Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 7

The Beloved

by 012607 0 Reviews

He watches her dance in the moonlight on broken feet... [Cloud x Aerith]

Category: Final Fantasy 7 - Rating: R - Genres: Horror, Romance - Characters: Aeris Gainsborough, Cloud Strife, Vincent Valentine - Warnings: [V] [X] - Published: 2006/09/05 - Updated: 2006/09/05 - 6017 words

He watches her dance in the moonlight on broken feet, the dim lamp at the edge of the table throwing graceless shadows across the walls. And she moves closer, stumbling fluidly with an odd elegance on legs which just don't want to carry her anymore. With a quiet smile she reaches out a hand and brushes her fingers over his shoulder, through his messy, unkempt hair. The suddenly sensation jerks him back into reality, and his blurry eyes open all the way, just in time to see her trip and fall.

Grinning she curls up into his lap, wrapping her frail arms around his waist as she closes her eyes.

"You want to go to bed?" he asks, lightly brushing his hand against her cold cheek.

She shakes her head as she looks up to him, and her eyes are so bloodshot and cloudy. It's difficult to believe that they were once a vibrant green, but now they look just as dull and worn as the rest of her weak body.

"Aerith," he says slowly, "I think you should go to bed."

He smiles as she refuses once more, yawning all the while and complaining that she only just had a nap. Five hours ago, he has to remind her; and although five hours doesn't sound that long, to Aerith it's about all that she can manage-life just seems too much of a strain for her to endure.

Well, being dead for five years tends to do that to a person.

Cloud drills his fingers against the table, half out of irritation and half to keep himself awake with the intrusive drumming as Aerith twists and turns, burying her head into his chest with a yawn; and he stares over her head, fixing his eyes on the piles of ancient scriptures, desperately thrown open but not offering any answers. Answers to questions he's not quite sure how to phrase; questions like why Aerith's like this, why it all went so horrible wrong.

If it went wrong, that is. Perhaps it's meant to be like this; after all, Cloud knows nothing of necromancy and so maybe Aerith's as alive as she'll ever be. Still, that doesn't mean he'll give up trying, and the sleepless nights, endless mixtures of long forgotten potions and never ending research stands as a testament to that. I'll make sure you get better, he tells her every morning, and every day she waits patiently for him to do so.

Eventually Aerith murmurs into his ear that she wants to go to bed now, because yes, she is very tired. Cloud reaches over to the lamp and switches it off before carrying Aerith into the bedroom. Their room is not lit by a dying light-bulb under a dusty lampshade, and as he flicks the switch he finds himself blinking a little. Laying Aerith down on the bed he can see her clearly now, see what's left of her.

And what's left isn't much.

It would be difficult for anyone to argue that Aerith wasn't beautiful-for she was still Aerith after all-but now her body had taken on another presence altogether. Sickly, deathly. Even lost in the Elysium Field's she looked less ghostly, skin only decorated with cuts, bruises, burns now; torn away from the Lifestream completely. Torn away from her own will, her will to live, her will to heal-

("You should be more careful," Cloud says with a smile, "I don't want you in trouble.")


-And some bodyguard he is, not able to protect her or sew up the wounds properly; the needle only ever draws his blood, and the stitches desecrate her further.

"Cloud, is something wrong?" Aerith asks, feeling lost in his blank stare.

"Nothing at all," he replies with a smile a little too bright to be genuine.

By the time he's crawled in between the bedsheets Aerith's already fallen asleep, but he leans over and mutters that he loves her none the less.

This has been his bed for four months now, covered in rough sheets in a a run-down old cottage by the flowers. It's been less of a home than a house in that time, Cloud obsessed with his research and Aerith too dazed to properly adapt to the lower consciousness of the living. Too acquainted with death to truly become part of the physical, breathing world again.

He doesn't care for flowers anymore, not now that he has Aerith back, anyway. Over in the Seventh Heaven his desk is probably still littered with the captured flowers, tacked up against a wall; an eerily beautiful testimony to the obsessive workings of his mind.

