"Cloud…" a female voice chirped in sing-song. "I know you can hear me…"

Cloud let out a soft groan. He opened his eyes just a little, only to squeeze shut them again immediately as the morning light blinded him. He blinked and opened them again.

He was lying on the floor in Aerith's church, and a figure was standing over him. He couldn't see clearly, but he knew it was a girl.

He frowned.

"Aerith…?" he muttered weakly. The figure giggled, and shook her head.

"Again?" she laughed. Cloud blinked again and his eyes began to focus more. The figure cleared, and it wasn't Aerith.

It was Marlene.

Cloud let out a yawn and sat up, giving her a warm smile.

"You called me Aerith again," she said, returning the smile. "Do I really look that much like her?"

Cloud laughed softly. He took her hand and twirled her around.

"Is that a bad thing?" he asked, eyeing her pink ribbon. She giggled again.

"Not at all." Cloud smiled. He noticed she was wearing her favourite dress and shoes.

"What are you all dressed up for?" The girl's smile faded slightly, but then she laughed.

"Very funny, Cloud," she giggled. "Acting like you don't know."

Cloud stared at her blankly. This time Marlene's smile disappeared.

"You forgot?!" she said, shocked and hurt. Cloud blinked.

"Forgot what?" Marlene stared at him for a moment, then let out a scoff of disbelief.

"It's my birthday today, Cloud," she snapped. "And you forgot!"

Cloud's eyes widened as it hit him like a rock. He slapped his forehead with his palm. How could he have forgotten?

Marlene rolled her eyes and sighed.

"Just when I thought everything was back to normal," she muttered darkly. "Way to go on ruining my birthday!" She stormed towards the church door, leaving Cloud feeling more miserable than he had for a long time.

I never knew
I never knew that everything was falling through

As she reached the door, she stopped and sighed. She looked over her shoulder to look at him.

Cloud knew Marlene. She never meant to snap at anyone. She would only do it when she was hurt or angered because of her one weakness.

Her family.

"You miss her, don't you?" she said gently. "I know you still miss her." Cloud looked at her. "You miss Aerith because she loved you and you loved her." She paused, her eyes saddening. "But we love you too, and we miss you." She glanced over at the bed of flowers at the altar, where Aerith planted them and cared for them when she was alive. Cloud followed her gaze.

He smiled a little, the flowers remaining him of the woman he loved so much, the woman he just couldn't let go. Her death haunted and burdened him for over two years, until he was able to move on with his life, for her sake and his family's.

But he still continued to love her, and by loving her, by wanting to feel her presence by staying in the church, it was tearing his family apart.

Marlene stared sadly at him.

"Don't you care about us anymore?"

That everyone I knew was waiting on a queue
To turn and run when all I needed was the truth

Without waiting for a response, she turned at her heel and walked out of the church, closing the door behind her.

Cloud emitted a weary sigh and collapsed back down on his bed.

Spacing out, spacing out, spacing out. That was all he had been doing lately. It was driving him crazy, she was driving him crazy.


Being in love with someone he could never hold again, only in dreams, and daydreams. Cloud closed his eyes and exhaled deeply, holding his head in his hands.

"You should have gone after her," a soft gentle voice said in his ear. "You should have remembered it was her birthday."

Cloud opened his eyes and looked over at the voice's direction.

A beautiful green-eyed brunette in pink stared back at him, kneeling at his side. Her soft smile eased his soul and erased his doubts, like it always had.

But that's how it's got to be
It's coming down to nothing more than apathy

"Get up, Cloud," she urged. "Get up." He obeyed, but it was clear that he struggled as he did. She noticed.

"Why, Cloud? Why are you so bored of life? Why won't you let anyone in?"

I'd rather run the other way than stay and see
The smoke and who's still standing when it clears

"I'm not bored of life, Aerith," Cloud said quietly. "I'm trying to let people in, but I just want to be alone sometimes." Aerith shook her head.

"You're scared," she said. "You always have been. You're scared to let people in, aren't you?" Cloud didn't answer, which frustrated Aerith.

"Look," she said. "I know Tifa and Barret still let you come here whenever you like which is… well, always." She shrugged. "And I love you for that, really I do. But remember, you're part of their family, and they need you. If you keep running off and forgetting important things like Marlene's birthday, well… it's like you're abandoning them."

Everyone knows I'm in
Over my head
Over my head

"I'm not," Cloud protested. "I am there when they need me."

Aerith stared at him for a very long silent moment.

"Then, why am I here?" she asked.

