A/N: Because I've always been fascinated with the Regency Era. And because CloTi seemed to fit perfectly into this realm.

Warning: NC-17

Midgar, 1815, 11:30PM

The ball was packed, filled with everyone who was anyone of Midgar, all standing shoulder to shoulder in anticipation of a midnight announcement. Invitations to the event had been posted only days before, and only to the most exclusive members of the ton. Even with such short notice, acceptances had been returned in droves; every summons had been answered with a resounding yes.

Lady Tifa Lockhart, seventh Countess of Edge, smiled gaily as her companion, Princess Yuffie Kisaragi of Wutai, mumbled unkind words at the color of her gown.

"Why must I wear these stupid pastels?" the youth grumbled, plucking at the muted green of her gown. "I'm not a child! I'm sixteen, for Leviathan's sake."

"And therein lay the answer to your own question," Tifa answered, sipping from her flute of champagne. The bubbles tickled her nose. "Bold colors are for those seeking a husband. Sixteen is not quite the husband hunting age."

Yuffie frowned at her. "Ugh, I forgot that's why you're wearing blue. And not pastel blue either, a real blue. What color did you say it was?"

"Cobalt," Tifa replied softly, gaze darkening for an instant. Yes, she was husband hunting, though she didn't want one, and she always wore the same, deep blue when attending a ball of any caliber.

Because it was the color of his eyes.

"Yeah! Your color has a grand name like 'cobalt' and I'm stuck with—with washed-too-many-times green."

"Mint," Tifa corrected, shaking her head. She sighed then, remembering her hatred of the pinks and mints and powder blues she'd had to endure. "It will be all right, Yuffie. In two more years, you'll be allowed deeper colors—though probably not the red of Aerith's gown tonight."

Yuffie perked at that, brown eyes shining eagerly. The youth admired their older friend greatly, aspired to Aerith's grace and gentleness. "Oh, yes! Lady Aerith's gown was bee-you-ti-ful wasn't it? I've never seen a red like that! Rich and bright and alive."

"Well," Tifa began with a dry smirk, recalling the crimson fabric she'd helped Aerith choose, "she will be announcing her betrothal tonight. It's only reasonable she look her stunning best."

And Aerith had. Encased in a gown of vivid red with her ringlets pinned delicately, Aeirth had been a vision. Her clever maid had laced a string of pearls through the sandy strands of her hair, dusted her porcelain cheeks with the softest of pinks, and rouged her mouth with the faintest of color. Tifa had hugged Aerith tightly when she had descended the stairs that evening, looking blissful and eager. How thrilled and delighted she was for her dear friend.

Lord Zack Fair, Viscount of Gongaga, had proposed to the green-eyed Aerith a sennight ago, having returned from the war just months previous. Tifa still remembered how bruised and battered he'd been when she'd accompanied Aerith on a visit, word of his return arriving the moment he'd stepped into Midgar. He was at the infirmary, the messenger had proclaimed, and Aerith had near throttled the messenger for the exact location.

Anticipating the worst, Tifa done her best to remain positive during the trip across town, assuring Aerith that Zack was fine, that he was young and strong and no matter what happened, he would pull through. When they'd arrived at the hospital to find Zack physically well, Tifa had felt Aerith begin to weep beside her.

Then they'd seen his eyes, eyes Tifa recalled as laughing and vibrant, instead distant and subdued. As if they'd seen and done too much. He'd flinched upon seeing Aerith and had turned away.

And Aerith had halted, hurt to see how she'd been rejected.

But Tifa had refused. She'd grabbed Aerith by the shoulders and shaken her. She'd reminded Aerith that she'd been waiting for too long, had loved too long to give up without a fight. Her man had come back to her, was she going to let him slip away?

Resolute, Aerith had nodded at Tifa's words and squared her shoulders, determined to bring Zack back to life. She'd marched to his side, grasped his hand, and told him bluntly he'd better be prepared to buy her the biggest, gaudiest diamond on the Planet because once she made sure he was fine, he was damn well going to propose to her.

And she had. He had. Within a few weeks, brilliance had returned to Zack's violet gaze—and to Aerith's too. Zack had dropped to one knee in front of an assemblage of people at some event or another and offered her his heart. Aerith's parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cetra, had immediately started arrangements for a ball to announce the betrothal.

Tifa smiled as she remember the whirlwind of preparations it had taken, how she'd felt dizzy as she'd helped arrange flowers and refreshments, music and lights. How lucky she was to have met the Gainsboroughs last season. She didn't know where she would be without their guidance this past year.

