Standard Disclaimer: For once, all the characters contained in the following piece of work are the property of Square. However, if they were mine, I'd give Aerith to the person I wrote this for.

Author's notes follow the story.


I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid...

She could hear the click of her heels on the glass as she descended the glossy stairwell. It sounded hollow, empty; as if she was hearing it from far away. She'd figured out long minutes before that she was better off not watching where she put her feet - all it did was disconcert her further.

Please show me the way...

When she didn't look, she could hear them calling her more clearly. Once her eyes fell to the crystal that flowed beneath her like water, the voices diminished; too much of her concentration spent on finding a secure place to set her feet.

She knew she wouldn't fall, and that the glass wouldn't break. It had stood for this long, after all; waiting for one of its own to return. But now that she was here, she couldn't help but feel out of place in the alien world-within-world. She'd grown up surrounded by metal and dirt, not the purity of crystal that sang to her now. Such a sweet, sweet song... Walking in midair was a strange feeling, no matter what was holding her up.

There's no turning back now. You've come this far. You can't let them down.

I won't. I made a promise.

You're almost there...

Swallowing her fears down a dry throat, Aerith stepped into the tiny shrine.

Welcome home, Aerith. Welcome home.

* * *

The glass was cool beneath her knees. She'd moved the hem of her dress aside so that it wouldn't tighten up and keep her from being able to settle to the ground. It didn't feel right to be standing; not in this place.

It's no wonder this feels so familiar...

As she'd done so many times in the Church in Sector Five, Aerith laced her fingers together; held just beneath her chin. A soft, fond smile curved her lips as she closed her eyes; releasing a long, slow breath before bowing her head.

I miss it...

I miss all of them.

She'd thought that she might break down once she got away from the party she'd travelled so far with; once she was safe inside the City that had called to her for so long; where there was nobody to see, nobody to pretend she had to be strong for. Now, kneeling in the shining temple, she knew that there had never been any pretending, and that there was no reason to cry.

Mother, please understand... I'm only doing this for you...

For you, for Midgar, for Cloud, for Tifa...

So many images playing in her head. Ifalna, pleading for her to be safe. Elmyra's smile, her loving arms.

Two Mothers for Aerith. None for - for -

The city she'd come to love, the spiky-haired boy who'd bought her flowers, who'd fallen into the Church like an angel from above. He hadn't seemed to care that he might be hurt. Just to get up and get out, and then to make sure she did, too.

I guess angels don't cry...

I knew even then he was something special.

I hope you know...I hope you all know...just how lucky you are...to be together.

The warmth of her friend's arms when they'd finally gotten a chance to embrace after rescuing her from Shin-Ra Towers; the laughter that had sparkled in the air when they'd finallay been able to relax at the Gold Saucer; the smiles on their faces whenever they had a chance to catch their breath and talk after making camp for the night. The worry in their eyes when someone was hurt, when someone was sad...

No matter what happens, you'll always have each other. Don't let go of that.

The rasp of Tseng's last breaths echoing off the walls of the Ancients' Temple.

Oh, Tseng...

Her own breath quavered ever-so-slightly as it rushed into her lungs; then settled as it was exhaled once more to return to the air around her.

Return to the Planet, my friend. Be at peace...

And show me the way.

* * *

She could hear the thud of his heels on the glass as he descended the glossy stairwell. It was heavier than her own footfalls had been, yet it still sounded so far away...

She could feel it when he came to stand before her, though she didn't return his gaze.

It's not time yet...

She could feel the air currents shift when he raised the great sword.

It's almost time...

She could hear the scream of the metal as it sliced through the air, and the scream of her friends as they called for him to stop.

It's time, Aerith.

She could feel the ache her heart; such a sweet, sorrowful pain.

Aerith...

She could hear their song when he drew near.

It's time, it's time.

She could feel the air shift as he began to fall, like a dark angel from above.

It's time, oh, Aerith, it's time...

She could hear the hiss of the sickle-like blade as it cut down to announce his arrival, and the hiss of the voices inside her head.

Aerith! It's time!

I know.

She raised her head at last, the green pools of her eyes shimmering like the water below as they met Cloud's own beautiful Mako-blue gaze.

Good-bye, Cloud. I love you, my friend.

She could feel the searing heat of the Masamune as it sliced through her as easily as a hot knife through butter.

It hurts...it hurts, Mother, but I'm not afraid. I'm truly not.

I'm just going home.

She could hear the steel grating on her ribs as the one-winged angel let her fall.

I love you all. Please don't ever forget that. No matter what happens, I always will.

She could feel the smile still on her lips as the darkness rushed up to meet her; and the voices fell silent at last.

* * *

Welcome home, Aerith. Welcome home.

There was only one of them, now, and it sounded so close. Like he was right beside her.

...he?

She knew the eyes that would be waiting to meet hers, even before she opened them. So unlike the shocked, vibrant orbs that she remembered last; and so far from the chilly disks that she knew had been gleaming in her wake.

So warm, so brown. Just like her friend's...

She knew the arms that would be open for her, even before she could raise her own. So unlike the helpless grasp that had caught her on the way down; so far from the strong limbs that had pushed her there.

So warm, so gentle. Just like her mother's...

She knew the voice that would speak, even before she could find words herself. So unlike the dischordant things that had called to her earlier; so far from the silence after...

So warm, so familiar.

"Welcome home, Aerith," Tseng murmured softly. "I've been waiting for you."

She could feel the smile that returned to her lips as she heard that voice; her eyes gleaming bright with unshed tears as she drifted into his arms at last.

There's no reason to cry anymore. No matter what happens, I know that you won't forget...

I love you.


Author's Note: I've been wanting to write this for a while. To be honest, though, I would never have had the idea if a friend of mine hadn't sat sharing FFVII conspiracy theories with me for hours on end, so part of the credit has to go to him. Because of him, I will forever believe that both Aerith and Tseng deserve happiness in the long darkness at the ends of time. This time, it happened to be with each other. Dream well, fallen angels; dream darkly and sweetly. No more need be said than that.
~Scarle