------------------------------

("You're really leaving this time," Tifa asks, stuck somewhere between a smile and tears. It's a statement, not a question; besides, he never gives her an honest answer, anyway. "Even though you leave all the time Cloud, I never thought... it would go this far. I never thought you'd walk out on us for good.")

But they had never felt the perfect white sky pierce their eyes, never felt the utter fear ("Turn around and I'll be gone") /or felt the simplicity of forgiveness as /her fingers ran over burning wounds. They had never felt any of it, they had been deprived of her blessings-so, no; Cloud could not be angry when they failed to understand him, could not be hurt and torn inside when they said he was foolish-said he was a /mad man/-for pursuing the resting dead.

Hope was an alien feeling to him, but he embraced it nonetheless, buying a small cottage in the flower field that he cared nothing for and meant everything to her.

She (because the quiet whispers about 'her' had not yet become Aerith, and would not until she was really there with him, living and breathing) was much more energetic when Cloud first stole her from Gaia and brought her back to their little cottage in the flowers, which for a while seemed so much more beautiful to him. Her body had not taken well to life at first-oxygen caught and twisted in her throat, mixing with blood and silent screams-but he forced her to live; and within hours of her slowly regaining her mind, and losing a little sanity in exchange, both of them were crying, clinging onto each other so tightly it hurt in more ways than one-and of course, assuring each other between the nonsense that neither of them had ever been happier.

They sat together under the autumn sun, and although the sky was not as perfect in this world, for a while it didn't matter. For a while, Cloud was happy to sit and kiss her and not mention the cold, bitter taste of her lips. He didn't have to tell her that she was still very sick, and that they were chained to this solitary life-for a while, at least. And for a while, everything was okay.

"I like it here," she had said, looking around as if giving the place her approval. "The flowers, the open air..." and she paused for a moment as she turned towards Cloud, placing a finger on the tip of his nose. "And you. Especially you, Cloud."

And he could only smile, rest his hands on her hips in return and say, "Good, Aerith. I'm glad. Glad that you're not-"

He trailed off, but Aerith looked at him expectantly, wanting him to finish the sentence, even if she knew what he was going to say. He had been aching to say it to her since she came 'back.'

"I'm glad you're not... angry at me."

"Angry?" she asked, her voice laced with a beat of amusement. "Why should I be angry at you? It's like I always said to you-'I'll be back when this is all over.' You know that I wanted to come back to you."

Slowly her voice turned into the vaguest form of sadness Cloud could imagine (regret?) almost as if she felt as if she had let him down. Laying her head on his lap she continued to talk softly to him.

"It was the hardest choice I've ever had to make. If I wasn't a Cetra-if I wasn't the only one left-I never would have left you; never would have hurt you. I would have stayed by your side forever, if I could have. But when I... died and saw what it did to you, I-I..."

Placing a finger over her lips Cloud stopped her flow of words. There was no reason for either of them to feel like that again-no reason to be sad anymore. They remained in a comfortable silence as the pale sky turned red, and looking up to the burning sun, Cloud whispered-

"I love you Aerith."

-and held his breath for a moment, ridiculously fearful of her answer. One minute, still no answer.

"Aerith?"

Looking down he saw her sleeping and smiled at himself; perhaps it's better like this, and the silence can talk for them.

Later that night, they had sex.

They fumbled onto the single bed together, Cloud on top and holding her down without quite realising he was restricting her. It was awkward for them both, but not unfamiliar-after all, he spent his early teenage years in the company of Shinra soldiers, and she lived what little life she had in the slums of the great Midgar. Cloud initiated it, of course (for he always does) and Aerith was too caught up in a storm of love, foolishness and life to object, even if it did hurt more than anything.

His body bruised hers as he pushed against her, hard, and she was exhausted in a few minutes. Still, she was clouded by a strange sense of devotion and let him finish. In the morning neither of them mentioned the bruising, and simply sat on opposite sides of the bed until the embarrassment (shame?) passed.

And then, for a while, they can pretend that things are fine.


