A Labor of Love Chapter 5

Confidences, Confession, and Confusion

By Meriko Robert

He tossed and turned, fell in and out of formless dreams, and finally got up just before the sun. Wandering out of his room, he caught sight of a slender figure seated at one of the downstairs tables, and walked over with a small smile. "Couldn't sleep much?" he asked.

Aeris smiled up at him, shaking her head. "No, not really. I still have a hard time sleeping for long periods of time. Except for that first night after I came back, I haven't slept for more than a few hours at a time. It's too frightening for me; to fall into unconsciousness and wake up who knows how long afterwards. It...reminds me."

Cloud felt a pang of guilt stab through him as he seated himself next to her. He had done that to her. He had let her die, and now she couldn't even find refuge in sleep. He nervously rasped his fingers together on the tabletop. "Aeris, I...I want to tell you how sorry I am. That...I want to say I'm sorry for letting you die. If only..."

"Cloud, stop," she interrupted, laying one hand on his, stilling the restless motion of his fingers. "It's not your fault that I died. There's nothing you could have done to prevent it. Besides, if I hadn't died, then I wouldn't have been able to call up the lifestream that ended up saving this planet. It had to happen that way, I think. And besides, everything turned out all right. I'm here, after all." She smiled at him reassuringly, wanting to absolve him of the guilt he insisted on carrying around with him.

He let himself rest in her compassionate eyes, thankful beyond measure that he'd been given this chance to be forgiven. Gratitude welled up within him accompanied by a protectiveness and promise to himself never to let anything else harm this woman before him. Yes, she was here...with him. The last Cetra, given back to him by the planet to protect? This new idea, once sprouted, seemed to root itself in his mind rather firmly. That must be it. She was his to watch over now; his chance to make up for his past mistakes and his failures as her bodyguard. Whatever her task was that the planet wanted her to complete, he must make sure she succeeded. Cloud took hold of the idea with a lighter heart, not realizing that he still hadn't forgiven himself; not realizing that he was actually now using the Ancient as a means of trying to repay his sins, rather than accepting her forgiveness in full.

Next to him, Aeris was also treading lightly along the edge of self-deceit. Ancient though she might be, with the ability to communicate with the planet, but her heart was yet that of a young girl's. The echoes of Zack found in his appearance, as well as the nurturing instinct of the Cetra touched by Cloud's need for her forgiveness stirred within her a warmth beyond that of the friendship she held in her heart for him. Still with one hand laid over his, she smiled into his eyes and wondered yearningly if this was the same tenderness that Ghast had shared with Ifalna in the few precious years they had been able to have together. The love that they had shared in their snowy cabin, the infant girl who had been the visible symbol of their union...did such happiness await her as well? The last task set for her by the planet...could it be to pass on her Cetra heritage to a daughter or son? Surely that qualified as a labor of love. Could the man before her now be the one with whom she would share that future? To set off to the capital and rediscover bits and pieces of her past, her heritage...with Cloud at her side. To pass on that past, to pass on the abilities and powers of the Cetra, that they might not be lost forever.

The two sat for a while, each lost in their individual fancies, neither actually focused on the one they dreamed of.


Chapter 6

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