"Love doesn't die with death. Love is like liquid; when it pours out, it seeps into others' lives. Love changes form and shape. Love gets into everything. Death doesn't conquer all; love does. Love wins every single time. Love wins by lasting through death. Love wins by loving more, loving again, loving without fear." -Kate O'Neill
Days, at first, were as colorful as monochrome photographs. Every time morning came and sleep no longer fogged his mind, reality struck him as suddenly as the Masamune had torn through her body and left him either weeping or feeling extremely hollow inside.
When the days coalesced into weeks, and weeks blurred into months, he found that living with the inner demons and turmoil was a vicious cycle that he wanted to break. So, he came to Tifa to see if she wouldn't mind him taking up a guest room at Seventh Heaven. He just couldn't live alone anymore; it was too suffocating.
He didn't even have time to blink before he was living in the Seventh Heaven with Tifa and Marlene and decided to try to start up his own business. Despite his steps to continue on in life, the pain still throbbed in his heart. But he'd changed since he'd met and fallen in love with Aerith; he wanted to try to live as she'd want him to live. And he'd try to live to the best of his abilities, to continue to love her even though she was gone.
However, he contracted Geostigma, and in spite of his best efforts to convince Tifa, Marlene and the boy he'd rescued - Denzel - the symptoms were affecting him. He'd started to wear more black with a single long sleeve in order to hide the sores secreting the signature black ooze on his arm, and worked tirelessly to find a cure. It wasn't just for himself, either: Denzel had gotten the Stigma before him, and he only had so much time left.
Plus, for the icing on the cake of his stress, he'd begun experiencing hallucinations. They were mostly memories of his archenemy, Zack, and Aerith, and they were enough to send him over the edge. He'd started to withdraw from everyone, eventually leaving Seventh Heaven altogether to camp out in the church.
Funny how, even then, he wanted to be closer to her. He wanted her comfort, even if the church was as close as he could get. The sweet aroma of the patches of thriving flowers reminded him of her own enticing scent, and the hole in the ceiling at times pulled a small smile to his lips at how he'd literally fallen for her. Or rather, to her.
But even those fond memories darkened as the Geostigma progressed, and eventually he found himself wallowing in regret and guilt. It was his fault they died - it was his fault she died. She'd been right there in front of him, and instead of just pulling her away he watched as the seven-foot-long katana pierce her body to poke out of her chest.
He'd never been so horrified or grief-stricken; not since Nibelheim. Her beautiful, laughing emerald eyes had been locked on him the entire time, conveying nothing but love and understanding until her last few breaths. Then they were wide with pure terror.
Even though she put up a brave front, Cloud knew Aerith better than anyone else, possibly better than Zack. He was just too afraid to do anything about it. Her death was no exception. He was afraid while gazing into her emerald orbs, practically reading her mind but too frozen in fear to act. She hadn't wanted to die, even though she'd been expecting it.
But as that year passed and he had a divine intervention of sorts, he found the drive and inspiration to continue living filled with the love he knew Aerith felt for him and vice versa, regardless of how cheesy it was. He wasn't going to stay stuck in the past - he wanted to make Aerith, as well as Zack, proud.
So he smiled more, cared more, tried to open up more. For her, it was the least he could do. Tifa definitely noticed; her face lit up in bright smiles more frequently than he'd seen in years. Even when Deepground happened, and another major crisis involving a returned Genesis, Cloud refused to rebound. He was changed, for the better.
Years passed, but instead of seeing them like the monochrome photographs he did before, they were bursting with color and laughter. The air held traces of freshness even in Midgar, the sky was bluer than ever before, and the sun no longer bothered him as much.
Tifa eventually moved on, getting together with a persistent Reno. At first, Cloud was always threatening to slit his throat in his sleep, but after a while he realized that the flirtatious, drunken redhead was serious. After a few years, the Turk proposed and moved in to the Seventh Heaven. It was starting to get a little too crowded, so with many warm goodbyes and promises to stay in frequent contact, the blond headed off to rent out an apartment.