"It's almost time," Yuffie exclaimed excitedly and bounced on her toes. "I can't wait to see them together tonight—even though I just saw them last evening!"

Tifa grinned. "I feel exactly the same," she agreed wholeheartedly. Tonight was special for the couple, when they announced their love to world. And in six weeks following the posting of their wedding banns, their announcement would become a pledge at the City of Ancients.

"Their love story is so sweet," Yuffie declared, shrugging her shoulders. "They meet at a ball, fall in love, then he's sent off to war, tearing them apart." Yuffie clasped her hands to her heart dramatically. "When he returns world weary and jaded, she fights his demons with him and then—and then they discover they still love each other!" She sighed with contentment. "Happily ever after."

Tifa couldn't help it. She laughed at the girl's theatrics, a full rich sound that turned heads. It was a rare thing for the countess to laugh so unguardedly.

"That about sums everything up," Tifa acceded and bumped her shoulder with the younger girl.

Yuffie shot her a look, eyes diffusing slightly. "I…I'm sorry I can't gush about your love story too, Tifa," she said in a quiet voice.

An ache so suddenly fierce and tight shot through Tifa, stealing her breath, and she could do nothing but nod.

Her love story? What love story? The one she couldn't stop searching for in every blonde hair and blue eyed stranger? The one that was sustained by memories of whispered promises and tender kisses? The one that filled her with so much longing she at times staggered from the weight of it? That love story?

Cloud Strife, Earl of Nibelheim. He'd come into his title so early in his life—too early, his father having died during a riding accident only days after his birth. He'd been raised by the dowager countess on the lands that bordered the Lockhart's, a quiet, shy boy who'd struggled under the weight of his responsibilities. Her first friend.

She'd fallen in love with him at the age of six, declared her devotion at seven, cried in his arms when her mother had died at eight—and been left abandoned when he'd loped off to join the military years later.

"I want to become a better man," he'd told her beneath the stars after the first time he'd loved her. "A better man for me, for you, for my mother and Nibelheim. I want to deserve you. When I come back as part of SOLDIER—it will be for us. I promise."

Oh, she'd been so young and foolish, had felt so proud and so scared that her Cloud wanted to be something more. Wanted to be her hero. And so she'd wept at his pledge, wept when he'd left—but had let him go.

Only, he'd never returned.

The first few years he'd been gone, he'd often wrote. Though the letters were short and stinted, they were so Cloud. She'd tucked every one beneath her pillow at night, the sheets crumbling and tatty from her frequent readings.

Then his letters had suddenly stopped. All her written responses were returned. Cloud Strife was no longer accepting any correspondence, she was told by Shinra personnel. Any notes sent to his SOLDIER contingent would not be posted. Bewildered, she'd accepted the bundle of refused vellum and wondered if he was all right.

She'd begun a private campaign then, not wanting to alarm his mother. Something was wrong. Cloud needed her—as much as she had always needed him. He would never turn her away. He loved her, had told her with words, with gestures, with his fingers stroking her skin and his mouth stealing her air.

Something was wrong and she was going to find out what.

She began to spend hours hounding Shinra Headquarters, pestering anyone in a uniform, threatened and swore and begged for answers. Where was he? Why couldn't she speak with him? Was he hurt? Was he safe? She'd even followed Heidegger home one evening to plead her case—all to no avail. Frustrated, scared, and nearly out of ideas, she'd called an audience with the king.

When a fire caught and killed his mother and her father that evening, she'd attempted valiantly to remain strong. She needed to notify Cloud, she'd told herself. Extending a small fortune, she'd sent word to him via special messenger, telling herself she only needed to hold on until he came home. He would hold her together. He would come. His mother was gone, surely even Shinra wouldn't be so cruel as to prevent his visit.

A few days passed before the messenger returned, in his hand a single, folded note. She'd nearly ripped it from the man's grasp, shaking as she broke the seal and read Cloud's familiar, scratchy inscription.

Countess Edge,

I am sorry I haven't written. Many things have changed since I left, especially myself. The world is bigger and better than anything I ever have imagined.

I send my condolences for your loss but will not be in attendance for the services. Please do not contact me again. Any further communication is unwelcome and will be grounds for your detainment per order of the king, as they are distracting from me from my service to him.

I do not want to remember Midgar again.

Cloud Strife, SOLDIER 1st Class

Devastated, she'd fallen to her knees and wept.

And she'd mourned. Alone, she'd mourned. Her father. His mother.


What happened to him, she'd wondered as she'd stumbled through funeral arrangements in a white haze of shock. He and his mother had been close, had loved each other greatly. Why wasn't he returning?

