she's born in nibelheim to parents who love her. nibelheim is a small town, squirreled away in the mountains where nothing exciting really happens and everyone knows each other. nobody's business is exactly secret; being talked about openly is pretty common and almost all the town's residents do it. mt. nibel is dangerous and full of monsters, but the air is always nice, especially during the warmer seasons.
she loves it here and she wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world.
all the other kids in town are naturally drawn to her and adults always have absolutely glowing things to say about her. she wants for nothing because she already has all that she needs and could ever want. she's so happy she must be shining.
the only thing that worries her is her neighbor, a quiet boy who has no friends even in a close knit place like nibelheim. she sees him a lot, mostly from catching his eyes through the window of his bedroom. his name is cloud. none of the other children like him or want anything to do with him. she can't help but think about how sad it is that cloud has no choice but to look out at all the fun he can't have, yet she's unsure of how to fix the problem. trying to include him does nothing except exclude him more.
when everyone says her mother is dead, she forgets all about cloud. for a while, she stays in her own world for a while, barely going outside for days. she comes out of it furious. there's no way her mother is dead. how could they expect her to believe such a lie? she can't be dead.
one day while no one is looking, she sneaks off to mt. nibel. her mother must be there. where else could she be? she crosses over the bridge, determined to meet with her mother when cloud's small voice floats into her ears. she tells him to go back and he refuses. cloud follows her like a shadow with every step she takes until she falls down the mountain. she's never felt such agonizing pain, pain that runs through her body from head to toe.
the adults, including her father, blame cloud for what happened, but she doesn't feel that way at all. it's only after the fact that she's realized how foolish she was. had it not been for cloud, no one would have ever found her. she would have died on mt. nibel alone.
the healing process is long and painful. cloud is kept away from her both during and after her treatment. her father won't leave her alone long enough to even get close to cloud much less speak to him. if his reputation among the children was bad before, his status with all of nibelheim now is worse than it should have ever been. she feels all parts guilty and thankful at the same time.
they make a promise in the dark under the moon that she will never forget.
if i'm ever in trouble, will you come protect me?
she hears nothing of cloud after he leaves. not a single word. the newspapers are always filled with talk of SOLIDER and shinra, what with the ongoing war in wutai. article after article waxes poetic about sephiroth, shinra's finest and most powerful SOLIDER, a man who makes legends just by breathing, on a near daily basis. he was already a household name before cloud left nibelheim and sephiroth's fame has only grown larger and spread further since. cloud promised he was going to be just as good as sephiroth, just as strong, and then he would come back to nibelheim a hero.
cloud's name does not come up even once. she checks the papers for years. nothing.
she trains with master zangan. that fall on the mountain changed her in more ways than one, and she does not want to be that girl anymore who walked into death's shadow and escaped with her life hanging on by threads. cloud shouldn't have to carry the burden of her safety alone. she wants to become strong enough to shoulder the weight, to be able to help cloud if he needs someone. she pushes herself to her limits and past. she sweats, she bleeds, she wears herself down to the very bone. her efforts birth muscle into her body; she feels stronger everyday.
a month. it takes a month for her entire life to break down.
fire swirls wildly around her, engulfing her home and childhood with it, taking away what she loved most. nibelheim is burning to the ground, and there's nothing she can do to stop it. red surrounds her and fills her vision to the brim. she's never felt rage as thick as this, permeating and wild like fire.
her strength is no match for a living legend hellbent on destruction.
her second brush with death is much more excruciating than the first. her blood pools and seeps into the mako reactor floors, her consciousness going with it. the passing seconds take the bloodstained air from her in chokes and coughs. her surroundings become hazy, slipping away.
she hates shinra. she hates SOLIDER. she hates them. if she could, she'd bring the whole thing down, every last person working under them and every mako reactor on the planet. if she could, she'd get back up and make sephiroth pay for what he's done. if she could—
her eyes close.
the midgar slums are an awful place. here are the scraps of humanity that aren't well off enough for shinra's good graces. the vibe in the air says it all: we're lucky to even be here, we're lucky to not be thrown out, we're lucky to be alive. to the outside world, midgar is the greatest achievement mankind has ever accomplished. so many people dream of just seeing midgar up close in real life and living it in is the goal of lifetime. if you live in midgar, you know you've made it. inside, however, it's hell. midgar is no dream; its slums are a cloud of oppression for the destitute, the criminals, everything that doesn't fit into shinra's picture of a perfect, pristine lifestyle of excess. she's long since been disillusioned by why shinra has to offer.
despite this, there's an odd sense of community in the slums that she can't help but appreciate. she learns very quickly that for every person who does nothing but look out for themselves, there's a person who wants to help or is suffering from shinra's generosity. the slums is for those who struggle beneath shinra's rule. they're the outcasts.
this place is perfect for her.
the first stirrings of AVALANCHE speak to her immediately. the man running the show is barret, and he's about as passionate and loud as they come. he talks about the pollution of the planet in shouts and curses. shinra's name never leaves his mouth without a scathing remark to accompany it. AVALANCHE is an open secret down in the sector 7 slums. everyone is aware, but they won't say a word to anyone not in the know. she joins up and offers her bar as a safe haven. if destroying shinra is really the end goal of AVALANCHE, she wants to be apart of it.
when she finally sees cloud again after years of nothing, not even letters, he's limp and weak at the train station, he can barely speak much less move very well on his own. she carries him home by the shoulders, his feet dragging the whole way.