------------------------------

Sometimes, Vincent comes to visit them. He does it more so for Cloud's benefit than Aerith's really (for it often seems that Cloud is more troubled than the flower girl) but he still enjoys seeing her, and is content to sit and talk for hours, just for the sake of keeping her company. It's not something he usually does with people-even his closest friends rarely get more than a few words-but there's a mass of guilt in the back of his mind, telling him that perhaps he should have got to know her the first time around.

And even if he didn't know her all that well back then, he's still convinced that there's something different about her. What, he doesn't know, but he keeps his suspicions to himself. Out of AVALANCHE, Vincent's the only one who knows about Cloud's little /secret/, and he feels it's his duty to stay on good terms with Cloud-this time, for Aerith's sake.

This morning is one of those rare occasions.

"So," Cloud asks, clearing his throat and the drawn out silence. "How is everyone doing?"

Vincent pauses for a moment, tears his eyes away from his broken reflection in the coffee cup, and answers Cloud's question as if he's had it memorised for months.

"Tifa misses you. She pretends she doesn't though, and just gets very angry whenever you're mentioned. She demands the subject to be dropped, and if it isn't, she cries. As for Barret, he is genuinely angry-you are no longer a popular or respected man, Cloud. Denzel seems to be abandoned and hurt, and I dare say Marlene feels the same.

Nanaki has been much more accepting, however. I believe he has some inclination of what's going on here, whereas Reeve is too confused to express much opinion on the matter. Cid and Yuffie, on the other hand, are quite vocal, always swearing at me and demanding that I tell them where you are, so that they can "beat the shit out of you until you're fucking sane again." I believe those were their words, at least."

His words don't seem to hit Cloud as hard as they should, and his face remains neutral, only forming into a tiny frown as he speaks.

"I... see. Tell Tifa I miss her too."

"I think," Vincent says curtly, "That you should be the one to tell her that. You do know what you've done to these people, don't you?"

Cloud only nods, bringing the china-bone tea cup up to his lips as it it's some sort of shield to protect him from the cruelty of reality.

"Was it all worth it?" Vincent asks, no accusation in his voice, just genuine curiosity.

The question takes Cloud by surprise, as it's something he's never really given any real thought to. He glances over to the settee where Aerith lays sleeping, and looks at the surface; Aerith, the beautiful, wonderful Aerith, is there; and she's alive, and she loves him. Deeper however is the Aerith that rightly shouldn't be alive, the Aerith who wakes up every night from horrifying nightmares, coughing up blood and crying. The Aerith than condemns him to live here until he has an answer.

No matter what Cloud says, it will be a lie.

Eventually he settles for a forced "Yes."

Vincent does not look so convinced, and looks Cloud right in the eyes. "Hmm. I wonder."

"You have to admit," Cloud says slowly, trying to keep his anger in check, "That if you had the chance, you'd bring Lucrecia back with no thoughts of the consequences. It wouldn't matter"

"I like to think I'd have more respect than that, Cloud."

The atmosphere becomes awkward under the weight of the insult, and both men sit there, each hoping the the other will find something to say, each praying that Aerith will wake up and clear the tension between them. Cloud clenches his fist under the table.

("These are the scripts you asked for, boy," the elder at Cosmo Canyon tells him, sounding concerned and disturbed at the same time. "Though I can only fathom what you want to do with these, I have to warn you... you should not tread lightly, unless you're willing to sacrifice everything, piece-by-piece.")


"How did you do it?" His voice has lost its harsh edge now.

And that's the real question; that's what Vincent's wanted-/needed/-to know all along. Just how did Cloud manage to revive the dead, to do the impossible? Vincent wonders if it's as unspeakable as the way he was brought back; his soul dragged out of the Styx and then condemned to share his reanimated body with the laughter of demons.

Cloud only laughs at first, and the noise disturbs Vincent for a reason he can't put his finger on.

"Spells that the Ancients wrote," he finally says, shaking his head as he speaks. "Written in their language for a reason-to be forgotten. It was a sort of... summon, I suppose, but without the materia..."

"Cloud?" Vincent asks, concerned now that Cloud is shaking.