She'd walked around in a daze, scarcely sleeping and when she did, had difficulty waking. Time melted together, dark and light and only two words had kept her tethered to the Planet.

Marlene. Denzel.

Her cherished little sister and Cloud's illegitimate half brother.

The pair had become hers after the deaths of their parents. Marlene had been too young to understand but Denzel had been devastated, his mother gone, a father he'd never known somewhere in the world, a brother who'd left him abandoned. Tifa had taken them both into her arms and heart, raised them and loved them so much more than herself.

They gave her life purpose again.

Via special decree from King Shinra, the title of Edge had become hers too. Though it was unheard of for a title to be passed onto a daughter, the king had long admired Tifa's talent at the pianoforte, and so he'd granted Edge the edict of inheriting via male or female.

She'd done her best to keep Edge in order. She'd done her best to keep Nibelheim in order also; hiring a solicitor, she'd sought to grant Denzel the keeping of Nibelheim and Strife Delivery, the most prominent import and export service on the Planet. Her winning argument had been that as Cloud was away in service, Denzel, as his only living relative, should be allowed to act as steward until his return.

That had been long ago. Four years since Cloud had left her, two since his callous response, one since she'd stopped donning black and rejoined society.

Oh, but she did not care much for Midgar society. She was too independent, too headstrong, neither genteel nor polished enough. She didn't giggle or flirt properly, often forgot that the Quality deemed only the weather or opera as polite subjects. Shiva forbid she mention politics.

She recalled once having admitted to having pugilism skills and Lady Modeoheim had categorically swooned, collapsing like rigging to the floor. Aerith had pressed a dram of smelling salts into someone's hand and had dragged Tifa off.

"Tifa!" Aerith had admonished, trying to contain her giggles. "You won't ever find a husband if you keep down this path."

Tifa had grumbled. Lady Modeoheim had six children and yet couldn't handle the talk of a woman with talent in pugilism?

"That old crone," she'd frowned. "What a sham. No one who swoons does so knees first, hands next, head last. She must practice in front of a mirror for hours. Furthermore, I don't want a husband."

Aerith had sighed, squeezed her hand. "I know, darling, but we've talked about this. This husband isn't just for you. This husband is for Marlene and Denzel too."

Which was absolutely true. Though she wielded much power—more power than was deemed acceptable—there were still so many doors that were closed to her simply because she was a woman. And doors that were closed to her were closed to Marlene and Denzel.

The children desperately needed a father figure also, especially Denzel. He was growing so fast, and she was doing her best but she felt as if she were failing him. He'd often return from school bloodied from fights, Marlene chirping of how someone had teased them both of not having a father.

And Tifa was so tired at times, so lonely. True she had Aerith and Yuffie, but the dynamics were not the same. She would watch Aerith and Zack and envy their friendship, the way they leaned on one another. When had she last leaned on someone? What would it feel like to lean on someone, just a little, just for a moment? She certainly didn't need anyone to take care of her—but sometimes…Shiva, sometimes she was so tired….

Her fingers curled, craving the warmth of the hand that used to hold it.

"…all right, Tifa?"

Tifa blinked, drawn back to the present by a grasp of her arm. She looked down at Yuffie's gloved hand.

"Oh my, yes, I'm sorry, Yuffie," she hastened to apologize. "I believe the champagne went to my head."

Yuffie's brown eyes peered back at her doubtfully. "I feel like you are lying," Yuffie informed her, "but since I do not know the taste of champagne, I can't say for certain. If you would please—"

Tifa rolled her eyes. "I applaud your attempt, Yuffie, but no," she replied dryly and finished the bubbling liquid in her glass. She set the empty flute on a passing tray.

"Hmph," the youth pouted and removed her hand. A moment later, she snagged Tifa's dance card, listening as the music changed. "Tifa, they're playing a waltz! Which means Sir Rude is coming to dance with you!"

Sir Rude, a knight of the king's elite Turks. Tifa smiled a bit at the mention of her tall, sleekly dressed suitor. He was a genuinely nice man, quiet and soft-spoken, and had declared his intentions to marry her at their very first meeting. She liked him, found him easy to get along with and trustworthy, and though she would never love him, she thought she could come to care about him a great deal.

As if summoned, Rude arrived at her side, something like admiration glowing in his usually somber eyes. He nodded to Yuffie in greeting, bowed properly, and offered his arm to Tifa, all done without a single word. She raised a single brow at his silence but accepted his proffered arm and followed him onto the dance floor.

