Interrupted by Fireworks

Cloud took a sip from the bottle of soda, half-price since they had to stay the night while the trolley was fixed. He stood up from the table and set his drink down, walking to the window of the hotel. In the distance he could see the workmen working on the trolley, two inside while one of them was examining the gears on the roof of the car. He sighed. Well, they had the Keystone at least, so they knew Sephiroth wasn't going to be entering the temple anytime soon. There was a knock on Cloud's door, and he turned.

"It's open," he called, looking back once more out the window. The door clicked open, and Aeris walked inside, hands clasped behind her back. "Aeris? Everything okay?" Cloud asked.

"Sure, I'm fine," Aeris nodded, smiling. She noticed what Cloud had been watching and stepped up to the window. "Looks like it's gonna take a while," she said.

"Yeah, Cait Sith spoke to Dio and said it'll be done by tomorrow," Cloud replied. "I know you were looking forward to seeing the temple."

"But in the meantime, it's time for something else I've been looking forward to," Aeris said, turning with a grin. "Cloud, it's time for our date!"

"Our what?" Cloud asked, confused.

"D-A-T-E!" Aeris said slowly. "You know, a social outing between two people, usually but not always of the opposite gender, as part of the traditions of courtship, in which they go to various fun and amusing places and take part in fun and amusing activities, like say…amusement parks, and the various rides and games that tend to be offered therein. Ring a bell?"

"I know what a date is," Cloud blushed.

"Then what's the confusion for, let's go!" Aeris cried, leaning forward.

"H-hey!" Cloud said, Aeris pushing him out the door. He stumbled back into the hall, and Aeris stepped out of the room and shut the door.

"Come on," Aeris coaxed, walking towards the stairs, waving him forward with her hand. Cloud looked around the hall, seeing if anyone was watching. No. He sighed and followed Aeris down the stairs to the front lobby.

"Is the mistress stepping out?" the man at the foot of the stairs asked. He wore a far-too bright blue monster mask with a dark red suit, holding an old-fashioned lantern. Cloud rolled his eyes at the obviously fake, drawn-out voice he was using.

"Yup, going to see the sights. If anyone from our group asks, let them know, 'kay?" Aeris said brightly.

"As the mistress wishes," the man in the costume bowed, and Aeris gave a little bow back. "Know this, mistress, it is Couple Night, so all attractions are free for couples in love."

"H-hold on, we're not a couple!" Cloud protested. Well, not officially, but…were they? "I mean, maybe, but…"

"Let's just go Cloud," Aeris said, walking across the lobby. Cloud followed her outside and down the staircase into the Graveyard stretching before the hotel.

"So where's the elevators?" Cloud asked. He had been to the Wonder and Battle Squares before. As far as he knew, the Saucer used the same mode of transportation between all the squares, elevators when going up and pipes when going down. Of course, even the elevators went on diagonals and changed direction. Even the normal was made whimsical in the Gold Saucer.

"Right here," Aeris said, walking to a large tombstone. The word "WONDER" was carved on it. "Stand right there," Aeris said, pointing to the ground before the tombstone. Cloud walked over and stood there. "Fold your arms across your chest." Cloud did so, knowing the drill. It was standard procedure for traveling through the tubes, keep your arms tucked in. Cloud had initially thought such a mode of travel to be fraught with hazards, but the engineers had done a good job of banking and curving the tubes to keep the danger zones relatively safe.

"So now what?" Cloud asked. Aeris grinned and reached behind the tombstone. Cloud heard a click, and a whir. He looked down and screamed as the ground dropped out below him. The bright yellow and blue tubing rushed past him as Cloud zoomed down it, registering one of the Saucer's safety mats under his back. He turned, zoomed and dipped, before seeing the band of red coloring that signified the tube was nearing its end.