"I didn't just get Aerith back, Vincent. I saw-I saw a lot of things... the future, mostly." His voice is slowly becoming more and more unsteady. "And even after I saw what I would do, I still made the sacrifice."

And to Vincent's surprise, Cloud is sitting there crying. Not sure what to do, as he's never been good in these situations, he opts to move into the chair next to Cloud and quite awkwardly puts his arm around his old leader's shoulders.

"I think I've done something very wrong," Cloud says quietly as he leans into Vincent's embrace, not quite sure of himself at the moment.

"What exactly have you... '/sacrificed/?'"

Clouds laughs once more through the tears.

"I won't live past thirty-five."

------------------------------

By the time Aerith wakes up Vincent is long gone, and Cloud has managed to compose himself a little. He sits on the edge of the settee, watching her-now all he feels he can do is wonder as he reflects on Vincent's words. They were wise words, perhaps.

"Is Vincent here yet?" Aerith asks as a yawn and a smile escape her lips.

Moving from the arm of the chair he slides down beside her, kissing her lightly on the cheek.

"I'm sorry," he says without really /looking /sorry. "Vincent's been and gone, and you know how difficult it is to wake you."

"Oh." She doesn't bother to hide her disappointment. "I was hoping to see him."

It's been far too long, she thinks. Too long stuck in this cramped little cottage, and it's getting to much for her-even with Cloud, she still needs something else. Cloud slides down next to her, and she feels him lay against her back.

"Cloud..." she asks, making sure to cover her words with optimism. "I can see the others soon, can't I?"

There's no answer, and so nervously she continues. "It will... it'll just be so good to sit and talk with Tifa again. And Yuffie! I bet she's growing up to be a beautiful young lady! Cid too-he'd better take me in his airship soon, and-"

"-Aerith." She hates the bluntness of his voice. There are only so many times that she can be told you know you're too ill to leave here, please, just let me make things better and accept it. Even if Cloud can't face what's he's done to her, she at least wants to see the others. To see her friends.

She finds the words "Are you ashamed of me?" slipping out of her mouth.

Cloud looks up and pauses, taken aback by the question. "Of course not," he says, his tone less than reassuring. "How can I be ashamed of something I created?"

Created? Aerith catches Cloud's eyes and let's her mouth flicker into a smile. In that instant, he realises what he said was very, very wrong.

"Created," she echoes the word harshly, and her dull eyes seem to light up for a moment.

"That's not what I meant," he says with a heavy sigh. "It's just that I-"

"Just that you're the one who brought me back to life. So I should spend this half-lived life in debt to you?" There's something about her words that physically hurts Cloud.

And worse than the bluntness of his voice is the way that he shouts when he's hurt. His words are not full of anger or hate, just a subtle aching.

"You think I brought you back because I wanted something from you? You think that I want you as a slave or plaything?" he yells, leaning close to her, but always careful not to physically touch her-he doesn't know what would happen to her weak body at times like these. "No, Aerith! All that I want-all that I ever wanted-was you. Just /you/. And I'm sorry, all right? I'm sorry! I did it all wrong, I did things I should never have even thought about doing. I just... I can't face the others like this."

It always makes her feel so guilty.

"... I'm sorry," she murmurs, leaning away from him and catching her face on the band around his wrist as she does so. The warm taste of copper floods her mouth.

"This is exactly what I mean," Cloud says with a frown, running his fingers over Aerith's bleeding lip; she trembles a little, but the pain is far too numb for her to react to now. "What I've done to you. You're destroyed."

He gives her that look, the look that never fails to remind her just how much he loves her. How much he's given up for her. How much he obsesses.

"Mmm." Aerith takes Cloud's now bloody hand in her own, pressing her cold face to his as their skin meets, and breaths shallowly onto him. "Does that matter?" she asks both him and herself as their lips meet, the intimacy only interrupted by the sharp taste of blood. It floods his mouth but he doesn't stop; it's horrible, horrible and he tries not to shudder at the feeling of blood in his mouth. But still he doesn't stop; it's poison, deadly and cold. It's poison, and he wants more.

------------------------------

In July, Aerith falls pregnant.