Would he make a good father, she wondered as he held her oh-so-properly, twirled her around the floor. He was fair and reasonable, courteous. Would he teach Denzel and Marlene how be just and compassionate? Show them gentleness and care? He would certainly treat them with respect, and when he strayed from their marriage, she thought she could count on him to be discreet.

Her heart ached a little at that, not because Rude would stray, but because she wouldn't care when he did.

When he at last escorted her back to Yuffie, who was now standing alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cetra, she knew that when Rude proposed, she was going to accept. It mattered not that he offered her no title—Ifrit, she could hardly believe, she had a title—for he didn't care that she was twenty-two, an old maid by society's standards, and had two young charges. He would make a conventional husband—and they would build a conventional life.

And she would make do with dreaming of a touch that soothed her fears, of arms that were her home.

"It's time!" Yuffie practically shouted as Their Graces bid the girls stay put and strode to the top of the sunken ballroom stairs.

Tifa smiled.

The engagement announcement was made to a loud, boisterous crowd, several of Zack's allies and teammates in attendance, and Tifa laughed as improper whistles and cat calls were made. Aerith blushed as Zack pumped his fist in triumph and tears blurred her vision as they gazed in each other's eyes.

There were no two people on the Planet who deserved happiness more and she was so glad for them. Yet she couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy.

She'd loved like that once. Yes, she'd been young but her love had been no less fierce, burned no less bright.

Where was her godsdamn happy ending?

"My lady and I would now like to send out a special thank you," Zack was saying, his violet eyes beaming. He turned, searching through the crowd until he found Tifa. "Countess Edge, much appreciation for everything that you've done for us, even chaperoning though I insisted we didn't need one." Laughing and cheers followed his cheeky quip. "We have for you tonight a special gift."

Tifa felt her stomach drop. Oh, Shiva, what are they planning? she thought, bracing herself for the worst. They'd already offered her a long list of materia and she'd vehemently refused—though she'd eyed the mastered Phoenix summon for a bit. And who could blame her? She had two children to take care of!

She sighed. Knowing the two of them, they would present the Phoenix summon to her on a platter tonight, in front of all of the Midgar Quality, to force her to accept; she would never embarrass them by declining in public. Now in private

"Your prize, Countess!" Zack exclaimed then, and waved his arm theatrically like a magician with his prestige.

And like a magician, an illusion appeared from beyond his signaled arm.

An illusion with spiky blonde hair and endless blue eyes that she saw each night in her dreams. An illusion that stopped her heart and her breath. An illusion that had her suddenly running, fumbling, tripping gracelessly up the stairs to stand with her breast heaving in disbelief.

"Cloud," she gasped, unblinking as she soaked in his visage.

Broad shoulders, much, much broader than she remembered, trim hips, long legs, all encased in perfectly tailored garments. His gravity defiant golden hair, those orbs of luminous blue that she remembered so well…it was all standing in front of her, silent and unmoving and she would surely crumple to her knees if he was not real.

"Good evening, my lady," he said in that familiar voice, his lips curving in that wonderful, shy smile she'd missed every moment he'd been gone.

Her heart skipped and she—

She hauled off and punched him so hard he was out before he hit the floor.

"Pardon me," she stated, addressing the throng of stunned faces who'd watched the entire exchange. She nodded once to the silent crowd—then picked up her skirts and marched out of the ballroom, head held high.

Oh, but she was mad, fuming mad, had never, ever been so angry in her all life. Thunderously, she stomped into her bed chamber, slammed the door shut behind her and thanked Shiva that Marlene and Denzel were at the Gainsborough's for the evening. She didn't need them seeing her so incensed.

The anger simply wouldn't abate. She'd headed straight from the ball to her pugilist club, an underground association in the slums of Midgar that cared not that she was a woman. There, she'd beaten three challengers to bloody pulps, hoping the activity would help deplete some of her fury.

Wrong. How wrong. Each punch she'd thrown had only fueled her rage for it had been the wrong face she'd been planting her fist in.

"Rotten, Chocobo-ass looking piece of shit!" she shouted, careless that any servants remaining on the premises would think her mad. She'd given nearly all of them the night off, keeping only a footman and single maid.

She began peeling of the menswear she'd donned. Surcoat, vest, boots and belt all were thrown unceremonious in the direction of her armoire. She hopped out of her pantaloons next, flung them at the window in a wild fit and paced in only a tunic.

She eyed the poster of her bed, wondered if she could punch it without the canopy collapsing. It looked sturdy…?

"Stupid, gown wearing asshole! I hope you had motion sickness every blasted day!" she roared and took a step toward the bed.

