Just a thought – ever notice how Sephiroth and Aerith do look like they could be related? I blame the identical hairstyles. Don't believe me, take a peek at their artwork again.
I also swipe a quote from "That 70's Show" here. Sue me, it's fun and it fit. :p
Also, I'm gonna be starting a Dissidia fic soon! It's gonna be a CloudxTerra pairing though, sorry Clerith fans. But the flower girl will still play a big part of the story, even if she isn't actually in it. Stay tuned to author alerts for more details!
Anyway, enjoy this final chapter. I had planned an epilogue as well, but the more I thought about it the more tacked-on the idea seemed, since this ties up the story well as-is. So sorry I couldn't finish this in time for Christmas, but here it is nonetheless!
Chapter 7: Finale
"See anything?" Tifa asked. Cloud finished browsing the clothing rack and reached in. He pulled out a slim sleeveless blue dress and held it up for Tifa's inspection.
"Think she'd like this?" he asked, desperate.
"Cloud, you live with her, whereas I've met her twice for less than ten minutes at a time. Why ask me?"
Cloud growled slightly and put the dress back. Yes, he lived with Aerith. And yet he'd been making his way around town for the better part of three hours that morning and so far not a single item he had seen, be it clothing, technology or jewelry, seemed to be a good gift idea for her. And it was driving him insane.
"Cloud, just do what I do for my cousin, grab a card, sign your name and slap a couple gil notes in it," Tifa advised as Cloud left the fourth clothing store he had visited so far.
"Because I want to get a good gift for her, not just hand her some money," Cloud explained. "Something that says how I really feel about her."
"You mean like an engagement ring?"
"Tifa, you're my friend, but if you say that again I'll be forced to harm you."
Tifa smirked. Cloud had roped her in to going gift-shopping for Aerith with him, somehow believing that, as they were both women, Tifa had access to some sort of secret "woman-code" that would let her know exactly what type of present Aerith would like. So far, it wasn't working out for him. It didn't help that she was out buying for him now with Sephiroth. Knowing them they probably already had the perfect gifts for him already bought, home and wrapped.
The knowledge that the two of them were brother and sister had been a shock to him, although in hindsight Cloud had to admit there was a subtle family resemblance. Sephiroth had no intention to meddle in Aerith's life, sister or no she was still a young woman with a mind of her own. All the same, he had expressed a genuine desire to be a part of her life, something that Cloud hadn't expected. He knew Sephiroth wasn't heartless, but he hadn't expected him to take the idea of being a brother so readily.
"Cloud, how about before we find the gift that tells her how you feel, you figure out just how you feel, hm?" Tifa said. Cloud stopped and closed his eyes. "Or, how about I take a wild guess at how you feel?" Tifa continued, crossing her arms. "Does it start with an 'L' and end with a 'ove'?"
"…I think so, maybe," Cloud mumbled.
"Uh, Cloud, I was joking."
Tifa whistled slightly as she put a hand on Cloud's shoulder.
"Yeah…Tifa, I've known her for less than a month, and I can't imagine my life without her anymore. I'm telling her, tomorrow night. I can't let her leave me. I know she wants to start her own life, but I don't care anymore. I'm not going to not speak up about what I feel, not when there's the slightest chance she could feel the same," Cloud said.
"Alright, good," Tifa nodded. "For what it's worth, I'm sure she does. With all you've done for her Cloud, she'd have to be made of stone to not feel anything for you. And that's exactly the opposite of who Aerith is."
"I know," Cloud said, beginning to walk again. "That's why I have to show her what she means to me. I don't care how expensive or inexpensive it is, but it has to be perfect."
"Well, any idea what this perfect gift could be?" Tifa asked. Cloud turned his head to reply, and did a double take.
"Yeah," he murmured, walking to a window display on the street. He stared in awe at the item displayed in the window. "That's it…" he whispered. "That'd be perfect, Tifa she'd love it!"
"Cloud, take a look at the price tag," Tifa advised. Cloud took her advice and turned his eyes to the tag.
"Fifteen thousand gil and that's your reaction?" Tifa asked in disbelief. "Cloud, that is way too expensive."