There is a twist in the pit of her stomach (that soon enough rises into her throat as a fear; and more literally, sick in the early mornings), but for the longest time nothing is breathed of it to Cloud. There are no suspicions on his part, and he is merely obligated to pat her back as she purges herself over their little toilet (and thought she doesn't want to admit it, there is something satisfying about emptying her old, rotting body) and assume it is just her /illness/.

Illness indeed; a month passed and she begins to cry more and more-"What's wrong, Aerith? Are you feeling sick again?"-until the bedsheets are damp with sweat and panic, all because she fears what will happen when he finds out; because, certainly the man who had torn away his own life for her would leave her over something as petty.

Looking down at herself, at the dark, swollen bruises that decorate her body, bruises from Cloud as her presses against her in the night (and she withstands it of course, because it's Cloud/, and oh, the pain will subside) Aerith brushes her fingers ever-so lightly across her ever-so slightly swollen stomach. And, for the first time in months, she smiles/-holding something so fragile yet living can only prove that she, herself, is alive.

"Cloud," she says slowly but firmly, one Monday morning as he leans over the counter, making the two of them breakfast. "I think that-that I..."

A long, meaningful pause fills the corners of the kitchen, and Cloud turns around to look at her, his face stone.

"... you'll be needing to feed three of us soon."

Something falls from the work surface, but he still insists on looking confused, and in his own personal denial murmurs "What-what do you mean?"

Slow as ever, Cloud, she thinks with a smile. Reaching across she takes his hand in her own, brushing cold fingers against his wrist as she pushes it gently onto her stomach. And there's no time for a I'm sorry Cloud (because she's not), when he simply drops to his knees, wraps his arms around her waist and buries his face against her naked skin. She holds her breath as tears run down her stomach.

Still, she's not sure if they're out of happiness or not.

---

Cloud works harder than ever for her, throwing his books open (with a certain sense of worth, as he knows his work isn't hopeless, at the moment) the moment he regains his senses and the shock sinks in. The 'moment' may be more than a week later, but the novelty of throwing up in the early hours has worn off somewhat, and Aerith's more than grateful when Cloud begins to mix up potions.

And she sits quietly and watches as he scans through texts, adding drops of this-and-that from elixirs and ethers, and tears up flowers with his slightly stained fingers. She can name them all, of course (because there is little else to do in a cold laboratory other than drill whatever comes your way into your mind.) There's something both delicate and disturbing in the way he holds a soft narcissus in his hand, and then tears the white petals away one by one.

He's so passive nowadays that Aerith barely recognise him; but there is a certain weariness in his eyes that tells her that he still longs for a blade between his fingers and blood in his pallet.

Such thoughts aren't healthy, but as she goes to speak his words meet her ears.

"The baby," he begins, staring down at his pedestal with a hint on a smile pressed on his lips. "We should think of a name."

Aerith is taken back by the suggestion. Cloud has been wonderful this whole time, and she never expected him to adjust to the idea of a baby so well. Some days, it's all that he can talk about-it truly has made him happy. And she's happy too, as the old problems are slowly fading away one by one.

She stronger now, much stronger, and some of the colour has returned to her face. The tiny heartbeat of the baby's that's so much stronger than her own seems to be restoring the life that was never returned to her. Very slowly Aerith Gainsborough is beginning to feel like a whole person again.

"Ifalna," she says happily, without a second thought. She'd by lying if she said she hadn't spent long hours thinking about it.

"I thought as much," Cloud says with a grin, "I like the name a lot. Well, that's the girl's name sorted then."

Aerith gets the feeling that Cloud wants to pick the boy's name for himself. Smiling she asks him if he's had any ideas.

"Not really," he lies to her. "Well, maybe one-um, I was thinking... Zack?"

In all her life, Aerith doesn't think she's ever seen something as adorable as Cloud fumbling over his words to name their baby.

------------------------------

Things get better from then on, much better. The have the happy distraction of a new life to mask them from the real issues, and they can fill their thoughts with something other than the way they've let each other down. Even Vincent visits more now, and every day Cloud is more and more tempted to call up the others.