With eight seconds left in overtime
She's on your mind
She's on your mind

Aerith sighed, glancing out the door. She looked back at the blonde, smiling.

"Let go outside," she suggested. "You could use some fresh air." Cloud nodded, and followed her out.

It was rather windy and bright outside. The sun was right above them, its heat and light reflecting down, but the cool breeze neutralized the heated rays, making the weather perfect. Cloud frowned and shielded his eyes, looking over at Aerith. She cocked her head to the side playfully and placed her hands on her hips.

"Seems like you haven't been out much," she remarked in a light tone. Aerith went over to a bed of grass under a shady tree and sat down, motioning Cloud to follow her. She patted the spot next to her, beaming at him. Cloud returned the smile and sat down. Aerith started playing with the wild flowers while Cloud watched.

"Now," Aerith said finally. She turned back around to Cloud. "Are you just going to sit there or are you going to tell me what you're going to do."

"About what?" he said mindlessly. Aerith rolled her eyes and sighed. Was he just doing this to annoy her?

"When are you going to forgive yourself and move on with life?"

Cloud blinked, taken aback a little by her attitude. His expression quickly saddened as he dropped his gaze as a summer breeze passed through. Aerith's playfulness ceased as she saw his pain.

"Cloud," she said softly, moving closer to him. "It doesn't have to be this hard."

Cloud let out a bitter laugh.

"You don't know how much…" He struggled to speak. "You don't know how much I want to believe that." He glanced at her.

She was so close, yet… so far away. Cloud sighed.

"Before I met you," he muttered. "Everything was black and white…" He looked up at the sky. "… and all shades of grey."

Aerith chuckled softly.

"And I was the one who put the colour back in your life?" she asked. Cloud smiled. His eyes drifted back down to earth, resting at the distant tree.

Let's rearrange
I wish you were a stranger I could disengage

"Well, I didn't really mind at first," he said truthfully, scratching the back of his head. He looked at her. "I didn't even realize it." He smiled a little to himself. "But I guess everyone else did." He emitted a sigh and laid back, resting his head on Aerith's lap. He closed his eyes as she played with his spiky blonde hair. Aerith shook her head and grinned.

"Should I really be reminded of your old self?" she asked politely, half-laughing. Cloud opened his eyes and smirked.

"I was rude, selfish and bitter," he murmured, staring straight up at the shady tree. "I didn't care about anything but my own self." His eyes moved back to Aerith. "Then you came and you showed me how to care for others, rather than just myself." Aerith beamed. "If you never came in, I probably would still be like that."

"And you probably wouldn't be this attached to me, would you?" Aerith joked, trying to lift up his head, but failed to. Cloud nodded, smiling sadly. He reached up and to touch her face.

Say that we agree and then never change
Soften a bit until we all just get along

But his hand touched nothing.

Hurt and disappointed, Cloud lowered his hand and stared back up.

"And you never would have had to die," he whispered, more to himself. He exhaled deeply again, closing his eyes.

Suddenly, something slammed into his face from above, wakening him. Cloud shot up, rubbing his cheeks, looking angrily at Aerith.

"Ouch! What was that for?!" he exclaimed, outraged. Aerith merely shrugged.

"Tree branch," she said innocently. Cloud glanced up again. "But that doesn't mean you didn't deserve it." Cloud frowned. Aerith shook her head at him.

"Look, Cloud," she said gently. "It's been years, and you're still holding onto this enormous burden, one that isn't even your fault. You told me you'd move on, for my sake. For Tifa, Barett, Marlene and Denzel. For everyone." She paused, watching him. "If you're not true to your word, you'll never be. This doesn't just affect you; it affects everyone who loves you. But the thing is, you're the only one who can resolve it. If you can't, this feeling won't fade."

But that's disregard
Find another friend and you discard

Aerith stood up, straightening her pink dress.

"Do you really want to lose another person you love?" she asked. "Like Marlene?"

Cloud looked away. He stood up as well, but he kept his gaze off her. Aerith tilted her head and tried to get his eye contact.

"No," he said firmly. "I… I don't want to lose her."

"You're definitely going to if you keep treating her the way you do," Aerith told him. She went up to him and made him look at her.

"Everytime you see her, you see the me in her," she said, smiling. "That's really cute, but it's also as if you want to her to become more and more like me, so you can be around me when you're with her." Cloud raised his hand and held it in front of her face, but he didn't touch her. He knew if he did, he'd just feel the same as he did when she died in his arms. She was there, but she wasn't. He forced a quivering smile.

