A/N: This is prompt #90 Cloud/Aerith — AU: If Aerith were a Princess of Heart, for the CloudxAerith forum. No one has ever written a story with Aerith as a Princess of Heart methinks, so I took it upon myself to do so. Anywho, I would have completed this much sooner, but my muse all but packed its bags and abandoned me. I don't really care for it . . . like it's not terrible . . . but not my best piece either. But since I hadn't written/posted anything in what feels like forever, and this entry was long overdue, I figured I'd might as well finish it.

Reviews are appreciated!

P.S. I apologize once again for being on hiatus so long . . . I missed you all!

Dedications: This is for Ereluna, wrathofbrett, Aeri-Beri, Manda-Panda, Crimson Kaoru, and Muffin; you are all really special to me, and I don't know what I'd do without such a wonderful people like each and every one of you. And much thanks as well to whoever actually takes the time to click the link or even read the story.

Disclaimer: This SecretBox is very sad to inform you all that none of these wonderful worlds of magic and fantasy belong to her. -sniffle-

D r e a m s p h e r e
cloud x aerith.

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She smelled of sun-warmed buttercups and bellflowers and everything lovely that he felt like there was no way he could let go of her now, not just because of the divinely soothing aroma in which he was hopelessly drowning in, but most especially because he had come so far just to hold her in his arms once more. He dared to leave behind his home, his friends — who he considered, at the same time, his immediate family — forced to brave perils unlike anything he'd ever encountered before, just so he could be with the woman who held the key to his heart.

It had been a most difficult task. He had been lost in the swell of darkness for so long, wandering across foreign worlds far and wide, that he had nearly lost all hope. Just when his eyes felt dead and his body was finally close to giving up, the lord of the Dead himself had appeared before him. His caring, twisting words and sweet lies squeezed down on his heart like a vicious vice in a promise that he could help him find Aerith, that he could make it all better, like how everything was before. And Cloud, out of his mind with raw grief, promised anything. The people he had left behind would have been appalled at how easily he had agreed to spill oceans of blood for a man who's hair resembled writhing flames. He knew, however, that he would never be complete without the other half of his soul, so he sacrificed everything for the one woman he so treasured.

An avenging angel with a single broken wing; Cloud had been lost among cluttered thoughts and half-truths and an unfulfilled destiny he never understood. Then the Keybearer had shown up, but what startled him the most was the fact he was just a kid. He had charged into battle head-on despite how much his body screamed against it, unable to think of anything except of finding her, rescuing Aerith, only to be struck down. All sense of direction splintered to the winds after that, as his legs gave away at long last and he had fallen to his knees.

As if to keep his last words from prying ears, as close as possible to his tainted heart, despair eating at him from the inside out, he murmured, voice thick with emotion, "T-the promise. I-I'm sorry . . . I couldn't . . . keep it . . . Aerith." Then he fell into the black — the black of eternal night, the black of his leathery wing, the ebony-black of unconsciousness.

Silence.

And somehow, he had awoken in a daylight clear.

The sky overhead was an array of sapphire dotted with clouds that drifted idly above the lush meadow he found himself in. Lilies, buttercups, crocuses, tulips, and countless other types of flowers he didn't know the names of bloomed everywhere in a perpetual spring; an ocean of them rippling, their pretty heads nodding up and down in a placid breeze, with him at the heart of it all. Everything was calm and peaceful, even the sun seemed to twinkle in fine repose. The sound of tinkling laughter soon pierced the serene atmosphere, causing his breathing to come in quick, unsteady bursts, as it startled him from his dazed reverie.

Am I dreaming? Cloud couldn't help but ponder this as he swiftly cast his cerulean eyes upwards to stare up at glimmering jades. Because if I am, I don't think I ever want to wake up.

The world seemed to appear far away and fade, all except for the woman his heart desperately pined for, Aerith — Aerith, who was dressed in roseate with bare shoulders. The material of her dress-skirt swished around her ankles as she bridged the tiny gap between them, in a way that reminded him of dancing. She came to a halt, her round eyes shimmering like green diamonds, yet illuminated with much happiness as she bent over him — happiness that he had never seen in her before. Traces of a smile lingered on her delicate mouth — natural, something sweet and half-forgotten — and he immediately was on his feet, arms outstretched towards her. And, somehow, she was there in a heartbeat, and his trembling arms came to encircle her small frame, her long, brown plait cascading beautifully down her back.