The look on their faces when he lets them know Aerith is alive will be priceless, he thinks. The look on their faces when he lets them know that they're going to be parents will be... well, it will be amazing.

Aerith's illness lessens, and at night she resigns herself from throwing up, and sinks back into the routine of coughing up blood. However, there is the small matter of Aerith bleeding more frequently, but the doctor lives a long way away and Cloud has already called him in several times-so of course, she says nothing to Cloud. She doesn't want to disrupt his happiness.

October comes around quickly enough, and the months are no longer dragging by.

It's a perfectly normal morning when she wakes-no storm clouds are spilling out thunder and lightening, and no rain pounds down on their windows, like in her dreams. It's just another morning. She can faintly hear birds sing from atop the trees, and red-yellow-gold leaves drift carelessly past the bathroom window. Reaching over the sink on tip-toes she reaches up to a narrow window and pushes it open with the tips of her fingers. Crisp, fresh autumn air filters into the stuffy bathroom.

When Aerith breaths in, the stench of blood clings to her, and the taste of her tears scratches the back of her throat. Leaning over once more, she throws up into the sink again.

"Aerith?" she hears Cloud call her name as her grasps the door handle. The locked door doesn't give an inch.

"Aerith, are you okay?" The panic in his voice becomes more and more evident.

She gives no answer, but her tears become louder now. Falling to the floor, she hears Cloud throw himself against the door. It breaks easily, and slams loudly against the wall behind.

"What's going-" he begins to ask as he stands in the doorway, only to lose his voice when he looks down at her.

And there she is, the girl he loves, collapsed in her own blood, clinging on desperately to the thing that should be their /baby/.

------------------------------

It isn't okay after that. It can't be.

Cloud can barely find the words to say to her anymore, and everything he does say sounds strained, always with that underlying hint of sadness. And so they sit for hours, holding each other until they can bare to sleep. Vincent doesn't visit any more, and Cloud's smashed his phone up. He broke the kitchen table too, and the cupboards, throwing himself against things while Aerith screamed at him to stop.

He spends his days clinging to what little distraction there is now; he buries himself back in the work he abandoned so long ago, always scanning the pages of the Ancient scriptures with heavy eyes, but never really/ looking/ for anything, or taking much in.

Aerith is much calmer about it all, and lays amongst the flowers while she's awake. Cloud watches her from the window sometimes, wondering sadly if she wishes she was still in the Lifestream, surrounded only by the flowers which grow in her mind. Most days he decides that yes, she does, and it would be the best thing for her.

Aerith rarely has much to say either, and as time goes on she becomes sicker. She lets herself become sicker, Cloud thinks bitterly. She wakes up at least once each night, screaming out against the blood on her hands as if it makes her nothing more than a murderer. But it's not the only thing she dreams of, Clouds knows. Sometimes she dreams about Sephiroth; remembers vividly the pain as he ran his perfect blade through her.

It's these dreams that she doesn't wake up screaming from.

("I have nothing more I can say to you," Vincent says, no hate or disgust in his voice though; only sorrow. "We must all atone for our sins in our own way, and you have only increased yours.")


They buried their baby in the field soon after, and the funeral was as unremarkable as Aerith's; there were tears, but no works spoken. The grave was tiny and unnoticeable, and once Aerith and Cloud leave no one will even realise it was there. A single blank stone was placed at the head; they had never even been granted the chance to name their child.

"I wonder if we were too hopeful," Cloud's voice sneaks out of the dark one night. "We should have been more prepared for something like this."

Aerith turns away in her sleep, but asks "So this is our fault then?"

"Perhaps."

"No one expects death, Cloud," she reassures the pair of them. It can't have been their fault-they both wanted the baby more than anything. That child had been loved more than most before it was even born.

There is silence, and she drifts back to sleep. But Cloud cannot, and so stays awake for long hours-it's routine now, and every morning the black marks around his eyes grow more noticeable. It's the guilt that he can't take, can't get over; the constant reminder of how he's destroyed two lives.

Aerith.