At the Wonder Square, one of the exit tubes lined up retracted its steel bar covering, and the light on top of it flashed to red from green. With a final cry, Cloud spun out of it, sliding a few feet. He groaned and swallowed. He stood up and stumbled a bit, then shook his head. He grimaced and turned to look back at the tube. Hm, the steel bars covering the end for safety hadn't gone back up. Cloud looked down, and noticed the red light flashed to green, and the sound of laughter reached his ears. Oh no.

With a joyful squeal, Aeris barreled out of the tube, zooming into Cloud's legs and knocking him over onto her. The safety mat slid to a halt at the edge of the landing zone area before the tubes, and Cloud pushed himself up.

"You okay?" Aeris asked, panting. "Are you hurt?"

"Just my pride," Cloud grumbled, dusting himself off. Aeris stood up and picked up her safety mat. The mats were another safety precaution, they made the ride down the tubes similar to a water slide, or a toboggan.

"Phew. I could do that all day," Aeris laughed.

"Good, have fun," Cloud said, turning and pretending to walk away. Aeris rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand. Cloud stopped and reached down to pick up his safety mat. He followed Aeris out of the landing area for the tubes, the two tossing their safety mats in the receptacle.

"So, now what?" Cloud asked, following Aeris up the stairs to the catwalk that led into the arcade area.

"We find and play a game," Aeris said. The two pushed open the doors of the arcade, and Cloud looked around. Dozens of people filled the area, playing games of all types imaginable. "There!" Aeris pointed. Cloud looked and walked over to the crane game, looking over it. "What do they have?" Aeris said, peeking into the glass. Cloud reached into his pocket and fished out a fifty gil token. "See something you want?" Aeris asked, noticing. Cloud nodded and slipped the coin into the machine, then took the handle.

The claw whirled to life, and with Aeris watching, Cloud maneuvered it right and right to the back, then pressed the button. The claw descended, and Aeris pushed herself up to see. A moment later, the claw lifted back up, a fairly large stuffed pink Chocobo doll caught in its pincers. The doll had been caught by its large, fluffy tail. The Chocobo was dropped into the chute, and Cloud knelt down to pull it out.

"Nice one," Aeris said. "They were charging twenty-five hundred gil for dolls that size at the souvenir shop."

"Yeah," Cloud agreed. "Here ya go," he said, holding the Chocobo doll out.

"For me?" Aeris asked.

"Sure," Cloud shrugged. Aeris grinned and took it, holding it out and turning it slightly.

"I love it. Thank you Cloud," she said sweetly, beaming. She looked between the doll and Cloud, and pursed her lip. "I think I'm seeing a resemblance," she mused.

"Hey!" Cloud exclaimed. Aeris giggled.

"Come on, let's find something else," she said.

"What's this one?" Aeris asked, looking over a large, circular object. Cloud looked at it beside her, holding a second Chocobo doll, this one white, and a small bag with about twenty-two GP tickets in it. The table-like object had a green and yellow grid on it, with what looked like video cameras surrounding it. Two booths stood at either side of it, and the entire thing was roughly the side of Cloud's hotel room.

"This is the VR Battle game," an attendant said, coming over to them. "Would you like to play?"

"How does it work?" Cloud asked.

"We put you in the booth and strap sensors to your chest, arms, legs and head. Then we recreate a holographic version of you on the projection table there, and using your own body to move it, you fight a virtual opponent," the attendant explained.

"Sounds like fun, how much?" Aeris asked.

"For couples, free of course," the attendant said.

"Alright, we'll play" Cloud said.

"Thank you sir, this way," the attendant said, leading Cloud to the blue booth. He ducked inside and noticed six pieces of black material with Velcro stripping. Shrugging, he pulled on the two gloves, and strapped two of the other pieces around his ankles. The six piece was thinner and larger, so he slipped it over his head. The final piece was a large black piece of padding with a strap, and he lowered it over his chest. Each material piece had a light and a speaker on it, and a wire connecting it to a control panel. A round hole in the booth gave Cloud a direct view of the area where the holograms appeared.