"I have to disagree," Cloud replied, pushing open the door to the store.
"I live with him for half a month and have no idea what to buy him," Aerith huffed, scanning the mall map and the list of stores underneath.
"Surely you must have some inclination of what he would like," Sephiroth said, watching her. Aerith crouched down and kept scanning the list.
"Well, let's see…he watches movies, but that's nothing special, a DVD or two. He collects coins a little bit, but he doesn't really consider it a full hobby. Hmm….this is hard!" Aerith thought out loud. "What are you getting him?"
"My gift to Cloud is of no consequence to you."
"Can't think of anything either huh?"
"No, and you need not inform him of such."
Aerith smiled slightly. Sephiroth had agreed to come with her on her shopping trip for a Christmas gift for Cloud, figuring that since he knew him longer than she did, Sephiroth would have a good idea what type of gift Cloud would like. But Sephiroth had been of little help to her.
The revelation that she had a brother after all these years was still settling in her. She and Sephiroth had spent several hours the previous day comparing notes about what they knew about their father and their separate mothers. Sephiroth had agreed to introduce her to his aunt and her husband after the holidays passed. She may not have been related to them by blood, but they were the closest thing to family she had. Well, besides Sephiroth himself, of course.
"There has to be something, pick a store," Aerith ordered. Sephiroth looked over the map and pointed to a random numbered spot on it.
"Store 123. What store is that?" he asked. Aerith found the number on the directory.
"Chronicles, a book store," Aerith said.
"Acceptable," Sephiroth decided, walking towards the store. Aerith stood and followed him through the crowd, following the path he was weaving through the people. Dressed in a long black coat with a silver tie and his piercing gaze, the crowd naturally parted for him. In her somewhat more modest jeans, T-shirt and red winter jacket, Aerith didn't have the same gift, as she was discovering as she got bumped and pushed. Finally, she ducked out of the Christmas Eve rush to see Sephiroth standing before the store, looking up at the sign.
It was a modest thing, the store. It was lit but not brightly, with shelves along the walls, a single shelf in the center of the store, and the counter and register at the front. The clerk, an older woman with thick glasses, looked up as Sephiroth passed through the door and smiled. The smile vanished as Aerith followed him.
"Can I help you with something, young lady?" she asked, watching her.
"Just browsing," Aerith replied softly, looking over the shelves.
"I'll doubt you'll find much," the woman said, turning back to her book. As Aerith began to inspect the books, she found her claim to be true. Most of the books here were old, dusty classics that looked like they had been published decades ago. The tags had been attached to the shelf under the book. Aerith leaned in to examine a book titled The Lost King, and whistled at the price.
"Sephiroth, I can't shop here," she hissed as he rounded the shelves.
"Why not?" he asked, carefully picking up a book and examining it. "They have an excellent selection and good taste."
"That book you're holding is worth more than I am," Aerith said. Sephiroth lifted his eyes to the tag where the book was on the shelf.
"So it is," he mused, placing it back. Aerith rolled her eyes and looked back to the shelves. "Do not concern yourself with pricing," Sephiroth advised. Aerith looked over and narrowed her eyes. She kneeled to a lower shelf and carefully picked up a book.
"I recognize the title somehow…" she mused, reading it. Sephiroth looked down.
"Ah, I know that one. The Rise and Fall of Gestahl," he said. "It's a book about a man who seeks power to establish a new, benevolent government, and ends up becoming a tyrannous emperor who is overthrown by his own generals. Cloud wrote his thesis about the corruption of men and their justifications using that book as his base."
"That's it!" Aerith cried. "I remember now, Cloud told me about it, he read it in high school and it became his favorite book, that's why he did his thesis on it! But he said he could never find his own copy!"
"So you have found something suitable for a gift, then?" Sephiroth asked. A beaming Aerith stood up and looked up at him.
"Yes, I have."
Aerith opened her eyes as sunlight peeked through the window blinds. She yawned and sat up, scratching her hair. Christmas Day. Cloud had said that as part of an annual tradition, Sephiroth was hosting their annual get-together at his home. Last year it had been at Tifa's, next year was it Cloud's turn. There was a light knock on the door, and a moment later, Cloud peeked his head inside.
