(A/N) I've never written an alternate universe story before, so I hope it goes over well. O.o This was originally going to be a Zelda story, but I couldn't pull together an idea for an ending to it before I lost my inspiration for that series, so it never got published. I'm in love with the Cloud/Tifa pairing, and I'm not sure if anyone else has ever done this type of a story with them, but I thought it might be fun to write for a change. :3

I couldn't get it in the summary (curse you 255 character limit! DX) but this is rated for some sexual themes and violence in later chapters, which is why it received the 'T' rating. Both of them are mild, but I thought I'd give a warning just in case. The rest of it could pass for a K+ rating though. ;P

Writing a romance/tragedy story is another first for me, so I hope I do okay. :3 Oh, and it's in Tifa's point of view. :D

To Have Loved and Lost

Is it truly better to have loved and lost
Than to have never loved at all?
When the other half of your soul leaves you
Are you grateful for the time you shared together
Or does the ache in your heart block out everything else?

Chapter I

I walk down the little dirt path, the light breeze of the spring day whipping my dark hair around my face and causing my dress to flutter around my ankles. Luckily, I was able to slip away from the attendants my father usually insists that I have escort me on outings like this, so now I'm free to go and do what I will. The path I'm taking leads from the castle courtyard through a small field and out to the chocobo stables, where I'm fairly sure that I'll find what I'm looking for.

When I reach the large, wooden structure a moment later, I push the door open slowly; a low creak accompanying the motion. The smell of grain and the sounds of sounds of the chocobos calling softly greet me as I step inside. I reach out to the nearest bird that is leaning its head over the gate, running my fingers through the soft feathers on its head. It warks in approval, and I take a step away, quickly scanning the ground for what I've come here to get. A small smile crosses my face when I discover it.

Sure enough, I find him sleeping in a pile of hay towards the opposite end of the barn, snoring quietly. Trying to make my footsteps as quiet as possible against the wooden floorboards, I tiptoe down the row of stables until I reach him. Leaning over with my hands resting on my knees, I peer down at him while he sleeps. The blond, spiky locks of his hair surround his face messily, small bits of hay clinging to them here and there. His eyes are closed gently and there's a serene, innocent look on his face; content in his sleep.

He's my best friend; Cloud.

Both of his parents used to work for my father; or as most people in our little kingdom of Nibelheim know him, King Lockhart. His mother, a beautiful woman that gave Cloud his fair colored hair, was a talented seamstress that made all of the rugs, tapestries and even clothing for the royal family. His father tended to all of the chocobos kept for those living in the castle, just like Cloud does now. Though they worked for my father, he had always considered them to be friends.

One night over seven years ago, though, a tragic house fire claimed both of their lives, leaving Cloud orphaned. My father had always been fond of him during the time he had known his parents, so he decided to pay for a little house in town for Cloud to live in, in exchange for him taking over his father's job. He was just a young teenager, but he did the job like a man; grateful to my father for his aid.

We met shortly after that, one day that my nanny took me down to the stables for riding lessons. I was mesmerized by the strange little boy with hair not unlike the chocobos he cared for; intrigued with his easy smile and bright blue eyes. He taught me how to ride that day, and I kept begging my father to let me go back to the stables to see him every day after that. We bonded easily, and soon our friendship became a very natural thing, despite the difference in our social status.

I've gotten to watch him grow up with me; no longer that lanky teenage boy I met so many years ago, but now a man of twenty. His hair has stayed the same, and the innocence in his beautiful blue eyes has remained, but just about everything else physical about him has changed. His shoulders have broadened and he's finally taller than I am, if only by a few inches, though it made him immensely happy. Lean muscles cover his chest and flow down his arms, formed by long days of working around the barn.

As we've grown together physically, my feelings for him have also grown; not that I've ever said anything to him about it. I value his friendship above all else, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have more with him. It would be impossible, I know; because I am a princess, royalty, and he is not. When I'm with him though, and he's smiling at me or making me laugh, I tend to forget things like that. He doesn't treat me like a princess, just like a woman; one of the many reasons I enjoy being with him.

I lean closer to him, now kneeling on the floor, and use the tips of my fingers brush his hair away from his face. He sighs in his sleep, shifting slightly, but he doesn't wake. A devious idea starts to form in my mind then, and I have to cover my mouth with my hand to stifle a snicker. I walk over to the nearest stable, unlatching the gate and grabbing the reigns on the chocobo inside. I lead the bird over to wear Cloud is lying and nudge its neck down gently, hoping that it will take the hint. Chocobos are affectionate animals, so I think my plan will probably work.