"Not every day," a voice answered hesitantly, and she spun toward the sound, spotted a golden head and glowing blue eyes in a dark corner of the room.


Her lips flattened, heart thumping painfully in her breast as she drank in the sight of him.

How dare he enter her home, invade her space, she thought while running her eyes over his every feature hungrily. Her lower lip trembled. What could he possibly want with her after breaking her heart?

"What are you doing here?" she asked, every word short and succinct. Her muscles tensed and relaxed, once, twice, before she began to shiver uncontrollably.

He rose from the overstuffed chair he'd been seated in, eyes wary. "I needed to see you," he answered carefully and took a small step forward, hand outstretched.

Needed to see her? Liar! her aching heart screamed.

"Get out." She spoke the words through gritted teeth and ignored how her view of him became suddenly blurry and wavered. Something wet trailed down her cheek and she turned away, fists clenched to keep them from shaking.

From reaching.


"No," she interrupted angrily. Oh, gods, how she'd missed her name from those lips. "Don't come near me, don't touch me. Get out. You've already said more than enough."

She hiccupped the last word, muffling a sob behind one clenched fist as pain and relief and love poured through her.

She could smell him, though he was still so far away, his familiar, masculine scent piercing her right to her core. Oh, how she'd missed him, at times found herself fumbling for his warmth though she knew he didn't need her, and now he was here, alive and well. His touch, his taste, the feel of him hard and sweet and solid against her…She wanted to grab him, hold him, make sure he was as whole as he looked and beg him, without pride, to stay.

How foolish she was.

"Please, let me explain," he said, his voice closer than it had been, as if he were but a breath away. She could feel him behind her and it reminded her of every dream she'd ever had of him being so near.

And yet still so far.

She shook her head, unable to answer as she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her waist, choking on a sob.

"Those years I was gone, I—I didn't mean to be," he continued, ignoring her denial, and his words were urgent and faltering. "I—I was taken and…and I—I couldn't escape. He—he kept me locked away and I—I couldn't get free."

Her mouth went dry at his words. Taken…? Cloud had been taken? Where? Why? Who had taken him? Her mind pumping furiously with questions, she waited for him to continue.

But the silence stretched instead, loud and tense. She closed her eyes tight as his breaths began to quicken, become patchy and uneven as if he'd run a long distance. Suddenly frightened, she spun to face him, searching for his eyes.

To find faint and dim blue, so dark they were a score.

And shimmering with liquid.

"I missed you so much, Tifa," came his rough, rapid admission, as if he couldn't wait another moment to tell her. "D-do you think I—c-can I hold you now?"

He caught her in his arms as her knees gave out, dragged her against him and held her so tight bruises were sure to form the following day. She didn't care, was thankful for the painful contact as she began to weep with unrestrained ferocity.

Somehow they ended up on the floor anyway, a pile of arms and legs and need. Her shudders were absorbed by his strength and his fingers trembled as she kissed them, as they tangled in her hair. She clumsily patted him everywhere, anywhere, prodded and poked to make sure he was real. And he brushed away her tears while she stroked away his before he simply rocked them both back and forth.

He told her then, his voice soft and halting, of the time he'd been away from her. Of how he'd been traded by his leader, General Sephiroth, to a man named Hojo in exchange for biological weapons. How he'd been kept in solitary confinement, and how the only other human contact he'd had was when Hojo brought him out for questioning.

And Tifa knew in her heart that it had been more, much, much more, than simple questioning.

He told her how one day someone was thrown into the cell next to his, someone cocky and friendly and tended to talk too much. Zack. He told her how they'd finally escaped, were on their way home when he had collapsed—from what he'd refused to share. Instead he spoke of how Zack had saved him, how he'd literally been carried on the taller man's shoulders until they'd reached Midgar.

"Zack went straight to the top with our accounts and it seemed that Shinra had already captured Hojo and was onto Sephiroth," he explained. "My account only solidified their suspicions. Zack had been captured by Hojo alone so was released into the public. I was housed secretly until Sephiroth was brought in peaceably. He was executed today."

"Which is why you were released," she whispered, the tears she'd been crying silent and endless and so much more pain-filled.

She felt his nod along her shoulder, tightened the arms she had wrapped around his neck.

"But I…that letter I received…and when our parents died…" Tifa choked on the words, struggling. It had been Cloud's handwriting, every scratch and turn.