"Like this?" he asked, turning. The attendant looked at him and nodded.

"The game lasts for two and a half minutes, after which time the higher score wins. Hits to the arms and legs are a hundred points, to the head is two hundred, and a hit on your opponent's chest is five hundred."

"Got it, piece of cake," Cloud nodded. The attendant left, and after a few moments, the game whirred to life. Cloud took a fighting stance as the holographic projectors on the board blinked and projected the image of the two combatants.

"Aeris?" Cloud cried, staring at the image of the flower girl on the board.

"Yeah?" she replied, the voice coming from a speaker in the booth.

"What's going on?"

"Cloud, it's a player versus player game."

"It is?"


Cloud grimaced. Sure, it was just a hologram, but he didn't want to fight Aeris! He didn't want to fight any of his friends, even in a game.

"Okay, nevermind," Cloud said, shaking his head and his holographic counterpart following suit. "I'm not playing."

"Oh come on Cloud, the timer has already started!" Aeris protested. Cloud looked at the display in the booth, and the two and a half minute timer had indeed started counting.

"I don't care, I'm not gonna fight you and-."

There was a buzzer sound from the panel on his chest, and a red light on it flashed. Cloud looked down, then looked up at the display. The score read 'Red Player: 500'.



"What are you doing?"


The buzzer and light went off again as the holographic Aeris punched Cloud in the chest. Her score flipped up to 1000.

"Stop it!" Cloud cried.

"Then fight back! Cloud, it's just a game, gimme your best shot!" Aeris said. The holo-Aeris threw another punch, and Cloud growled as he stepped aside and punched. Holo-Cloud's fist flew into holo-Aeris' head, and Cloud's score went up to 200. "Hey, you do have some fight!" Aeris laughed.

"I got a lot of fight," Cloud smirked, taking up his battle stance again. He threw a punch and caught Aeris in the arm. His score clicked to 300.

"Oh come on, it was fun and you know it, who cares who won?" Aeris said, skipping slightly as Cloud trudged out of the arcade behind her.

"You beat me three times in a row!" Cloud cried, lifting his arms. "I care, I have SOLDIER honor to protect!"

"And I have Boco and Choco to protect," Aeris said, lifting the two Chocobo dolls she was carrying and nuzzling them.

"Besides, the first game you only beat me by three hundred points, I won that because you got those two cheap shots on me in the start," Cloud said.

"Excuses, excuses," Aeris made a show of sighing and shaking her head. "Come on Cloud, admit it, you got beaten by a girl." Cloud narrowed his eyes and snuck up behind her. Aeris cried out and dropped the two Chocobo dolls as Cloud lifted her up from behind and wrapped an arm around her wait to hold her up in the air on his shoulder.

"I got beaten by who now?" he asked, looking up at her.

"Cloud, put me down, people could see up my dress!" Aeris said, squirming.

"There's no one else here, relax," Cloud told her. It was true, the walkway into the arcade was empty except for them. "Now, who won?"

"If I say you did, will you put me down?"


"Then no."

Cloud rolled his eyes and knelt, letting Aeris down. She stood and looked down to smooth out her dress.

"I'm gonna pay you back for that," she warned, picking up the Chocobos.

"You beat me in the game, we're even now," Cloud said. The two walked down the stairs to the Wonder Square main area. "So, where to now?"

"The Event Square, I hear the play is pretty good," Aeris said. Cloud nodded and led her to the hole in the ground for the tube to the area. Aeris grabbed a safety mat from a sack and jumped down the hole with a whoop. Cloud smiled and shook his head, and took his own mat and followed a few moments later.

"This the place?" Cloud asked, pushing open the curtain to the area where the play was supposed to be.

"I think so," Aeris said, following him inside. Suddenly, a light flashed over them, and the two shielded their eyes.

"Congratulations!" the ticker taker said, peeking his head inside. "You're our 1000th couple tonight! You lucky lovebirds will get to be the leads in tonight's show!"

