Disclaimer: I do not own the characters in the story or the pre-exsisting ideas. Those are the property of Square-Enix, Ltd.

Author's Note: I have not written a single thing in a really long time and this is the result. I was actually working on another fic before this when I suddenly realized that the other story was stupid and I was inspired to write this instead. This can be considered to be a pro-Tifa story but it's meant to be a CloTi. It's what I have always imagined their relationship to be really like. It's not supposed to be depressing or anything and the ending is kind of open and optimistic in my opinion. But I am just the author. :)
This piece was inspired by the novel "Sweethearts" by Sara Zarr, and the song "Swans" by Unkle Bob, happen to be one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. In my opinion, that song is Cloud and Tifa's anthem.
There is this one line that may sound a little offending to Aerith fans but it's really really mild in my opinion and I didn't mean to portray her in a bad light at all. I also feel taht this piece may seem to be dragging on for a long time and the ending is a bit sloppy. But I'll let you be the judge of that.
Anyway, I'll stop rambling now. Please read this and tell me what you think!


Final Fantasy and all related characters and themes, © Square Enix, Ltd.
Sweethearts, © Vanilla Raindrops, 2009.


Sweethearts

Mountains.

Watching the stars at night.

Tears, sweat, and bloodshed.

Saving the world side by side.

Pouring rain and the sweet scent of lily petals.

Rare small smiles that stop my heart for moments on end.

Sometimes these abstract memories become fuzzy around the edges and threaten to slip out of my grip. So I close my eyes imagine him. I can smell his fresh wind-like scent and see those fascinating pulsing blue eyes and hear my heart pounding madly inside my chest.

Cloud Strife.

Friends called us childhood sweethearts. I blushed and smiled shyly and laughed it off at all the right times. But in reality, I was amused at their ignorance. Because we weren't childhood sweethearts or friends or anything of that sort. We were just two different people who happened to be neighbours; one struggling with fit in, and the other pretending to belong.

As a child, I had a secret fascination with Cloud. He was that odd boy next door with the strange golden hair that stuck out in different angles. Other kids teased him about how it resembled a chocobo. To me, it looked like those sweet golden rays of sunshine that made me smile. I loved it.

I always though that Cloud had a crush on me when we were kids. I don't really know if I felt the same at the time, but I always felt some weird attraction to him that I didn't feel for any of my other friends. Still, even that wasn't enough to make me leave those jerks, the ones who fit in, for Cloud Strife, the black sheep of the town. It was stupid and selfish and mean. And at the time, it seemed obvious that it was the right thing to do.

One memory that I fear I will never be able to recover are what colour his eyes were before the Mako injections. No matter how hard I try, all I can ever recall is the startling but nonetheless beautiful alien blue that captivated me from the moment I first saw them. I don't even know if he remembers their original colour anymore either; he doesn't remember much of anything from the past.

I made Cloud promise to rescue me whenever I was in danger before he left Nibelheim. It may seem romantic and sweet to some but to be honest, I didn't think of romance at the time. I just felt some strange indescribable sensation when I found out that he was leaving and I needed to find some way, any way, to tie him down to me so that he would come back to me. I didn't know why, but I really needed him to. And when he agreed, I felt happier than I could ever remember.

And then he left.

And then I realized that I loved him.

That was the beginning of this never ending circle that I have fallen into with Cloud Strife.

It's funny, that realization. You find out about those ignored feelings that were probably there from the very start. The world seems to turn upside down and everything you knew proves to be false. And you know that love's responsible for that. So you begin to do crazy little things that you've never done before. You fret and worry and anticipate and dream because that little part of you holds on to the hope of a "happily ever after."

Someone should tell little girls all around the world that fairy tales aren't real, happy endings are never guaranteed, Prince Charming won't come, and you are going to have to kick the dragon's butt on your own. The power of love can't solve most things and the world is full of tears and despair. Maybe there would be less heartbreaks and shattered dreams in the world that way.

We met again, years after, but not as friends or acquaintances. We met as fighters, who defended the world together. There were hardships and struggles and blood and loss. And then there were triumphs and successes and new beginnings. And yet nothing tore us apart. Not uncertainties, not pain, not even certain flower girls who flirted shamelessly with Cloud as part of their idea to "spice things up." From the moment that I found him at that train station to the very end, Cloud and I were stuck together like glue. And after it was all over and we saved the world, I just knew that I would never be able to live without him.

But it's some unspoken rule of life to never allow sinners to find true peace and happiness, because even after the end of all chaos when we settled down and he promised to start over again with me, he left. And I was alone all over again.

He left because of guilt and depression and the feeling of uselessness around Denzel, Marlene, and me - his family. And even though he returned eventually, I felt hurt, knowing that instead of confiding in me with all of his problems, he chose to run away, towards loneliness and solitude.

But when he came back to his home, to me, and I could feel the joy radiating from within him. He had rid himself of the guilt. I knew that he was happy to have won, happy to be free of his burden, happy to be with me. Happier than he had been in months and I all I could do was share his happiness.

But you see, for people like us, happiness alone is never enough. We need peace. And I knew that when Cloud had returned, he had not yet found that peace with himself. Forgiveness from the victims was achieved; forgiveness from himself was not. He still blamed himself for unavoidable sins and things that were destined to go wrong from the very beginning.