Beautiful. That was what Aerith was, and even that was an obvious understatement. She was too perfect in his eyes. An angel, to be precise, just with her majestic wings clipped off and her golden halo unseen by his contemptible eyes. In contrast, Cloud thought of himself overflowing with sin and remorse, hands eternally stained with crimson. But now it came at him from all sides and much too quickly, her brand of redemption so painful it was resplendent.

"I thought I would never see you again." His voice was just a soft murmur against her hair, heart lurching wildly in his chest as if he couldn't quite believe he had spoken the words.

"It doesn't matter," she murmured lightly. Aerith pulled away from him, away from their warm embrace, and ultramarine eyes met jade once again. "It shouldn't matter." Her fingers curled over his softly, and they were small hands, fragile looking hands, but somehow he knew she had the power to save the world from being eclipsed from darkness, or more importantly, she had the power to save him. The look in her eyes was warm, like spring skies, as she pressed his hand against his own chest, speaking above the fluttering beat of his heart. "Because I've always been right here, haven't I?"

"But I lost." His voice broke. And he was the one that was nervous, eyes moist with grief, even though she was the one with everything to lose. He felt a loneliness shake his heart and his bones and he couldn't help but inhale sharply.

Reassuring him the only way she knew how, she leaned in close and let him hold her once again. Sometimes, Cloud needed to be held more than anyone either of them knew, and he was glad that she was the only one who knew this. He always made himself so aloof and untouchable, using his remoteness and his callous nature, keeping the world at bay. For the longest time no one seemed to understand this; that is until Aerith came along. After the memories, after his rejections, his loss, his fears, she had always been waiting for him. Always, she had welcomed him with opened arms (an open heart).

Cloud took her hand silently and caressed it, remembering once more how fragile she was, and how he had lost her once already before. Then, to his surprise, she asked him to hold out his free hand — which he promptly did — and she pressed it against her own chest. Her heart thumped a pulsating beat because of him, and his cheeks flushed a deep shade of pink.

She had never doubted her feelings, he realized suddenly. Despite the way she smiled at him (a little knowingly), he could not calm the doubts racing through his head, though that was what would always be the difference between the two of them.

"Aerith . . ." His voice was hesitant, and second thoughts lingered in the back of his mind, taunting him. His lowered his gaze to meet hers, but his words were soon lost in his throat, whisked away by the blithe symphony of the morning air. As soon as their eyes caught each other, cerulean meeting vivid verdant, he was oblivious to anything and anyone in the world . . . except her.

Before he could stop himself, he reached out breathlessly to brush his hand lightly across her face, down her smooth, rosy cheeks, each stroke just as gentle as if he were touching a doll made of fine porcelain; and then, he bent forward to capture her delicate mouth with his, taking advantage of the rare opportunity he had been blessed with. From his lips she drew the best of him, all painted centers and blurred lines, the edges smudged and angles rounded. It was false; her image of him was fatally flawed and he wondered why she refused to see that. The kiss soon deepened, and her lips formed words he didn't believe, words about him that he refused. Those lips, like petals, whispered to him, kissed him, enlightened him, empowered him. His head swirled amidst it all, and he kissed her back with everything he had.

The world stopped spinning.

Cloud didn't care. If only Aerith kept kissing him.

Never, never before had he felt so alive.

Just as the kiss began to deepen, it stopped, for he felt her slipping away from him.

"No!" Cloud spoke at last, horrified beyond belief at the fading form of his beloved, but unable to do anything to prevent their untimely separation. He reached out to her, desperate, yet his efforts were all in vain. "Aerith! Please, don't go!"

And as the young woman's form completely disappeared into the bright sunlight, he heard the wind carry her sweet whisper, the words faint, yet meaningful.

"The light . . ."

He fell down into the sea of swirling colors, unconscious.

". . . never lose sight of it."

Cloud Strife awoke.

fin.