"Wha-what?" Cloud gasped.

"Cool!" Aeris said, clasping her hands. "This sounds like fun." An attendant approached them.

"This way, we have to get you into make-up, we go on in five minutes," she said.

"Oh Cloud, let's do it!" Aeris begged, looking up at him. Cloud looked back at her, and inwardly winced. Did she really think he could refuse?

"Fine, let's go." Cloud said, following the attendant. Aeris smiled and followed him, grabbing his hand and swinging it through the air. Cloud looked down at the joined appendages and smiled. They emerged backstage, and the attendant whistled. The bustling crew stopped and stared at her.

"Everyone, this is the lucky 1000th couple, they'll be the leads! Let's hurry and get them ready, we go on soon!" she called. The people cried out and swarmed them. Cloud's hand left Aeris', and he was pushed through the crowd and into a chair. He looked for Aeris but lost sight of her.

"Alright, let's hurry up!" someone said. Cloud looked up at the five people surrounding him, and a powder puff slammed into his face. His coughed as his face was hastily covered in powder, and someone pulled him up from the chair. "Get him changed!" Cloud was pushed through the room, and emerged in a dressing room with a curtain, a bundle of clothes pushed in after him. "Hurry up and change!" someone yelled at him.

Cloud looked at the clothes and pulled off his boots and pants, followed by his shirt. He lifted the costume and groaned. The costume consisted of incredibly tacky purple and blue pants with a sword and sheath on a strap, and a blue shirt with a gold lining. Sighing, he pulled on the pants and shirt, and slipped the sword's sash over his head and down to his waist. He tightened it and stepped from the room.

"Come on, two minutes!" Cloud was grabbed by the hand and pulled back, and pushed into a chair. Someone pulled a hairbrush through his spiky blonde hair as someone else leaned towards him, and carefully applied a small bit of white make-up around his eyes. Cloud winced as a knot in his hair caught, and felt something get shoved onto his head. "One minute!" someone called. Cloud was pushed up, and pushed until he could see the stage. Someone with a script and sunglasses with a red shirt and brown hair looked up at him.

"I'm the director, you the lead?" he asked.

"I think so," Cloud said. He turned to see someone lower a large suit of fake armor over his shoulders. Cloud lifted a hand to the object that had been placed on his head. A crown, okay. The armor fitted into place and the crown was adjusted as Cloud tried to focus on what the director was saying.

"Alright, we have thirty seconds, let's cover the basics. Your name is Alfred, you're a hero, you love Rosa, she's been kidnapped. Talk to the knight, talk to the king, talk to the wizard, then save Rosa and carry her offstage. And don't worry about projecting, we got a mike in the crown. Ya got all that?"

"I guess, but how are we gonna do this, I've never acted in my life," Cloud said. The director waved his hands.

"Relax, we're pros at this, just improv it. You know what improv is, right?"

"Um…not really…"

"Too bad, you're on!" two pairs of hands slammed into Cloud's back, and he stumbled forward on to the stage. He stood up and froze as a spotlight came on around him, and he looked out over the audience. Everyone was silent as Cloud adjusted his footing, his face heating up. He turned an eye to the director, who pointed past him. Cloud turned to see another actor run onto the stage, dressed in a knight costume.

"Oh by the Gods, tell me I have found you at last, great hero Alfred!" the knight cried, stopping before him. Cloud thought back to what the director had hastily told him.

"Uh…yes, tis me," he said slowly. The knight winked at him and smiled before continuing.

"Oh, great hero Alfred, King Edgar has sent me, his loyal retainer Marcus, to seek you out! Your beloved Rosa has been kidnapped by the wicked Dragon King of the West, Valvados!" Music played as the knight, Marcus, finished speaking. Cloud thought quickly.

"Truly, this is, uh, dire news!" he said. "We must act!" the crowd applauded slightly, and Cloud smiled. This wasn't so hard, just go with it.

