Inspired from #27 of my one-sentence fic for LJ, Diaphaneity.

- - - hide-and-seek
dedicated to the wonderful Unforgettable Green Eyes.

Cloud Strife is very good at hiding.

He can hide his feelings, he can hide himself in a crowd. He can be more elusive than Waldo, harder to catch than a sparrow in flight, slipperier than sand slithering through your fingers. He can disappear in an instant. He can outrun all the searchers in the world. Back in school, even the teachers gave up playing Hide-and-Seek when Cloud Strife was involved. So far even Fate has somehow glossed over him, and thus Cloud lives when he really should be dead.

But, there's repercussions. People hide in the shadows; Cloud is no exception.

The shadows have gotten so acclimated to his presence that they have taken up residence in his heart.

So, Cloud Strife remains prisoner to his own crowning achievement: the ability to hide. The shadows in his heart envelop him in darkness anywhere he goes. That makes him stick out like an inkspot in the light-- so it's more comfortable to stay in the dark. Who'd want to be laughed at, pitied, have small children turn their faces away while their parents murmur "Is that a wing...?" (Yes, it is, thank the shadows for that).

This hiding has brought Cloud to where he is now. Sora has run ahead, presumably reuniting with Goofy. The King is somewhere. The Heartless are still overflowing the Great Maw (the thousand or so that Sora vanquished earlier are just a slice of a much nastier pie). Cloud himself has lost Sephiroth long ago, but the general has left him with more than a metallic, coppery taste in the mouth and anger in the brain. The wounds are tokens, perhaps, of his anti-thanks to Cloud.

He is leaning against a wall. The black, leathery wing is chafing his shoulderblade, bone scraping against bone (proof that it should not be there). Blood drips from the leathery skin of the wing, plink-ing rhythmically on the cold rock beneath his feet. He has an impressive black eye. There's a long, shallow laceration running from his ear to his collarbone. Plus, of course, the various minor flesh wounds Cloud never bothers to catalog.

He has had worse. The wounds don't bother Cloud unduly. For now, he is safe.

No one can find him here.

Cloud wonders if perhaps he should check on Sora, but dismisses the idea. Sora has enough help as it is, and he doesn't need a half-Heartless mess interfering with Light-business.

The blond smiles a bit, in spite of himself. Leon doesn't give this kid enough credit. Age is a number; heart is what matters. And Sora sure as heck had them all beat. Something in him thaws a bit, seeing that kid's goofy grin. Watching him defend what isn't even his, just because it needs defending. To care for people just because they're people.

Cloud is torn from his musings at the sound of soft footfalls echoing in the maze-like Fissures. But he doesn't reach for his Buster Sword, because he knows those steps anywhere.

"Cloud?" Her soft voice wisps through the twisting corridors like smoke. "Are you here?"

He blinks, once. Twice.

She's... here. Actually in the flesh, about to stumble upon his hidey-hole. Cloud is not so much surprised that she has actually found him (deep down, Cloud knows it isn't hard for anyone who actually cares to search). He is surprised (dumbfounded, astonished, completely floored) that she has gone out of her way to look.

Before Cloud knows exactly what he's doing, his mouth is on hers, kissing her possessively. She is surprised, flustered-- but a beat later she is returning his sudden display of affection with force. Her lips are warm and soft, thawing a part of Cloud he hadn't even realized was cold. After awhile he pulls back, a bit breathless. Actually, a lot breathless. But then again, so is she.

Aerith lets out a breathy little laugh, twining her hands around his neck and playing with the short, soft strands at the nape of his neck. "I hope finder's keepers applies here?"

"I suppose." He grins in spite of himself, and tucks his face into her hair to conceal the smile. Several moments pass, then Cloud speaks again. "How'd you know?"

His voice is muffled by her hair, and he feels the corners of her lips curve up against his skin. "I can feel you. The shadows are like smoke on the wind. Obvious to anyone with a nose to the air." Aerith pulls back a bit, unsure. "...Did you want to be found?"

He kisses her again. This is one perk about being terrible with conversation: relying on body language is much more acceptable. His answer is as normal as a spoken affirmation.

More silence (not the uncomfortable sort). Eventually Aerith tilts her chin up and gives him a look. "Are you going to let me heal those wounds, or try to tell me they're not serious?"

He sighs in defeat, and Aerith takes that as a sign to begin. Her hands glide smoothly over his body, leaving fizzing tingles where blood once was. Cloud inhales sharply as her fingers brush his wing. Aerith curls her arms around him from behind, resting her head on his shoulder while her hands continued to draw idle swirls on the leathery black skin. Her breath is warm on his neck, and that plus the feeling of her fingers on his wing is enough to drive him--

"I missed you," she murmurs. Her tone is soft and intimate, and it sends a pulse of pure, crackling electricity through his veins. Like dumping liquid adrenaline into the blood. He's hyperaware and can't help but to turn his head so that her lips brush his cheek.

Cloud wills himself to focus through the thick haze misting his vision. "...Wait a little longer," he manages. "I'm close, Aerith, I really am."

"I believe you." Her mouth plants a soft kiss on the underside of his chin.

Cloud surrenders with an effervescent sigh. He turns her until she is facing him, and kisses her tentatively. Eventually the kiss turns into a string of brushes and soft gasps, and her hair is making filmy chocolate spiderwebs in his face. Her pale fingers are skimming across his face and neck, like a blind sculptor trying to memorize textures and temperatures. He loses time entirely, so there's no way to know whether five minutes or an hour has passed when he hears a voice echoing through the Fissures.

Aerith pulls back. "Yuffie," she says quietly. Laughs a bit. "She has to be wondering where I am."

Cloud nods, and (very reluctantly) draws back. Aeirth turns back to him, her eyes taking on a rainy, blue-ish sheen. "Are you leaving?"

Yuffie's voice is louder now; soon she'll discover them and Cloud would rather not have anyone else to let down today. Sora and Aerith are the only ones who have seen him, so far. He could feasibly leave undetected and continue his hunt for Sephiroth.

A thought suddenly blossoms in his mind. How could he ever expect to catch Sephiroth when Cloud himself was the one constantly hiding?

This thought, however simple, has never occurred to Cloud before. Thus it is understandably a double-take moment for him.

"Cloud?" Aerith's tone is more urgent now, and Yuffie is nearly upon them. He shakes his head just as Yuffie appears in the corridor.

"No," he answers. "I'm not leaving."

A smile lights up her face; she hides it in his sweater and blushes. Yuffie balks as she notices the two figures, then breaks out into a wide grin. "Well, look who shows up! Chocobo-Butt himself! Oh-em-ghee, I've gotta to tell Leon! And Cid! He'll start the tea!" She bounds off, and Cloud wonders if he should have said 'hello' or something. But then again, Cloud doubts that Yuffie really listens to anyone but herself.

Aerith's quiet voice breaks his thoughts. "You're staying, really?"

Cloud kisses her forehead. "Finder's keepers, right?" He pauses. "I'm yours until the next game starts."

She understands. "We'll help you track him down, until you have to go again."

...They're alright.

That's a celebration in itself.

She's the seeker, he's the hider. And perhaps one day, when everyone grows up and childish games come to an end, there will just be two who have been found.

Clerith is food for the soul.

If you enjoyed, I'd love for you to tell me so. I do often take requests and challenges, so if you feel so inclined review and let me know!