"Is it a sin to still be in love with you after all these years?" he muttered softly. Aerith smiled sadly, shaking her head gently.

"No," she whispered. "Not at all." She shifted her gaze over Cloud's shoulder and brushed past him. Cloud stood still, bringing himself back from his daze. Aerith glanced back at him.

"But maybe she feels you only want to be with her for that reason."

Cloud shook his head, turning around to her.

"No, it can't be," he said, scratching the back of his head. "She knows I love her."

"Well, she feels that you brush her off most of the time whenever you want some alone time."

"But she understands that."

Aerith nodded, looking away again. She folded her arms across her chest and swayed around a little as another breeze blew past.

"Yeah," she said. "Because she wants you to be happy." She sighed, her gaze following some summer birds flying through the clear blue sky. "Because she thinks your family isn't enough to do so."

As you lose the argument in a cable car
Hanging above as the canyon comes between

Cloud was looking more and more dumbfounded by the minute.

"Wait," he rebelled. "That… that's not true." He stopped, gathering his thoughts and coming to a realization. One he was ashamed to admit. He shook his head, shocked. Aerith noticed.

"It doesn't have to be," she said reassuringly, shaking her head. Cloud swallowed bitterly, rubbing his forehead roughly with his hand.

"I just don't know how to reach out for her," he said weakly. "I don't know how to make her listen to me, to why it's all like this."

"You've got to try, Cloud. Even if you don't get through to her, at least you tried. And if she sees that, she'll know you really love her." She circled around Cloud, not taking her eyes off him. "Spend some time with her, just the two of you. Even if she's reluctant, make her. If there's one way to get a decent conversation with anyone, it's somewhere private, with no weapons, where no one in the world can disturb you." She flashed him a wink, smiling flirtatiously. Cloud's lip curved up into a bashful grin as he realized what she was talking about.

She was probably talking about the time they were alone, and were allowed to enjoy it for once.

The Gold Saucer. It was impossible to not have a conversation in there, and it was impossible to ignore or be ignored by the person in there with you. He remembered Aerith talking to him there about things she didn't want to talk about with anyone else. She revealed all her feelings and emotions she had for him in that cable car, and somehow he did the same.

Suddenly, something whipped hard across Cloud's face, almost knocking him over. He cupped his already sore cheek and glared over at Aerith.

"What was that for?!" he exclaimed again, this time with more annoyance. Aerith laughed.

"Must've been another branch," she said lightly, shrugging. "But since that brought your head down from the clouds, I might as well get back on topic." Cloud couldn't help but smile.

Everyone knows I'm in
Over my head
Over my head

Aerith sighed and bent down to her knees next to a bed of beautiful flowers. She smiled as she started picking them into a small bouquet.

"What happened, happened," she muttered. "And nothing can be done to change it." She gazed up at him. "All we can change is the future." She stood up, holding the flowers in her arms.

"It's going to be tough moving on with your life," she said. "And I know how much you have to deal with everyday. Everyone else does too, and they want to help." She laid the flowers onto the ground in front of Cloud in a neat pile. "Don't you want to give them something back in return?" Cloud nodded, staring down at the bouquet. Aerith smiled at his reaction. She raised her hand and hovered it just under his chin. She slowly brought it up, and some strange force brought up Cloud's face to her. She smiled again.

"All your family wants is time with you," she said, the serene look on her face calming him. "You only have so much of that until Marlene and Denzel grow up and move on with their lives." She paused, her eyes softening. "If I had one wish, one request… I'd wish for you to be happy for the rest of life."

With eight seconds left in overtime
She's on your mind
She's on your mind

"Not regretting each and every day that goes by. Hating whatever haunts your sleepless nights with burdens and curses. You don't have to walk this world alone, Cloud. And I'll never let you think you're alone." She placed her hand over her chest. "I'll always be here whenever you need me. I'll never let you feel lonely."

And suddenly I become a part of your past
I'm becoming the part that don't last

"All the times we had together, they won't fade. Not ever. But it's in the past, and we can't ever go back, not matter how much we want to. You can't hide from the truth, and you have to face the present as it is, even without me."

I'm losing you and its effortless
Without a sound we lose sight of the ground
In the throw around
Never thought that you wanted to bring it down
I won't let it go down till we torch it ourselves

Aerith glanced at the bouquet of flowers on the ground behind her. She turned back to Cloud.

"Give those to Marlene," she said. "Go to her, wish her a happy birthday, give her a kiss and a hug, and everything else will fall in place for the rest of your day." Cloud smiled, grateful. He stared deep into her emerald eyes.