Decades went by without him ever letting his eyes wander. He met a nice, pretty neighbor that reminded him of Aerith, but after one date he swore to himself to never again try it. All he could see was Aerith, and whatever woman out there that wanted to be with him, was going to get sorely disappointed.
So he got older, continuing to fight the threats that emerged. He even trained Tifa and Reno's kids to prepare the next generation, as he knew evil never rested.
Cloud traveled the world again, one last time, without the pressing urgency to defeat a psychopath. He wanted to see the world in full, in color like she did. He let his mind soak in every detail, and then returned when he knew his time was coming with souvenirs for the kids, his friends and himself and pictures to capture the memories.
He met many people during his travels that he let into his heart like she would, loving them fully. It was in no way romantic, for there were many different forms of love.
During his final moments, lying weakly on his bed, he did not die by his lonesome. His last few minutes of sight were filled with his numerous friends and his many nieces and nephews that adored him. Words were exchanged. He had entrusted his belongings to each of them, said his goodbyes, and exhaled slowly.
His mind drifted as his mortal body failed. Cloud's heart stopped beating, and for a moment all he saw was darkness. Then there was a flash of light - both white and green - and suddenly he was opening his eyes, young again, in a field of flowers. The sky was a nearly reflective bright blue. The air was fresher than he'd ever experienced.
He knew where he was: their Promised Land. At last, he had finally arrived. After such a long journey in life, now it was time for his eternal happiness and rest.
The aroma of the flowers filled his nose with their sweet scent, reminding him of her smell. Then, he heard it: her voice.
It was a flowing, airy voice that caused his head to turn in her direction. Her eyes, those sparkling emerald orbs he adored, welled with tears as a smile graced her rose-petal lips.
"It's...it's really you?"
He smiled back, lovingly and reassuringly. "Yeah, it's me. It took a while, but...I'm finally here."
She ran to him, tackling him in a fierce hug that left him wondering how strong she had really been. Her tears stained his turtleneck. They were warm and wet, which prompted him to wrap his strong, muscular arms around her slender form. It felt right to hold her, to have her in his arms like this.
"You'd better not be an illusion, or I'll come back to Gaia just to haunt you!" She warned between sobs of joy, lightly punching his back.
He chuckled, a deep, silky sound rumbling in his throat. It riddled her skin with goosebumps that made him grin. "I'm real, Aerith. I promise."
"Good. Good, that's good..." She sniffled, pressing her face into his shoulder.
Her skin was soft to the touch, his un-gloved fingers stroking her bare arms. He played with her silky chestnut hair, pulling it free of her usual braid. It fell down in gentle waves, framing her beautiful face.
She pulled away, wiping away the tear trails staining her smooth cheeks. "I've missed you, Cloud Strife. I've missed you more than anything. I know I should've said this a long time ago, but...I love you, Cloud Strife. I always have and always will, and I'm sorry for not saying it sooner. I'm so proud of you for living like you did - Zack and I both are. There's just so much I want to say-"
Cloud effectively silenced her by pressing a finger against her fleshy lips, drawing closer to her so their faces were only inches apart. "I know. I've missed you so much it physically hurt. I know I wasn't the best support or the best person back when...back when we were on our journey. But because of you, I've changed. We have all the time in the world to catch up, Aerith. But right now, I only want to do one thing."
Her playfulness returned, a coy smirk spreading across the lips he kept staring at with a quirked brow. "Oh? And what would that be, Mr. Strife?"
The blond cupped her face with both hands, drawing her even closer to his face, smiling widely. "You already know. You always have."
He then pressed his lips against hers, capturing her mouth sweetly. Their first kiss, followed by countless more.
At last, he was home. At last, Cloud Strife was finished with suffering. He'd rightfully earned his happy ending, with the love of his life that he waited to reunite with for decades.
At last, Cloud could be at peace for eternity with a mended heart and a clean conscience, spending it with the one he loved most. At last, Cloud Strife and Aerith Gainsborough were together forever, in their Promised Land, loving each other until the end of the world.
Author's Note: Ta-daa! People asked for a sort of sequel oneshot where Cloud and Aerith finally reunite, so here it is! It took a while, but I finally got around to it! What'd you think? Review, favorite and follow!
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