He doesn't think asking for forgiveness will do much this time. And even if he asks, he knows she'll only lie to him. It digs at him, and he thinks back to what he was told on that day, the day he sold his life for hers. Perhaps he can't change the future after all-and perhaps that's for the best.

Leaning over, he shakes Aerith until she awakens with a groggy "What?"

"I love you," he says with a smile she can still see in the dark.

Her voice softens. "I love you too, Cloud."

"I mean it, too. I love you more than anyone or anything in this world, Aerith. And I just want you to know that-I don't regret bringing you back. Not even for a second; it was worth it, just to have this time with you." He both confesses and answers Vincent's question.

Aerith isn't sure what's brought this outburst from Cloud on, but she's happy in the honesty of his words, and curls up to him to sleep. For the first time in so many nights, she sleeps with him, not just by his side.

---

The next morning things feel better when she wakes; Cloud has relaxed a little, and there's no longer that horrible look in his eyes, that's never directly aimed at her. He speaks and his words don't sound forced and awkward, and he even sits down with her to eat breakfast. They're together again, and Aerith only wishes it felt right.

"Cloud," she begins happily, arms dipped in the soapy water of the kitchen sink. "It's getting so cold lately. Do you think it's going to snow soon?"

Her voice is hopeful, and she rocks on tip-toes as she places the newly washed cups on the side.

"Maybe. You usually get a lot of snow up north," Cloud says from behind her.

And it continues in this fashion for a while, Aerith taking cheerfully about this-and-that, about everything and nothing, all in the same breath, looking out of the window as Cloud offers up answers from the table behind her. However, as she goes on she notices Cloud's answers become shorter, and there's a certain breathlessness about his voice; she'd worry about it, if he wasn't Cloud.

She hears a draw slam behind her, and seconds later she hears the gentle thudding of Cloud's boots behind her.

"Do you need somethi-" she begins, only to be cut off by a soft "Shhh," from Cloud.

And so she's quiet for him as she stands there, never once turning to look at him. She breathes heavily as she feels Cloud's warm, rough fingers brush against the back of her neck, and they're soon replaced by his lips. One arms finds its way around her waist.

"Aerith," he speaks softly. "Do you remember what I told you last night?"

"Of course I do, Cloud. And I love you more than anything, too."

Cloud pauses thoughtfully for what feels like a lifetime to them both, both trapped in very different frames of anticipation, before kissing her neck ever-so lightly.

"Good," he murmurs, using the arm around her waist to turn her around.

Aerith goes to grin, begins to feel as if Cloud's going to take her into his arms where she'll always be safe, hold her tight and spin her around in the endless flower field, just like she dreamt as a child. As he turns her around, she feels as if she'll never stop loving him.

As he turns her around, her smile fails. There's a twisted expression on her face as she feels a sharp, cold sensation press down just below her heart; and with a confused, questioning look she wraps her hand around his wrist as their eyes make their way down to the guilty knife in Cloud's hand.

The blood-/her/ blood-trickles down his arm as she watches the tears flow out of his eyes. I'm sorry, they scream, but neither of them can speak in that instant. And there's no use in Cloud closing his eyes to rid him of the sight; this is what he's seen every night since she's been with him.

"The time..." she forces herself to whisper in a cracked voice. "The time that we had together... it was worth it Cloud... but... did it have to... end like... this?"

She does not deserve to hear anything he has to say now, and so all that's left for him to do is to pull the blade out.

When Sephiroth killed her, she smiled because she did not know what was happening. When Cloud kills her, she smiles because she knows/ exactly/ what is happening.

He's saving her, in his own misguided and twisted way. Saving her from the life he's made for her.

As her body falls into his arms, Cloud 's broken words tell her "I'm so sorry for everything, Aerith. I'll bury you with our baby."

And he lets her fall to the floor from his bloody arms, where she can finally rest at long last. It looks almost serene and picturesque; serene, except for the river of blood which still spills from her body.

Looking down at her, Cloud can only remember the smiling girl who wanted to sell him a flower; the smiling girl who he wanted to save more than anything.

Through tears he looks down and remembers her, always: The Beloved.
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