"I'm so sorry, Tifa," he murmured fiercely and pressed his mouth to her hair. "Sephiroth threatened me, threatened to take someone else in my place. I—I had to. I couldn't—I thought you would be all right. I knew you'd never stop searching and I—I didn't know if I was coming back so I thought if I wrote it…"

She trembled, trying to shake the memories. "I needed you so much," she confessed. "I was…so alone. And there was Marlene and Denzel—"

"I saw them both."

She leaned back, peered into cobalt with surprise. "What? When?"

Lean fingers caressed her face, gaze seeming to devour her features as she had with him. "After you left the ball. I thought you'd collect them, come here, so I went to the Gainsborough's."

She pressed her lips to his wandering fingers. "They must've been overjoyed," she whispered, felt her heart lift. Denzel had his brother back!

Cloud's answering smile was dry. "They were asleep. I watched them for a while, then came here to wait for you."

She closed her eyes, smiling, and pressed her forehead to his chin.

"I was…not in a good place when I got back," he was continuing. "I—I was confused for a long time. Zack was—he was there for me. I—he would tell me stories about myself—stories I used to tell him when we were in captivity. Stories of you and—and of us. So that—so that I could remember who I was."

He shifted then, one of his hands reaching into his pocket to tug something free. He leaned back, his large hands cupped around a small object.

"I—Zack and…and this got me through everything," he told her in a soft, quiet voice, and revealed to her the item he held.

It was a portrait miniature, no larger than the size of a palm, of a girl with long dark hair and grinning carmine eyes. The vellum the portrait had been painted on was old, the edges frayed and dirty, the colors around the young girl's chin and along her temple worn and faded. Tifa let out a sob as she understood why the colors were so faint, watched Cloud's thumb stroke reflexively along the dulled tint as if it were a ritual he'd practiced frequently.

As if he'd longed to touch her as much as she'd longed for his touch.

She wept again, harder and deeper, for this time it was his pain for which she grieved.

It was long moments later that he finally stood and carried them to the bed. He settled back along the headboard, stretching his long legs in front of him. She sat with her knees on either side of his hips, the tunic bunched at her waist and his hands under the fabric along her bare back.

"You cut off your pony tail," she finally said, running her hands through the soft strands at the base of his neck.

"SOLDIER made me," he answered, mouth pressed into her shoulder.

"I used to love pulling it," she told him wistfully, instinctively tugged at the short locks in its place.

"That's why I said they made me." His thumbs moved over her shoulder blades, fingers kneading her spine. "I wanted to keep it long for you. And anyway, you're still pulling it."

She realized he was right. "Oh."

"You pulled it the first time I kissed you too," he reminded her and leaned back far enough so that their eyes caught and held.

Cobalt blue stared back at her, luminous and vivid. Her heart jolted in her breast at the emotions swirling in their depths: uncertainty, hope, disbelief, desire.


She swallowed past the lump in her throat, knew her own eyes were a reflection of his and tenderly cupped his jaw. "Please don't let this be a dream," she begged, afraid to blink lest he disappear. It had happened before, so many times before. She felt her eyes fill, let the tears fall unchecked.

Cobalt darkened. "I'm here, Tifa," he answered, and followed crystalline drops with his lips. "I'm here. No more tears." And his mouth closed over hers.

He tasted of dreams and sunshine, of moonlight and wishes and endless sky.

Of welcome.

Of home.

He began the kiss hesitantly, seeking as if he were caught, like her, in the mire of unexpected happiness. Lips sipped hers softly, asking as they glided with slow, drugging care. And they told her, without words, just how much he'd craved her. It was so much more than the mist of memories she'd often relived, more than the dreams she'd often dreamed, and her eyes slid close as she fell into him.

The pressure of his mouth increased and—Shiva, how it moved, caressing as much as his hands were as they slid to her hips, down to cup her bottom, curved along her thighs.

"You're not wearing any undergarments," he groaned as he met only smooth, naked skin.

But she was too entranced to answer, her breaths hitching in her throat at the chaos he'd created. Oh, gods, he was everything and she'd missed him. She trembled under his onslaught, recording every motion of his mouth even as she drowned in the liquid fire he had ignited.

She shifted against him as he skimmed his hot hands beneath her tunic, tracing up her spine then low again to squeeze and knead her backside. Flames followed in their wake. Panting, she ran eager hands over his shoulders, arms, neck, anywhere she could reach.

It wasn't enough. She needed to feel his skin warm against her and he was wearing too many layers.

She wrenched her mouth free and began tugging at his cravat. "Take it off," she muttered, tossing the cloth behind her before she began wrestling with the rest of his clothing. Off came more items as he moved to accommodate her, and she flung fabric carelessly onto the floor until his chest was bare to her touch.