"I agree, great hero! King Edgar rides to meet us now! He…oh, King Edgar!" Marcus kneeled, and Cloud turned as the sound of hooves played over the speakers. A man in a long blue cloak and a crown walked onto the stage. Cloud kneeled as he approached.

"Rise, great hero Alfred!" King Edgar said. Cloud stood up as the king watched him. "Great hero Alfred, Valvados, our most feared enemy, has taken my dear Rosa from me! If she is not recovered, we have no heir to the throne of Figaro! Our kingdom shall surely perish!"

"Fear not, your majesty!" Cloud cried, drawing the sword at his waist. He held it out, and looked at it. Wood, obviously so, and painted silver, badly. Oh well. "I shall find Valvados, and dispatch him myself!" the crowd applauded, and Cloud grinned. He was getting the hang of this. It was actually fun.

"I fear that steel blades are of no use against Valvados, whose scales are harder than any armor!" Marcus moaned. Cloud sheathed his sword as the actor continued.

"Valvados has but one weakness, which my loyal wizard Mormon has been researching to find!" King Edgar said.

"Your wizard is named Moron?" Cloud replied, confused. The crowd laughed, and Cloud blushed. Well, that's what it had sounded like.

"Oh Alfred, your sense of humor is as great as your bravery!" King Edgar cried, glaring. "Please, you must speak to Mormon now, he has already arrived!" Cloud turned as a man in a blue hat and robes shuffled onto the stage, holding a long staff covered in fake Materia orbs. Yup, that would be the wizard. Cloud approached Mormon and waited as he stopped walking.

"Great wizard Mormon!" Cloud cried. "Have you found the Dragon King's weakness?"

"I have, great hero!" Mormon nodded. "He has but one weakness. Valvados' heart is as black as night, and to destroy him, one must utilize the greatest power of all – true love!"

"True love?" Cloud muttered.

"Yes! Surely, if you were to kiss your beloved Rosa, the power of your love will vanquish him!" Mormon said. Cloud's eyes widened, and he leaned closer.

"But, great wizard," he said through closed teeth. "Rosa and I have never kissed before." The crowd gasped, and Cloud groaned. He hadn't wanted them to hear that.

"Joyous news, surely if any power of true love will work, it will be true love's first kiss!" Mormon exclaimed. He then lowered his voice. "Just kiss her kid, you're doing good," he hissed. Cloud swallowed and nodded. Was he really expected to kiss Aeris? On stage, in front of hundreds of people? As part of a fun, but come to think of it really cheesy play?

"Oh, great hero!" Cloud turned as King Edgar backed up, and Cloud whistled low. The actor playing Valvados had a pretty elaborate costume of bulky padding under a large green dragon costume, with a long tail and a head on a long neck. There was a slit on the chest, which Cloud assumed was for his eyes. Valvados stepped onto the stage slowly, and the head lowered to stare at Cloud.

"So, I have found you!" Valvados laughed. "Great hero Alfred, you dare challenge the might of me, the Dragon King of the West? I am Valvados, and your beloved Rosa is mine! Behold!" Valvados raised his claws, and Cloud looked up. Aeris, now dressed in a red dress with her hair out of its braid and falling free, was being lowered from the ceiling by a harness, rope wrapped around her waist. Cloud stared. He had been rushed through the make-up process, but Aeris…she looked gorgeous. Come to think of it, he'd never seen her hair loose like that.

"Alfred darling!" Aeris cried, holding out a hand. Cloud remembered the situation, and held up his hand back.

"Fear not, dear Rosa!" he said. "Valvados, you are mighty, but I know your secret, and you shall fall!" The crowd cheered as Cloud stepped forward and took Aeris' hand.

"Foolish hero, your sword is of no use against me!" Valvados roared. Cloud looked up at Aeris, who winked at him.