he spends days babbling to himself about things she doesn't even want to imagine or can even understand. his words weave together in a picture that makes no sense and is troubling at the same time. she has no idea how he reached the slums in this state. some days he's too catatonic to even speak nonsense or eat what little she can manage to make him swallow.
and one day he just snaps out of it. starts talking about things that she knows are not true. like about how he was in SOLDIER when she hadn't heard anything like that. he has no idea how he got to the slums and seems unwilling to really think about it.
she hides the truth. it sits in the back of her throat, ready to come out at the worst possible moment like some awful kind of sickness. something happened to cloud. something terrible. this isn't the cloud she made a promise with all those years ago. whoever this man is that she picked up off the street who has cloud's face and most of his memories isn't cloud. how is she supposed to tell him who he is? how is she supposed to tell him about nibelheim, about sephiroth?
swallowing down all the words she can't say, she puts on a smile and introduces cloud to barret as SOLIDER first class.
she set out to save the planet from shinra's corruption and pollution. she never once thought that it would get any bigger than that. finding president shinra with sephiroth's sword in his back changed everything she knew.
AVALANCHE leaves midgar and grows larger. aerith, red xiii, cait sith, yuffie, vincent, cid. one by one AVALANCHE gains new like-minded people who all have a bone to pick with shinra, and shinra's offensive expands with it. saving the planet from shinra and saving the planet from sephiroth are one in the same. and she comes to know that cloud is worse off in a way that she just doesn't know how to fix. her secrets, the words holding themselves at the back of her throat are a knot that she either has to keep down or throw up. it's hard to do either.
aerith dies. they all take it hard; she can't imagine what cloud alone must be feeling. his face betrays little about what he may be going through. all she knows is that anger and despair sit heavy in her gut like unbreakable stones. she loved aerith. they all did. how could they not? aerith was always a bright ray of light no matter what and so kind. the thought that she will never get to see aerith's smile and expressive eyes ever again breaks her heart into pieces. aerith's body sinks in the lake. she feels like part of her goes with it.
meteor hangs over the planet, a constant reminder of impending death which draws closer the longer nothing is done about it. she won't let it or sephiroth stop her now, not after all she's been through, not after losing her home twice. not after aerith. she's always been ready for a fight.
the highwind sits heavy in the sky with turbulence, sephiroth dead and meteor still approaching. each second feels like agony. she clenches her gloved fists, and prays. prays to the planet for some kind of miracle. please, not now, there's still so much left to do. shinra is done for and she wants to start over again. she wants everything they did to mean something. humanity deserves a second chance.
the white light of holy feels warm like aerith.
cloud leaves. at first she thinks it's just temporary, that he needs space and she can understand that. they had all parted ways eventually to get on with their lives. the red ribbon around her arm reminds her of what they fought for and who they lost. she isn't sad anymore. aerith was a beautiful person whom she'll remember for the rest of her life. days turn into months turn into years, and the only way she can reach him now is by phone. he never actually answers the damn thing, but it has yet to go out of service. sometimes he might come by to sleep for the night only to disappear the next morning. those visits slowly taper off until she has trouble remembering when she last saw cloud.
geostigma hits edge hard. everyday there's a new body lying dead and forgotten in the streets. it's so common that most people just pass by those who are suffering without so much as blinking an eye. those who don't have geostigma are afraid of those who do, and those who do have geostigma often have nowhere left to go once they get it. denzel's bandages get worse with each changing, and marlene's face gets more worried as time goes on.
they both ask about cloud all the time.
when will cloud come back? have you talked to cloud today? is cloud okay? why won't he stay with us?
she finally has enough. cloud can't keep suffering alone forever. she's tired of waiting, tired of the silent excuses. she's bringing cloud back with her if she has drag him all the way there by the scuff of his neck.
the church looks just the same as when she last saw it, baring the materia and dirty bandages just like denzel's. she's not too surprised to see cloud also has geostigma. it's just like him to be stubborn.
the doors bang open, and she has to fight.
cloud is with her when she wakes up, but he's closed off completely from her. he won't even look her way, head too heavy to do anything but stay stuck down. it hits her wrong, strikes a nerve she's been tending to ever since he ran away the first time. she's so fed up. words spill out of her mouth like floodwater. she lays everything she's wanted to say to cloud for months right on the table whether he wants to hear it or not. she's done with holding back; she's done with giving him time. she just wants him to come home. she wants him to move on already. he says nothing and it's everything she expects.
being on an airship again feels just like it did two years ago. they always say history repeats itself. she watches the dark smog takes over the ruins of midgar, watches cloud fight for his life once again. she's sure history has a good outcome for them once more.
she feels aerith's presence as if she were standing right beside her. aerith is calm, gentle words in her ear and a smile that last lifetimes. aerith may be gone, but she never left. she has felt aerith with her in the wind, in the sun just as dawn breaks, in the water, in everything.
somehow, i knew you were there. thank you.
the church water cleans all the children of their geostigma. their cheers and laughs are so good to hear after all the pain they felt. she believed in this every step of the way, believed in a miracle that would cure them.
she smiles at cloud, surrounded by excited kids and splashing water. he looks so different from what she's used to. maybe he did lose a little weight after all. his head stays high, and the weight that's been on her shoulders and in her heart finally lifts and falls away.
she knows now. everything is going to be fine.