clinging to me. "He said to act on what you really feel before it's too late. Cloud, he's right. You mean everything to me. I need to let you know that."
I stood there, stroking her long hair and my mouth suddenly grew dry. How could I tell her that while she meant a lot to me too, she wasn't my everything? How could I tell her that a portion of myself belonged to another? "Me too," I finally ended up telling her. "Me too..."
I decided to visit Nanaki shortly after that incident. He was glad to see me, of course, and we talked a while before he finally asked, "Why are you here?"
"To see you!" I exclaimed.
"Why are you really here?" he raised one eyebrow.
"Because...I need to ask you something," I finally admitted. "Because I trust your judgment. More than I trust my own right now." I briefly outlined everything that was going through my mind and asked him what I should do. He paced for a few seconds before answering and when he did, his words came out slowly and deliberately.
"My judgment means nothing. When it comes down to it, the only person you should be listening to about this matter should be yourself." He saw my face fell and added, "But I'll tell you what I think anyhow. Cid was right about one thing. You shouldn't enter into anything half-heartedly. In some cases, your heart might change if you did, but in others, you might never be happy and you'd end up making others unhappy. My advice is to really search yourself. Weigh every option. Consider every choice. If there's any doubt you have about what you feel for Tifa, you must be fair and honest with her. And if there are no doubts whatsoever, you owe it to yourself and her to be truthful about that as well." He turned his back to me and sighed, "Honesty is always key."
And so as I returned to Nibelheim, I tossed around everything he had said and everything Cid had said before. I thought of the past, of my childhood, and of the more recent events in time. I thought of every moment I had spent with Tifa and of every time my thoughts had strayed from her and why they strayed. And I knew that Nanaki was right. I couldn't hold any doubts in my mind and still face Tifa as a lover. I got home late that night and walked into her room. She's a light sleeper and she stirred when she heard me approach.
"What is it?"
I looked down at her at her sleepy eyes and touseled hair and knew what I had to do. "I'm sorry. There's something that's come up and I need to go for a little bit."
"I'm sorry to have woken you," I kissed her forehead as I had done every night. "Go back to sleep." She nodded drowsily and I retreated from her room, shutting the door behind me.
I knew what I had to do. What I should have done a long time ago.
I sat down and began to write a letter. I had to be truthful about everything. While I love Tifa, I confess that another has occupied my thoughts. But I realize now that love isn't something that just happens. I mean, it does happen, but at the same time, love is a choice. So now, I choose to give all my thoughts to one person. I choose to give all my devotion to one person. And while I will always remember you, Aeris, I must say goodbye. I have to and I will let my feelings for you fade. I don't believe that death is the end. That's obvious with you. But for now, in my life, I choose Tifa and I think it's the right thing. I think it's what you would have wanted of me. I know wherever you are, you're watching out for us both. And I know that somewhere, you're smiling. And I thank you for that.
Cloud tossed the envelope into the lifestream, knowing that it would somehow reach it's destination. "Goodbye," he whispered and turned and walked back to the chocobo grazing nearby.
When he arrived back home, Tifa greeted him with a smile. "Did you take care of whatever it was that you needed to get done?"
He thought for a few seconds and then smiled, peace flooding his features. "I think so. In fact, there's no doubt in my mind..." (The End)