"I'm not talking about my sword," Cloud said. Great, and no way to stall for time was coming to him. Think, think think, think… "I speak of the greatest power of all! True love!" Aeris closed her eyes as Cloud leaned forward…

And lifted her hand to his lips.

Aeris slowly opened her eyes as Cloud pulled back from her hand. Even if it wasn't the kiss that was expected of him, he was blushing more than any other time that night. Was it just him, or did Aeris look…disappointed?

"Cuuuurse you!" Cloud looked down from Aeris as Valvados clutched his head, growling. "The power…of love! Arrrrrrg!" Valvado fell back off the stage with a loud thump, and Aeris' harness lowered. Cloud untied her as the other three actors approached.

"Great hero Alfred, you have triumphed!" King Edgar proclaimed. The audience burst into applause, and Cloud sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck.

"I never doubted you, darling Alfred," Aeris said, hugging him. Cloud grunted slightly, but nodded.

"It is good you are safe, dear Rosa."

"You should have frenched her!" someone in the audience shouted. The crowd burst out laughing, and Cloud felt the familiar heat in his face again.

"Come, this demands a celebration!" Marcus said, ignoring the outburst. "Let us return to Castle Figaro and toast to the great hero Alfred and his true love, Rosa!" the audience's applause began anew as Cloud led Aeris off the stage, following by the three actors.

Cloud waited outside the entrance of the play arena. The play had ended fifteen minutes ago, but Aeris was getting her hair re-braided in the dressing room. The SOLDIER crossed his arms and frowned. Had he really been supposed to kiss her? The play had been corny, but fun, up until that scene. How was he going to kiss her, on a stage no less? And how she looked when he had kissed her hand…

"Thanks for waiting," Aeris said, coming out from the arena. Cloud nodded and stood up from the wall, noticing she was back in her pink dress and red jacket, her braid as long and thick as ever. Too bad, it had looked nice hanging loose…

"So, where to now?" Cloud asked. Aeris thought for a moment and tapped her chin.

"Wanna go on the gondolas?" she asked. Cloud shrugged. "I'll take that as a yes."

"Couple?" the man in the booth asked. Aeris nodded. The man looked past her at Cloud and grinned.

"You're a lucky guy. Enjoy the gondola," he said roughly. Aeris smiled and walked onto the car, Cloud following after giving the man a strange look. He sat down in the gondola opposite Aeris. The car jerked, and began creeping along the track that climbed into the air and went around the Saucer. Soft music played over a speaker in the corner of the ceiling. Aeris leaned over to the window as Cloud sat back.

"Oh look, Cloud!" Aeris said. Cloud leaned over to see the tracks for the Chocobo races going by a few feet from the gondola. The jockeys raced past with a flash of color, the colorful track adding to the spectacle. Fireworks went off in the distance, signaling the end of the race. Cloud looked over to see Aeris smiling.

"It's pretty," he offered, sitting back. Aeris sat back too and stared at him, cocking her head. "What?"

"It's strange…" Aeris said softly. "When we first met…I think I saw him in you. But, then…you're not. You're different."

"You mean…Zack?" Cloud said. The name of Aeris' former love, the 1st Class SOLDIER he had somehow never met. What did she mean they were different?

"Yeah…you're not him. But, that's okay. I don't mind it all. In fact…I like it." Aeris smiled and blushed cutely, lowering her eyes. "Cloud, I…I want to find you. I want to meet you."

"Meet me?" Cloud said, confused. "Aeris, I'm right here."

"No," Aeris shook her head, "I mean…I want to meet…the real you."

"Real me?" Cloud said. "What do you…?"

"Forget it, just…be true to yourself, okay?" Aeris said, lifting her head to look at him.

"Yeah…okay," Cloud nodded. The two sat silently for a moment as the gondola creaked along the track.

"You were good in the play tonight," Aeris said suddenly, looking back out the window.

"Thanks, you too," Cloud replied. "I was caught off-guard when they told me to kiss you though, I wasn't sure what to do about that."

