"At least a glass of milk, Cloud?" Tifa asked as the blonde man stood up from his place at the table and walked to the door, waving over his shoulder.
"I'm ok" He said and climbed the stairs, hearing Marlene and Denzel laughing at some random TV show and pushing each other around. His lips curled up slightly in a small smile as he shook his head: he liked it here, it was peaceful, at least while the two kids were in school and Tifa was at the bar working. His job was going pretty well too, it provided him with enough gil to help Tifa with the essentials, buy the children a toy or two and still allow him afford a couple of things for his bike and himself. However, he was never at ease in his room, there was a constant presence there, lurking around the lifeless place, making the piece chilly and giving it a dark aura. Denzel once told him he was paranoid, and that he actually liked Cloud's room, even when it was most of the time messy; the younger boy often slept with Cloud, snuggling closer to him at nights when the nightmares of his parents were too much for him to handle. The mako-tinted eyes softened when he thought about Denzel: he knew the boy liked him, considered him a big brother, perhaps even his father, but there were some things that couldn't be replaced, no matter how much you loved or admired someone.
*Hell, if I know...*
He thought of Sephiroth, how he had lost his mind when he discovered the truth behind his existence. He thought of Zack, how he had thrown away his life, his bright future just to save Cloud. He thought of Aerith...
He shook his head and closed the door to his room, taking off his clothes and climbing into bed with only his boxers on. Aerith was someone he could barely stand thinking about; he hadn't disliked her when she was alive, he had been in love with her, he would still be if she was by his side, warm and gentle as she always had been. He missed the vibrant woman terribly, and had been blaming himself for her death until he had seen her that time, when he finally accepted it was something he couldn't have stopped, not in his condition anyway.
*I feel lighter...Maybe it lost some weight.*
But it hadn't vanished completely; after everyone with the Geostigma was cured he often found himself thinking what would have happened if he had indeed made it to SOLDIER, if he had been strong enough to save Zack, to save Aerith...A knock on his door startled him out of his thoughts and he looked up, sitting up in the bed.
"Cloud?" He heard Marlene's voice and he sighed, standing up to open the door and find the girl standing there, her hair down and a brush in her hand. He smiled gently at her and let her in, guiding her to the bed.
"Sit" He said when he took the brush from the small hand and started to comb out the long hair carefully.
"Are you feeling ok, Cloud? You look a little pale" She asked while nursing a doll Denzel had given her as a birthday present last year. The slender, yet muscled man chuckled lightly and started braiding her long hair, running his fingers over it to make it smooth.
"I'm ok, Marlene"
"Dad said he'd be coming back tomorrow, so try not to look so down, ok?" Marlene said and smiled when he tied the end of the braid gently, placing the brush back in her hands. Cloud nodded and walked the girl to the door, leaning down to accept a kiss on his right cheek when the small girl stood on her tiptoes. "Night, Cloud" And she ran to the room she shared with Denzel and Tifa. Cloud sighed and closed his door again, walking to his bathroom to wash his teeth; Marlene was a brilliant child, perceptive too, he couldn't hide anything from her, no matter how hard he tried.
-Why not tell them the truth then?-
He frowned and peeked outside the bathroom, looking around his bedroom slowly with his toothbrush still hanging from between his lips. He was sure he had heard something, but there was nothing there. He shrugged and rinsed his mouth, drying it with a towel before lying down on his bed again, looking up at the ceiling and pushing the covers down to his waist. He wasn't getting enough sleep, he knew it; he would wake up with a dry throat and feeling tired as if he had been running the whole night. He didn't remember having any dreams, or nightmares, and that's why he was so uneasy; if he could remember his dreams, then it would make sense and he wouldn't worry about it at all. His eyelids grew heavy and he yawned, closing his eyes and relaxing completely. He fell into a deep slumber almost instantly, soft snores escaping his mouth every once in a while, strong chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm. A blonde eyebrow twitched as the pale face turned to the left slowly; a muscled arm rose from tight abs to lie on the pillow to Cloud's head.
-Did you miss me, Cloud?-
A gentle voice whispered and the man in the bed sighed reaching up with his right hand but finding nothing. Cloud sighed again and let his arm fall back down on the bed; eyelashes fluttered in what seemed an attempt to open his eyes, but the magnificent blue orbs remained closed. A soft, delicate hand cupped his cheek gently, rubbing the thumb over his lips softly so as to not startle the blonde man and wake him up; pink lips settled slowly on his and Cloud reached up again, thin air greeting him. In his sleep, the slim man let out a frustrated sound and turned to lie on his left, the soft lips abandoning his when he did so.
-You are such a bad boy, Cloud-
The voice called again and green eyes looked down at him, gentle hands turning him on his back again and holding his arms out on the bed, effectively preventing him from turning away again. A long braid slid from a pink clad body, caressing the soft skin covering hard muscles.
"A...Aerith..." Cloud called and frowned slightly, licking his lips and sighing yet again. The woman on top of him smiled and leaned down to capture his lips in a slow kiss, smiling when they parted under her mouth.
-I missed you, Cloud-
She said when they parted, and kissed his neck and chest slowly, not noticing the ex-SOLDIER would-be was shivering violently, a frown stealing across his pale face. The pink clad woman lied down by his side, resting her head and right hand on his chest before sighing happily.
-I wish we could be together again...-
She said and closed her eyes, rubbing her cheek gently on his soft skin. Cloud turned his head away and let out a soft moan, his mouth parting to take in gasps of air.
"Aerith..." He sighed once again, the frown still between his eyebrows.
-Do you think it's wise to torture him like this, Aerith?-
A serious voice called and the woman in the bed looked up, finding her dark haired companion sitting on Cloud's chair, his arms resting on his legs. She sighed and glided out of the bed, standing by the SOLDIER uniformed man; she sent a sad glance towards the bed before sighing and looking into angry mako eyes, shrugging slightly before she started gliding away.
-I just wanted to see him again, Zack-
-You've been doing this for weeks; look at him, he's exhausted! Give the poor chocobo-head a rest-
Both of them vanished with a chuckle and the body on the bed turned on his side again, throwing his arm across the spot Aerith had been lying on just a few seconds ago. The girl laughed gently and she appeared again, petting the spiky, blond hair affectionally before vanishing again.
-I'll come back in a while, Cloud...just wait for me-
~The next day~
Tired, blue eyes opened slowly as the sun caressed Cloud's face gently, making his bed unbearably hot.
"Damn..." He cursed softly and sat up on the bed, rubbing his eyes tiredly; he was so tired again...was he falling ill? He shrugged and decided to call Vincent after breakfast and tell him about it; he didn't want to worry Tifa or the children and since the last battle, both men talked about their 'traumas', as Tifa liked to call them whenever she saw them talking. A soft knock on his door made him look up in time to see Denzel opening the door, smiling at him apologetically.
"Sorry...but I'm going to be late for school if you don't hurry..." He said before he closed the door and walked downstairs to have some breakfast before leaving. Cloud sighed and stood up stretching before walking to the bathroom to take a quick shower; he kept looking up and scanning the room as he did, feeling someone watching him even though he knew he was alone. While he dressed, he felt a soft touch on the back of his neck and he turned around fast, finding nothing but thin air.
"...I think I really need some help" He said, almost laughing at himself, and shrugged, taking his gloves from his desk before walking to the door, leaving it open as he walked towards the stairs. His bed cracked gently as if someone was standing up from it, and a couple of green eyes followed him with a gentle stare, a smile stealing across the pale face as the pink dress flowed about her body when she walked after him.
-I'll always follow you, Cloud...always...-