"You're still amazing."

Aerith blushed a little, shrugging.

"So are you, you know." She smiled. "Now be happy. Smile." Cloud obeyed. "Forgive… and forget. Move on with your life, while you still can. Don't cling to whatever's holding you back, because you'll just regret it." Cloud nodded. He stared sadly at her.

"And you?"

Aerith smirked.

"Don't cling to me, because not only is that immature and a total turn-off, but you don't have to either." She cautiously placed her hand over his chest. "I'm with you all the way."

And then something happened, something both Cloud and Aerith never thought they'd ever feel again.

Aerith reached up, and kissed him, and he felt it. He felt her soft sweet lips against his, her warmth, her love. Cloud smiled through the kiss, and he closed his eyes as he just simply drank into it, lost in the moment.

Everyone knows I'm in
Over my head
Over my head

Aerith slowly pulled away, and they both opened their eyes. Cloud smiled at her warmly, the summer sunshine making her auburn hair almost sparkle. The wind blew harder and harder, but it wasn't enough to break the bond the two lovers had. Aerith's eyes saddening a little, but she still smiled.

"Just know that I love you," she told him. Cloud nodded.

"I love you too."

With eight seconds left in overtime
She's on your mind
She's on your mind

Another gust of wind… and she was gone.

Cloud blinked a couple of times, only just realizing. The flowers on the ground caught his eye, and he smiled sadly. He bent down and picked the bouquet up, examining it fondly.

He then made his way back home, back to 7th Heaven where the family was.

The party was over and all of Marlene's friends had gone home. Tifa was cleaning up as Barett and Denzel helped. Cloud smiled at his friends, but it faded as he came across a sad little girl sitting at the table in her birthday dress. Tifa were the first to spot him come in.

"Hey," Tifa singsonged. She glanced Marlene. "Somebody's a little cranky because another somebody forgot their birthday."

Cloud sighed. He gave both her and Barett a look to tell them he had things under control, then went over to Marlene.

"Hi there," he said casually, sitting down on the chair next to her. Marlene didn't look at him. Cloud merely smiled. "What's a pretty girl like you sitting over here all by yourself?" He held up the flowers to her, and Marlene's face lit up. She looked at him, confused and amazed.

"For me?" she said with a grin. Cloud nodded, smiling. Marlene beamed, taking the flowers. She stood up and ran over to Tifa and Barett.

"Look what Cloud got me!" she said proudly. She grinned again. "He didn't forget after all!" She glanced back at him over her shoulder. Cloud had stood up from his seat.

"That's not all," he told her. He smiled again and held out his hand to the little girl. "How about I take you to the Gold Saucer, and we can spend your birthday there?" Marlene's eyes widened with childlike excitement.

"You'll take me to Gold Saucer?" she said with a huge grin. "Right now?"

Cloud nodded again, flashing her a wink.

"We'll stay there for as long as you want," he reassured her. "And I'll even teach you how to race Chocobos." He shot a smirk at the bemused Barret and the amused Tifa.

Marlene laughed and then looked around at Denzel behind her.

"Can Denzel come too?" she asked excitedly. Cloud smiled, seeing an eager stare in her eyes.

"Sure," he chuckled. "It's your birthday." Marlene beamed. She ran over and hugged him around the waist.

"This is going to be the best birthday ever!" she exclaimed happily. She gave Cloud another grin and rushed outside, grabbing Denzel's hand on the way and pulling him after her, all ready to go.

"Come on, Cloud!" she yelled back at him. "Don't be such a slowpoke!" Tifa raised an eyebrow at Cloud, as Barett simply burst out laughing. Cloud grinned sheepishly at them before heading outside.

"Hey Cloud," Tifa said suddenly. Cloud turned around. "What gave you such an idea as taking her to Gold Saucer? We haven't been there in years." Cloud sighed.

"But Marlene loved it there, right?"

Barett frowned.

"Where'd you hear that?" he asked suspiciously, crossing his arms. Cloud merely smiled his mysterious smile.

"Wouldn't you like to know," he said with a chuckle. At that, he gave them a quick wave, and walked out the door, closing it shut behind him, leaving Tifa and Barett baffled at his sudden change in attitude.

"He's probably just trying to make up for every other birthday he forgot," Tifa suggested, getting back to washing the dishes. Barett scoffed, shaking his head. He watched as Cloud loaded his passenger carriage onto his Fenrir as Marlene and Denzel anxiously tried to help.

"If he is… this is sure a big stretch from yesterday," Barett remarked. He chuckled.

"He's in way over his head."