"What, you didn't want to kiss me?" Aeris asked. Cloud winced as he realized how that had come out.

"It's not that, I just didn't want our first kiss to be on a stage for a really corny play!" he blurted out. Aeris turned her head to him as Cloud clutched a hand to his face. That, hadn't sounded much better.

"Oh?" Aeris asked. Cloud had his eyes closed wishing himself back in his hotel room. He heard the car creak, and opened his eyes to see Aeris quietly get up and sit beside him. "So…what do you want our first kiss to be like?" she asked, smiling. Cloud turned to her and gulped.

"Uh, ah…huh?" he stammered.

"You didn't want our first kiss to be on stage, okay, I don't blame you. So then, what would it be like?" Aeris' smile widened as she leaned over to him. Cloud licked suddenly dry lips and thought.

"Um…well, I guess…we'd not be in front of people, so…alone."

"We're alone now," Aeris said.

"And, not on a stage."

"It's about as non-stagey as it gets in here."

"And…romantic, I guess."

"Gondola ride with music and fireworks," Aeris continued. Cloud stared at her, more nervous than ever.

"…this would be when I get clue, huh?"

"Oh yeah, definitely," Aeris nodded. Cloud nodded back, and Aeris smiled again. "Last chance to open that door and bail out," she warned.

"I'd never survive the fall."

"Then I guess you're stuck with me."

"…right, um…" Cloud stared at Aeris, his mind racing. It wasn't that he didn't want to kiss her, but. "So, ah…what do…we…uh…"

"Well usually at some point we press our lips together," Aeris giggled, "and some people press more than that, but let's take it slow, hm?"

"Right," Cloud nodded quickly. "Uh…okay…" he leaned forward, and Aeris turned her face up, closing her eyes. Cloud put a hand on her cheek and leaned down, until he felt warm breath ticking his mouth. He looked at Aeris, eyes closed, waiting, and pulled back. "Wait."

"What?" Aeris said, opening her eyes.

"I…let me try something," Cloud said, moving his hand from her cheek. He reached down and pulled up the end of Aeris' long ponytail, and slipped a finger under the pink band.

"Hey, what are you-"

"Sh." Cloud lifted his eyes, and Aeris fell silent at the intensity there. Cloud looked back down at her hair, and pulled off the band at the tip. Slowly, carefully, he unwound Aeris' braid, working his way up to her neck, where he untied the pink bow there. The bow and the small Materia orb held in it slipped into his hands, and Aeris' hair fell free over her back. Cloud took her hand and pressed the objects into it, looking her in the eye again.

"What was that for?" Aeris asked quietly. Cloud lifted a hand to her shoulder, the tips of his fingers brushing a few strands of hair draped over her shoulder.

"You're prettier with your hair down," he whispered. Before Aeris could reply to that, Cloud closed his eyes and closed the distance between them. Her eyes widened at the soft kiss, but her shock quickly faded and her eyes drifted shut.

Cloud had kissed before, a small handful of times. But this was unlike any of them. Aeris' lips were soft, warm, and sweet. He leaned closer to her, his hand finding its way to the back of her head. Her hair coated his fingers as he held her to him, his eyes opening a crack. Aeris, to her credit, seemed lost, her face relaxed and serene. Relieved, Cloud closed his eyes again.

A moment later, he gently pulled back, opening his eyes fully. The hand on her head fell to hold her shoulder, and Cloud waited as Aeris' eyes fluttered open. She was breathing heavily, and her face was blushed.

"W…wow," she whispered, holding Cloud's Mako gaze. Cloud nodded.


"…that was nice."


The two stared at each other in silence, before Aeris spoke again.

"You…you wanna do it again?" she asked quietly. Cloud was already leaning forward as he replied.

"Yeah." He caught Aeris' lips again, his hand weaved through her, her arms wound around his shoulders, and the world around them melted away.