"Awake, hm?" he asked. "Did you want to have breakfast first, or open your gift? I've been up for about fifteen minutes now."
"I'm sure my stomach can wait a few minutes, I'm good," Aerith replied, standing up from the bed. Cloud lead her out into the living room and sat on the sofa. Clad in her pajamas, Aerith sat beside him and reached under the tree, pulling out a thin present.
"Here you are," she said, holding it out to him. Cloud smiled at her and took it, pulling off the wrapping paper to reveal a package wrapped in light brown paper. Aerith watched as Cloud pulled off the paper, and his eyes went wide.
"Yo…you…how did you find this?" he asked, turning the book over.
"My secret," Aerith said sweetly. "Do you like it?"
"Of course!" Cloud cried. "My god…I took out this book like, every month from the library in high school, I practically had it memorized. I'd looked for my own copy for years, but I could never find it!"
"I know," Aerith giggled. Cloud shook his head with a smile as he flipped through the book.
"Wow…" he whispered, stopping at a page. "It's just as I remember….thank you."
"No problem," Aerith said as Cloud set the book down on the table. He stood up and walked over to the tree, withdrawing a long, shallow box from inside the branches.
"Here, I hope you like it," he said, holding it out. Aerith took the box and pulled open the edges, then slid the paper off the white box. She put a hand on the lid and lifted it off.
"I…" Aerith led the lid drop from her hand, and it made a small sound as it hit the floor. She lifted a shaking hand and reached into the box. Inside lay a long, thin silver chain with a small silver setting hanging from it. In the setting was nestled a small, slightly luminous green orb.
"Do you like it?" Cloud asked hopefully.
"It's gorgeous…yes…" Aerith whispered, lifting the pendant from the box and examining it. "Is that a jewel, jade?"
"A pearl, actually, green pearl."
"It's lovely. But, Cloud, I can't accept this."
"Well, to be blunt, it's a gift, so you don't have a choice," Cloud replied.
"I…don't know what to say," Aerith admitted, examining the beautiful item dangling from her fingertips.
"Well, I don't think 'thank you' would be an inappropriate response," Cloud said. Aerith smiled and looked at him.
"Thank you," she said at last. Cloud nodded.
"Come here, I wants to see how it looks on you," he said, holding out his hand. Aerith took it and Cloud pulled her to her feet, and led her to the mirror on the wall. He took the pendant from her as Aerith stood in front of the mirror. Behind her, Cloud pulled back the catch for the clasp and slid the pendant around Aerith's neck. He hooked the end of the chain in the clasp and let it move shut. Aerith looked at herself in the mirror and lifted a hand to run it along the curve of the pearl nestled against her chest.
"It's beautiful," she said, blushing slightly. Cloud looked down at it.
"You're beautiful," he whispered. Aerith's eyes widened, and she turned her head. Cloud was there, and before she could even attempt to reply, he moved his head forward and captured her lips in a kiss. It was quick, and before Aerith could even register it had happened, Cloud pulled back. Aerith gaped at him for a moment.
"What…what was that for?" she asked.
"I've been waiting to do that ever since I saw you. Because I meant what I just said," Cloud said, holding her gaze. "Aerith, please. I know you have a family now, I know you're building a life for yourself, and I know I have no right to tell you what to do. But I…I…like you. Like, like, like you."
"So…you're in like with me?"
"Aerith, I'm in…" Cloud settled for kissing her again, cupping his hands on her face. This time Aerith realized what was happening and reciprocated his ministrations, grabbing onto his shoulder as she leaned up. Cloud pulled back and once again cut the kiss short.
"Please, stay," he pleaded quietly.
"I wasn't going anywhere, not until later."
"No, I mean, stay. With me," Cloud repeated. Aerith blinked as she realized what he meant.
"H, how long?" she asked.
"As long as you can put up with me," Cloud replied, rubbing a thumb on her cheek. Aerith slowly smiled.
"I'll see what I can do," she said, leaning up to kiss him again.