Not Roses

Cloud shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark jeans. The trench coat flapped against his legs, sounding like the heavy wings of a bird. His motorcycle was off, sitting a few feet away and he was staring at the forest of the ancients.

What was he doing here?

She hadn't loved him. Had he loved her or was it just the idea of her that stirred Cloud's emotions? Inside his pockets his hands clenched into fists. One year had passed since the fight against Sephiroth. One miserable year of being Hero of the Planet. Throngs of people all begging to talk to him, to have him at this that or the other, some times he would show up with Tifa, and she would hang on his arm, drinking up the lights and attention.

Maybe that was cruel of Cloud to think that way. It had been Tifa who headed AVALANCHE really. Barett wasn't much more then the muscle. She earned fame for her hard work. Though, she would toss it back at him, he too, had worked hard. He did what no one else could.

Not like there was a line for the job or anything.

No, he hated being the center of attention, he hated talking in public, he hated how people's eyes would glaze over in hero-worship. Was it so much to ask to talk to someone who wanted to know Cloud, not Hero of the Planet?

Cloud sighed, laughing at himself. Of course not, no one had ever cared about Cloud Strife from nowhere. Not even his own mother. No one had ever cared for anything but his uses. That included Tifa, she wouldn't even admit it till he told her that he knew she was lying to him. Oh, she had cried then, telling him that she didn't want him to think about how mean she had been, or how horrible his childhood had been. She wanted him to think she and he had been friends. She lied to protect him.

Well, being a liar never made anything better. He had walked out then and there. Tifa had been truthful, when she cried on his shoulder; she had been honest when she said that she didn't want to hurt him. That didn't really matter much to Cloud. He was sick of people using him.

Then why was he staring at the forest again? Aeris had been just as bad as Tifa, using him, manipulating him so that everything would fall together in its proper place. So what if both women used him to save the planet? In the end, it didn't make him feel any less used. Turning on heel, Cloud made up his mind. From this point on, Cloud was leaving Tifa's memory with Aeris, after all, he had his own bad memory to work with.

His coat bellowed out as the wind picked up again. There was a storm moving in, if Cloud hurried, he'd make it back to Cosmo Canyon before the rain. Nanaki would be happy that for once, Cloud listened to good advice. Strange, he thought, getting on the bike, how little he had assumed that he and Nanaki had in common, until they started talking. All in all he should have thought about moving to Cosmo right off the bat. It was the best place he could be to sort his head out.

Before he started his bike, Cloud heard the sound of another in the distance. Instinctively, his hand moved to his back, sharp blue eyes narrowed. It was rare, people challenging him to fights anymore, though they did it, and always they were too ready to die for their own honor. It was lucky for them that Cloud had firm convictions about not killing someone unless he needed to. He heard the engine die out just on the other side of the hill in front of him. Curiosity won over and Cloud started up the hill to see who else would be this far away from everything.

He blinked in surprise when he noticed the blonde Turk, Elena. She picked up what appeared to be a bundle of roses from her bike and glared at the forest. The sun peaked out from the cloud cover, glinting off his sword, still half drawn. It gained the female Turk's attention. She dropped the flowers, drawing her gun. "What do you want, Strife?"

Cloud pushed the sword all they way back into the sheath, it hissed like a tame snake. He lifted his hands in surrender. "I just wanted to see who else was here."

Her hazel eyes narrowed down the sight of the weapon. With a disgusted sound she jammed it back into her shoulder holster. She snatched the flowers up with a growl. "What, where's Tifa? Or are you still in love like everyone else?"

The venom in Elena's words was almost tangible. Cloud found himself feeling grateful that looks couldn't kill. "What are you talking about?"

She laughed, jaded and bitterly. "Oh, what am I talking about? Nothing, nothing at all, just the most perfect woman ever to live, the great Aeris Gainsborough."

Cloud made it down to the bottom of the hill, now totally confused. "You seem extremely angry for someone bringing another person flowers."

Again, the glare from Elena was scathing. "No one asked you. Don't you have a press conference to go to?"

Cloud felt his own anger flair up then. "You don't know what you're talking about." He snapped.

"Oh, I see you on television, with the flashing cameras and the people screaming your name." She started to the woods, seeming eager to be gone. "I see you all get misty eyed talking about her and how she saved the planet. Very noble, Cloud, making it seem like you aren't some great hero."

"I'm not!" he thundered, making her spin around again. "Stop talking out your damn ass, Turk. What the hell are you doing here?"

She started to shake, though if it was at his tone or if she was just tired of being so wound up, Cloud couldn't tell. "What am I doing? I'm filling out Tseng's request, because Rude and Reno are too fucking busy… because… because…" She took a deep breath, steadying herself with enviable grace. "Because he loved her, not me."

It all came to light then, "Tseng asked you to bring Aeris flowers."

"She loves roses, he wrote…" Her voice hitched. "So make sure that if I don't make it, Aeris gets roses from me…" She looked at them then, totally disgusted with herself. Elena threw the flowers on the ground, some of the petals scattered about their feet. "I fucking hate roses! I- I" Finally, after so much pressure- who knows how long she had stayed silent- Elena started to get tears in her eyes. She glared up at him, "what would you know about no one wanting you? About being clumsy, or gangly, about being the replacement!" The tears weren't falling yet, but her face flushed red. Her words came out in a rush, broken, Cloud could only catch "replacement for Reno, replacement for Aeris" followed by heavy cursing and another rush of words.

When she paused to take a breath, Cloud muttered quietly, "everything." He turned his blue eyes down to the rose petals.

"What, what did you say?" Elena asked, still breathing hard.

"I said," his eyes never left the red flowers, even as the rain broke and patted down on them, "that I know everything about not being wanted. About being the replacement for someone else, about being nothing more then this "hero" that everyone loves because he's rich and powerful."

"You? I'd never think that you would be second best to anyone, Hero of the Planet."

"And I don't think someone like you should settle for second best." He still was watching the rain soaking up on the petals.

She strode up to him, crushing red flowers under her black biking boots. Hazel eyes glared up at him as if she didn't trust him. "Prove it." He looked into her face, still flushed and now her hair was matted to her head.

Cloud really couldn't explain why he did what he did next. He had no idea, maybe because he hadn't felt understood in so long, maybe he was lonely. Whatever reason, his arm wrapped around Elena's waist and yanked her over to him.

She let out a gasp, hands flat against his chest before their mouths met. Instead of pushing him away, her eyes fluttered closed, her hands drifted up his chest and around his back, under the leather coat. At the same moment, they opened their eyes, proclaimed 'to hell with it' it their minds and continued.

She pressed against him, pushing Cloud roughly on his back. They couldn't get undressed with enough speed it seemed, before Elena could pull her shirt off, she was on her back, pushing the thorn-less roses further into oblivion. One hand gripped his hair, the other took a handful of earth and red roses.

The rain was over with before they were. They lay on their backs, still undressed as the sun set in the now clear sky. Cloud propped himself up on his elbows, glancing over at Elena, who was digging in her own coat. She produced a pack of cigarettes and offered him one.

With a shrug, Cloud waved the smoke away. He glanced around again, noticing an iris poking out from the ground near his pants. He picked it and lifted it up in-between them.

When she turned to look at him again, from putting her cigarettes away Elena jumped. The flower seemed to surprise her. "What's that?" She asked.

"Well, you said you hated roses." Cloud laughed.

With a genuine smile, Elena accepted it and twirled the flower around in her fingers. "Yeah, this is much, much better then a rose."

A/N: 45 minute challenge fic. I really had fun with this pair, hope you all liked reading it as much as I liked writing it.