Cloud smiled and laughed and talked to me regularly. He was becoming himself again. And at the same time he was becoming some stranger that I didn't know at all. I saw the remains of that sadness in his eyes when he smiled, heard it in his voice when he spoke, and felt it whenever his fingers would brush against my skin.

So I let him go.

Our friends didn't understand it. They thought that his previous behaviour had been my last straw and I finally told him to get out. I laughed and shook my head but didn't really bother to explain. No one would ever understand the relationship between me and Cloud. None of them understood what it was like to share a heart with someone else. Until I felt the moment that Cloud was at peace, I would never be at peace myself. And no matter how much it tore me apart, I had to force him to find that peace.

Because although I needed him, although Denzel and Marlene needed him, he needed himself more than we did. And to make Cloud stay would be selfish, something that I could never be with him.

That night, standing in the pouring rain and watching him get ready to leave without knowing when I would see him again was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. He sat on his motorcycle and looked at me. And I stared back at him. Both of us were completely soaked but neither cared enough to acknowledge it.

It was a goodbye without words; there was never a need for words with me and Cloud.

He took a final glance towards Seventh Heaven and revved up the engine.

"I love you, Cloud Strife." I said quietly and there was so much noise from the rain and his bike that I don't know if he actually heard me but I saw the corners of his mouth lift in the all familiar smile that constantly left me in a state of absolute delight and pleasure. And I knew that he loved me too.

And then he was gone, again, leaving me standing under that soft orange glare of a streetlight in the rain.

I don't know if he'll ever return. I want him to, but I know that I can live my life without him coming back. He never promised to come back so I don't stay up late at night and wait for him. And I don't cry myself to sleep every night or leave the porch light on to make him feel welcome. I made sure that he would always feel that way by giving him a key before he left.

Days pass quickly when you are waiting for something and not waiting at the same time because you aren't even sure that what you want even has the possibility of ever happening. I miss Cloud, but unlike the previous episode when he ran away from everyone with the sole purpose of setting himself apart from everyone, this time I pushed him to go out and find himself. So everything's different. This time he actually answers his phone.

Some days I take the phone in my hands and stare at it, not sure of what I really want, waiting for something to happen all on its own. But there are times when I wake up in the middle of the night for no particular reason and call him. He picks up on the first ring as though he had been expecting me all along. And we talk for a long time, no matter how late it is. Sometimes we talk about trivial things, sometimes we talk about deep subjects. I don't really care because the sound of his voice itself is enough for me.

Two subjects never come up in our conversations: where he is and if he is planning on coming back. Because when we talk, it really doesn't matter anymore. The only thing that matters at the time is that he is there, on the other side of the line. And it almost feels like he is still with me. Every other worry ceases to exist.

He asks me about the bar, about our friends, about Denzel and Marlene, about me. I ask him about the weather and his travels and his sights. Some days I tell him how I miss him, resulting is a long pause before he tells me that he is sorry for leaving me and how much it hurts him and how he misses me too. Some days I almost ask him if he would come back to take me away with him so that we could go away together. But I never do.

People ask me if I am in love with Cloud Strife. The first time this happened, I was caught off guard. So I spend that entire night contemplating and wondering about my feelings for him. Didn't being in love mean always being around the person you love and having pointless mushy and intimate interactions? Because in that case, Cloud and I didn't fit either of those descriptions. However, we had out sweet smiles, the laughter, the gentle touches, and the mutual joy and sadness and anger towards all at the same time. We shared a heart.

So the next time someone asked me the same question I shook my head and said no, I wasn't in love with him. But the explanation for my answer remained unspoken.

Being in love with him isn't enough to describe what we have. It's more like an endless circle of every kind of emotion and feeling in the mix. I didn't pull him back to me because my heart was always already wherever he was. I didn't cry for him because he wasn't sad so I just couldn't be. I didn't give up and crumble because he hadn't either. I wasn't in love with him because I was so much more than in love with him. He shaped out love for me. It was as simple as that.

We both happened to be people that refused to disappear without leaving a mark so great that it stretched over your entire heart. So even when Cloud isn't really there, he shapes out everything I do and feel and know. He changed my life and I changed his. And although he isn't with me right now, life goes on with him in my heart. And I will be forever there for him, standing with open arms, awaiting him if he chooses to come back to me but at the same time living life to the fullest for the both of us if he doesn't. Because love is everlasting. And to me, Cloud Strife is love in its entirety.

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they are fuzzy and sometimes they slip, but then there are those moments when you are lying in your bed at night, and a vivid picture that you forgot about enters your mind. Some of these recollections make you cry, some make you smile, some make you laugh, and some ruin your mood entirely. Some you just want to forget, like those embarrassing "firsts" and those rude rejections and the times when your life seemed to fall apart all around you. But to some, you desperately try to hang on to until you are reassured that they will always remain in your mind. I grip tightly to all my memories of Cloud in the fear that if I let go, he might just disappear entirely from the face of the world.

And there's one memory that I cherish the most. Cloud and I are sitting on the water tower under the sparkling stars and he promises that he will always come for me whenever I am in need of trouble. And I know he will because he is my knight in shining armour.

But sometimes, even knights need to be saved from the biggest foe of all: themselves. And that's when the damsel in distress becomes second priority. However, no matter what obstacle they come across, heroes always prevail.

It just takes a matter of time.