The Love That Could Never Be
"Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion." -Dylan Thomas
He saw Aerith everywhere.
Remnants of her existence, little details of everyday items poking and prodding at him: A red or pink ribbon on display, a woman's airy laugh, Marlene's mimicked hairstyle, the gleaming church that stood even after getting two holes in its roof and the near-end of the world twice.
She rested in peace, but he did not.
Cloud lived every day wishing she was still physically alive instead of just inside his heart, regretting the three words that still remained unspoken, feeling guilty that he let her die.
Even when he'd forgiven himself, there was a part of him in which guilt would always linger. He could have done something, he was right there in front of her.
Close enough to feel the warmth radiating from her thin body, to lose himself in the scent of flora she carried, to see the soft, brilliant smile framed by bright pink rosy lips. Yet, he did nothing when his adversary descended from above, the long, stainless blade poised to strike the maiden clad in pink.
His memory was vivid with the blood rapidly leaving her body, pooling around her as Sephiroth yanked out the Masamune from her back, the metal slick with her blood.
He saw to his horror the light that made her emerald eyes shimmer extinguish, her body go slack, as the blade left her being. She'd instantly collapsed, already gone from him. Blood had been coughed up from her mouth, small rivulets trailing down her smooth skin.
Cloud caught her, even though somewhere in himself, he was already aware he was too late. He'd cradled her lifeless body, despair crushing him to the point he felt he couldn't breathe.
Remembering her death occasionally caused his breathing to quicken, or a few rare instances for his eyes to moisten. But he had to focus on the present.
Now, all he could do was live how she would desire him to, and remember. Remember her laugh, light and airy and musical, her emerald eyes that sparkled with gentle mischief, her voice that was so melodic and soft, further animated by occasional small gasps or the tinkling of her laughter, like a gushing ariose river that threatened to carry him away, with him so willing for it to happen.
He was aware of her whenever she healed him-they were the only moments he felt her touch. Her smooth, soft skin pressing against his wounds, her gentle caress he longed for so intensely. He'd come so close a couple times, like their date at Gold Saucer. Yet the amnesiac 1st somehow felt Sephiroth was more important.
The blonde had been so wrong.
Cloud would sometimes sit in his room, alone, gazing at the sunset. A certain memory always rushed back: when they were at Cosmo Canyon, the brilliant sun setting in the sky, as he comforted Aerith when she told him about her loneliness. She revealed her vulnerability to him, and he almost said what he actually wanted to say.
"I'm-We're here for you."
He was afraid then; afraid to really reflect on how he felt about her and admit it.
Looking back, it was foolish. Cloud always felt different around the flower girl: heart pounding wildly, butterflies fluttering in his stomach, tongue twisting into knots. And it wasn't just that one time; it was all the time with Aerith. She could get him so flustered when no one else could. The pink-clad young woman kept him on his toes, yet stirred a sense of peace as well.
Now, all he felt inside was restlessness and chaos.
Why? Why was the world so cruel as to strip away the light in his life? To tear him away from the one person he felt so strongly about? The only one that really understood him?
That was what he wondered for an extensive amount of time. He stopped, though. They were questions he'd never have answers to.
The blonde had things to occupy himself: His delivery business, monsters, caring for Marlene and Denzel and talking to his friends scattered across Gaia. But in his mind, his heart and in his dreams, lived Aerith.
Cloud knew he would never love anyone as much as he did Aerith, which caused pangs of guilt to hit him in the gut. Back when he and Tifa were healed by the flower girl, the martial artist finally snapped at him.
"So which is it? A memory or us?"
He immediately figured she meant either dwelling on his guilt about Aerith and Zack, or spending more time with her and the kids. He'd become withdrawn from everyone, after all. Cloud wasn't particularly talented at protecting those closest to him from worrying situations, especially when he was involved.
But now he realized, as he revisited the memory (quite ironic indeed), that Tifa had been asking him to choose between Aerith, who was already dead, and herself, who was still living. The question was not about his guilt and the present, but of his relationship with Tifa. She wanted to be more than friends, more than family. Cloud never really paid that much attention, but now he saw the sad longing in her wine-colored eyes, the tight smiles she sent him.
"Look at you, you think you've got it so damn hard."
Cloud had a grisly inkling there was more to her words back then. And he felt horrible, because he could never give her what she wanted from him.
Because he was Aerith's. He would only ever belong to Aerith; she held his heart, even in the Lifestream. He missed his chance, he knew.
Yet Cloud mulled over all his lost chances, all the times he could've said those three simple but powerful words. He thought about how those three words would never leave his lips as long as he lived, unless he was speaking to Aerith's grave, or trying to reach her in the church, alone.
Aerith no longer lived, but he did.
He never knew how to tell Tifa any of this. There were so many times he attempted to, to try and explain to her his feelings; but every time he did so, Cloud saw the hopeful shine in her wine-colored eyes and it died in his throat.
It was so reminiscent of times when they were younger. Tifa told him to stop musing over old memories, but everything about her was an old memory: Her scent reminded him of sunshine and childhood, the way she was so determined and confident, just like back then. Her bold curves, soft smile, and husky voice were all a living memory. Sometimes he still even saw the little girl inside Tifa Lockhart, so innocent and hopeful.
Those eyes made it so much harder to tell her what was truly inside his heart.
But then, why should he? They hadn't even been much of friends back in Nibelheim. Sure there was that one time he invited her up to the water tower, but before that she'd pretty much ignored him.
Cloud acknowledged though it was true, it was only an excuse for him to avoid the confrontation. Aerith wouldn't want him to crush the heart of their best friend, anyways.
Gaia, he missed her. It only grew with every passing day as he lived while she could only watch on in the Lifestream.
"I love you."
Those three words he desired with all of his being to confess to her, but couldn't. Because of the cruel fate that had been written out for them, because he was a coward.
They had a love that could never be.
At least, not for a long time.