"Cloud," she sighed when her palms met with heated, naked skin. He was stronger than she remembered, hard and sleek as she relearned the shape of his shoulders, chest, ridged stomach. Impatient, she tugged her tunic up until her breasts were free and pressed them into him. A moan of pleasure followed the sensation of flesh on flesh.

"Tifa," he hissed and his hips pumped beneath her.

A muffled sound escaped her at his involuntary response and she purred, kissing his shoulders while rubbing aching nipples along his pecs. So long she'd waited for his warmth and she burned hot and fast as she pressed into him.

Clumsy fingers pulled at the tunic trapped at her arms. On, off she only understood that she wanted and did nothing to assist his prompting.

"Off," he demanded, but when she could only murmur a response while laving the base of his throat, he fisted the flimsy material and ripped. Impatiently, he managed to wiggle her free of the ruined fabric without losing contact.

Desperate for another taste of him, Tifa lifted her head until their lips met once more.

Teeth met and clashed, tongues slippery and curling as they dueled. This kiss was fueled with need and longing, a scorching mass that burned her to ash. Who needed air when Cloud was holding her, grinding against her, moving his hands until they found her aching breasts.

And they did ache, the nipples hard nubs as he cupped and shaped their fullness. Rough thumbs rubbed across their tips, causing a whimper to escape, one of pleasure and invitation. Whatever thoughts his kiss hadn't yet charred turned to cinder when he rolled dusty peaks between his fingers.

He tore their mouths apart and spun so she was beneath him, her long legs straddling his waist. With more ardor than grace, he bore kisses down her throat, leaving her panting when his tongue found her nipples.

"Cloud!" she cried brokenly, arching her back at the pleasure he was inflicting. His tongue was fire and ember and she couldn't think, closed her eyes because she couldn't see. Liquid pooled between her thighs, and a moan escaped as his teeth tugged, his mouth sucked.

Large hands glided to her thighs to lift her knees, fitting her snugly against him and she gasped at the feel of coarse fabric touching her most sensitive place.

"I need you," he murmured against her breasts, ground against her. Rough fingers skimmed over her hips and navel, sliding through damp curls to part her seam. "I need to feel you."

Oh, sweet, sweet Shiva.

She'd often touched herself, always on those long, lonely nights when she'd wake up drenched and wanting him, and though she'd bring herself to climax remembering clever fingers, having him stroking her anew was so much more.

For his touch was magic and she jerked, moaning his name without restraint. Oh, Gaia, but he felt so good, the things he was doing to her was so good. His fingers flicked delicately along her nub, dancing and skipping and smearing her liquid. Firm mouth sought hers, swallowed the keening sounds she breathed as she writhed beneath him.

Already so close to the edge, Tifa gasped a wanton "Please" and sucked his tongue into her mouth. He was going to take her over, she knew, ached for it. He wouldn't be so cruel when he'd already driven her half mad with want. Her back bowed, trapping the hand rolling her sensitive nipples between them.

"You're wet," he groaned, spreading slippery fluid across her aching center. He laughed gruffly when she pulled his hair none too gently, pounded a frustrated fist into his shoulder to urge him along.

"You like that?" he whispered against her mouth, rubbing her slowly with quick, sly strokes.

Oh, yes, she did. So much.

"Please," she begged again. Nails bit into his back while her eyes closed and her head tossed restlessly. Just a little more…"Cloud, please!"

"Come for me then," he whispered and pressed hot and hard against her nub.

Her release was instantaneous, her cry broken as she tumbled.

In a muddled daze, she lay unmoving for several heartbeats, floating from the orgasm and drifting quickly back. But she was still aroused and seeking, hips undulating as she remained coiled.

It wasn't enough, hadn't been nearly enough.

Above her Cloud shifted, tugging his trousers until they bunched at the knees. Her heavy lids lifted to witness as he sat back on his haunches and freed himself, one large hand grasping his cock to stroke. Once, twice, three times. Precum pooled at the broad tip and glistened in the light.

He was beautiful when he touched himself, she thought, but was envious of the hand stroking him, wanted to feel him in her palms and so she pushed at his wrists.

"Mine," she told him as she grasped his erection, rising to her knees to better mimic his motions.

He growled her name, his hips pumping involuntarily into her fist, and Tifa's lids lowered, watching as her fingers glided over him. It was...arousing, extremely so, to see herself pleasuring him. Gratified, she hummed and leaned forward to capture his bottom lip in her teeth.

He was silk and steel, stiff and throbbing. Her free hand traipsed past the folds of his trousers to cup him intimately as she continued to pump and she marveled at how she could make him look so fine. Flushed cheeks, closed eyes, muscles straining, her Cloud was magnificent.