To my delight, the chocobo takes does exactly as I wanted and leans all the way down to Cloud, before its tongue comes out and it licks all the way up his face; from chin to forehead. Cloud jumps awake instantly, letting out a little yelp and jerking away from the chocobo bearing down on him, his eyes huge in surprise. All hope of me remaining quiet dissipates quickly, and I collapse to the floor in a fit of laughter, holding my side.

His head snaps toward me at the sound, and I can tell by the accusing look on his face that he knows I'm behind his little wake up call. He groans in revulsion, cursing under his breath as he uses the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the side of his face. The chocobo warks happily, fluttering its wings, seeming to want to join in with my sniggering.

"Come on Tifa, this isn't funny," Cloud complains, continuing to rub at his cheek.

"Yes it is," I gasp between more fits of giggles.

He grumbles again, muttering something quietly that sounds a lot like the word 'disgusting'.

"What are you doing here anyway?" he asks after allowing me to continue to laugh for a moment, but he doesn't sound irritated, just confused. "It's early," he adds.

I wipe the beginnings of tears away from my eyes, and look over at him meaningfully.

"I figured that you probably fell asleep here again," I accuse him teasingly. "So I came looking for you."

He still has that little house in town that my father bought for him, but it's not all that close to the castle grounds where the chocobo stables are. He works long hours on most days, so he ends up falling asleep here sometimes.

"Yeah, I was working late last night," he admits, glancing over at me sheepishly.

"We were supposed to go fishing at the lake today, remember?" I ask, my eyebrows pulling together in a frown; he doesn't normally forget things like this.

A look of remorse crosses his features and he glances away from me, his hand coming up to scratch the back of his head nervously as he lets out a heavy sigh.

"Sorry Tifa, I forgot," he says apologetically, but then looks back at me with a grin hinting at the corners of his mouth. "Do you really think I deserved chocobo slobber for that, though?" he asks playfully.

"You looked so peaceful," I say, a few more giggles shaking my shoulders. "I couldn't resist."

He rolls his eyes at me, snorting in objection and pushing himself up off the floor. I sit up on the ground, watching him curiously as he takes a few steps away from me. A sly smile creeps across his face as he stares back at me, walking towards a bucket full of water on the floor by one of the stables. He probably wants me to believe that he's going to use it to wash his face, but the scheming look in his eyes gives his real intent away.

As he bends down to pick up the bucket, I stand up cautiously, taking a few steps away from him and back towards the entrance of the barn. He stares me down for a minute, calculating my reaction, and then suddenly jerks the bucket towards me. I shriek in surprise, turning and darting out of the way just before the icy water splashes to the ground where I was standing. Grabbing a fistful of the front of my dress, I hike it up and sprint out of the barn as fast as I can.

The sound of the empty bucket clattering to the ground resonates in the building, and then the sound of his footsteps follows it as he takes off after me. I burst out of the barn and into the sunlight in a matter of seconds, disregarding the path I came here on and running out into the grassy field beyond it. I make it to the top of the nearest hill before he catches me, grabbing me by the elbow. I'm not sure which one of us tripped or even how it happened, but suddenly we're both tumbling down the hill.

My vision is a swirling blur of grass, wildflowers and the occasional tree before we finally come to a stop where the slope ends. I'm dizzy and slightly nauseated from all the rolling, but that doesn't stop both of us from laughing like children as we lay there in the grass, trying to catch our breath. When our laughter has finally subsided, he rolls over to his side, sitting up slightly and propping himself up on his elbow as he looks down at me.

I meet his eyes, trying to understand the peculiar emotion lingering behind those clear, sapphire irises. A lazy smile is on his lips, and he reaches down with one hand to brush bits of grass out of my hair gently. His lips part as he starts to say something, but he's cut off by the sound of a rider on a chocobo approaching. We both sit up hastily, looking towards the top of the hill as the figure comes into view.

To be continued…

(A/N) Maybe nobody will like the concept of this, but I sure as heck enjoyed writing it. :D And don't worry, it's one of those stories that builds, but the romance is coming. And then, alas, the tragedy. ;__; Can chocobos stick their tongues out? I say they can. ;P I almost used horses instead of chocobos, but I decided that it would be best not to change that, to keep with the Final Fantasy theme, even if it is AU. Nothing more Final Fantasy than chocobos! XD

Yes, I already have the rest of the story written, but I want to give people enough time in between updates to review, so I'll be posting a new chapter about every two weeks. :D I might post some other Cloud/Tifa oneshots in between the updates though, so just check out my profile for information. ;P

This isn't my first Cloud/Tifa story, but it is a new kind of story for me, so please review and let me know what you think. :3

-punkiemonkie