"No," he groaned suddenly, and clasped her wrists. She resisted, wanting to make him feel as good as he made her but he raised her palm to his lips in apology and pressed her onto her back once more. "No more. I want to be inside you."

Divested of her prize, she pouted but complied and curled around him again. Yes, inside her. She wanted that too.

Things went foggy when she felt his length slide against her, mingling their juices, and her hips rolled in response. Inside...he said he wanted it too. Havoc, madness, want, it roiled in her. But he only teased her instead, his hardness parting her slit to rub and drag. She shivered when he nuzzled her ear, bit his shoulder while curving her hands around his buttocks.

"Cloud," she gasped, dug crescents into firm flesh to remind what he'd told her. Inside.

He nipped the sensitive skin at her throat, making her gasp, then soothed the spot with his tongue. Wet kisses moved across to her shoulder. And still he continued to rock against her, slowly and easily, until she was whimpering, ready to beg for more.

Hot hands slid through the curls at her apex again and she watched with glazed eyes as he flicked her clit, rubbing patterns that made her legs scissor. Fire and ice poured through her, fierce and hungry while she flooded his hand.

"Please Cloud, now," she moaned, arching with closed eyes. She was hot, wet, so ready to have him. Squeezing his backside, urging until she felt the probe of his cock at her entrance, she panted in anticipation. Oh, gods, he was so close. She was going to come apart as soon as he was inside her. With dizzying excitement, her head lolled as he pushed gently, rough forefinger flicking her button.

"Please what," he growled and the words were guttural in her ear. He pressed forward again, another tease, while his muscles tensed and strained as if fighting every instinct.

Mindless, she shook her head then nodded, confused. What was he asking her? Did he know she couldn't think, couldn't breathe?

But he was ruthless, resisting. "Please what, Tifa?" he demanded and found her mouth with his. He withdrew his hand, withdrew his hips.

"No!" she refused and opened her eyes to beseech burning cobalt. "No, don't!"

"Tell me what you want," he commanded her, tongue prodding the corner of her mouth. Her vision blurred and refocused and she looked down to see him once again stroking himself, watched as he pressed the shiny head of his erection to her opening while he worked his hand. "Is this want you want?"


"Oh, gods, Cloud, I want you. I want you inside me, now please please now. I want you—"

She splintered apart as he surged forward, hard and fast, and filled her completely.

He roared as he fitted against her, elbows and arms bracketing her body with eyes tightly shut. For long moments, he lay unmoving, as if simply feeling her surrounding him, absorbing her trembles and shakes as she rocked, was too much.

Eventually he began to move, and kept her caught in the morass of ecstasy, his motions long and driving and bucked both their bodies. She began climbing again before she'd even begun to fall.

He panted unevenly as he thrust, balancing above her with curved back and dug his boots into the mattress for leverage. He was so full inside her, so deep, and each slide into her brought her closer to bliss. The sounds of wet, the feel of him driving into her and giving them so much pleasure was beyond intoxicating and she murmured to him almost incoherently. How good he felt, how hard, how much faster she needed him to move and how much she wanted to come all over him.

A sound that was her name was dragged from him, the noise groaned against her breast as he bent and lapped at her hardened nipples. She arced to fit against his slippery tongue, felt one of his hands tangle at the hair at the base of her neck while the other slid back into her folds.

She gasped, craving his touch there as she dangled precarious on the edge once more.

"It's too much," he admitted, his thrusts becoming shorter and swifter, frantic. "I've wanted you too long. I'm going to come, Tifa. Come with me."

She sunk her teeth into his shoulder at his words, while he fisted her hair, poised to fall with him, and when he pounded into her, fucked her hard and fast as he fingered her clit, she shattered into a thousand pieces.

And even as she was clenching, crying, quivering around him, he followed her over that blissful cliff and exploded inside of her. Her name was a prayer called brokenly into the night.

It was a long, long while before Tifa felt Cloud move, rolling off of her to finally discard his boots and trousers. When he came back and tucked into her side, his head mischievously nuzzling the curve of her breast, she began to speak, chanting all the words she'd yearned to tell him every day he was gone, rejoicing in the fact that she could do so now. Her eyes dampened, temples wet as liquid trailed but these tears were sparkling and content, fell in a smooth motion that healed rather than the jagged ones that cut.

"I love you too, Tifa," she heard Cloud answer, his words soft and aching and breathed over her heart. "I missed you, too. And no, I'll never, ever leave you again."