It had been six months since Cloud had picked Aerith up from 7th Heaven and kissed her in the flower field in front of her home in sector 5. Embarrassment was the only thing that had kept him from moving forward with the plans he had been preparing for the past week. He would never, even under extreme interrogation (Aerith could be an effective interrogator, since she knew where he was most ticklish and often used it to her advantage) admit that the plan had been formulated a mere week after those events had transpired, and he’d taken her to the Church the following evening and made love to her in the flower bed where they’d first been properly introduced.
Cloud wasn’t a romantic man by nature, but on some level he’d always known it would come to this. Being himself, he was sure he’d screw it up. But Aerith deserved the effort, at least.
Phase one of the plan involved picking her up from her flower shop in sector five around closing time. This in itself wasn’t unusual, since he often finished his deliveries and other jobs around the same time and initially would make excuses to ride Fenrir over and pick her up for dinner. At first he’d tried to say it was simply because he was “in the area” but after doing it for three weeks, Aerith innocently asked if there was a particular ongoing job that involved him concluding his business at the exact time and in the exact place every day for 20 days in a row—minus Sundays, when the flower shop was closed. His cover was blown.
Today, he had something else in mind. He parked Fenrir in front of “Language of the Flowers” and nodded curtly back to people who knew him and waved a greeting. There was what felt like a pile of stones in the pit of his stomach. Part of him couldn’t believe what he was doing, but another part of him couldn’t be more certain. It all went back to the dream he once had. Every minute, every moment matters.
But would Aerith agree?
He opened the door to her shop and saw that all but one customer had cleared out for the day. Yuffie, who worked part time for Aerith, gave him a sultry week when she saw him. “Well if it isn’t Clara Strife. Have you figured out your routine for drag night at 7th Heaven yet? I suggest lip syncing to the song—
Cloud ignored her and strode behind the counter to the door to the back room, opening it and shutting it before Yuffie could finish running her mouth. The following sight that greeted him was one of his favorites in the world—Aerith sitting behind her desk, going through invoices with her round, dark framed glasses on. It shouldn’t have been possible for any woman to look that beautiful in glasses, but Aerith did. It drove Cloud completely wild when he saw them.
Three months ago, she came to see him in sector 7 and told him she was having trouble reading her paperwork—something was up with her vision. “Reeve said that my biological father, Gast, wore glasses. I’d always hoped being half Cetra meant I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” she’d told him with a pout.
He’d taken her to see an optometrist on the upper plate, who told her after an eye exam that she was far-sighted. This had subjected Cloud to her numerous terrible jokes and puns related to her Cetra pre-cognitive abilities. “Maybe these glasses will give me better foresight,” was one.
“Please stop, for the love of Gaia,” Cloud had told her. But then he’d seen her in the glasses she chose, and all reason left his head and flooded straight to his groin, turning him into a babbling, incoherent mess. Now he got to see her in her glasses whenever she had to read something, and had to resist finding random things for her to read so he could keep seeing her in them.
When Aerith saw him stride into the back room, her face lit up and to his disappointment, she took her glasses off. “Cloud!” she said. She somehow looked even more cheerful than usual, but at the same time, he knew her well enough to recognize stress and strain in those big green eyes. “I’m glad you’re here. I have something important to tell you. In a lot of ways, its stressful, but I think if we come up with a plan—
Cloud held up his gloved hand. “Nope,” he said. “Not tonight. I have special plans for us and I’m declaring the evening a stress-free zone.”
“Aerith, please. You know I’m not good at this romantic stuff. This takes a lot of effort.”
The worry in her eyes seemed to relax a little. “Well, alright. I suppose the situation won’t be any different if I wait to tell you tomorrow.”
Looking back, Cloud should have guessed what she meant, but he was too preoccupied with phase two. “Good,” he replied. “Tonight, I’m taking you on the Highwind.”
“Oh really?” Aerith rose from her seat and walked over to him to put her arms around his waist and hug him. “Where are we going?”
Cloud lowered his head slightly to smell her flower shampoo and lifted her shoulders from his chest so he could gently hold her face in his hand. “It’s a surprise. Nothing too wild, but it should be enjoyable for us both. I want you to go home and change into something nice.”
Aerith pouted at him teasingly. “You don’t think I look nice?”
“Don’t start,” Cloud groaned. “You know what I mean. Wear one of those cute little dresses you have, something that’s not too fancy but… you know, uh. Special.”
“Special?” Aerith’s eyes were twinkling again. “Do you want me to wear that little maid outfit again? With the cat tail and the cat ears? The one you begged me to wear with my glasses while you—
“Aerith,” Cloud groaned. “Please, we’re wasting time.”
“Oh alright. Where do you want me to meet you?”
Cid had directed them to a hangar in Sector 4 where the Highwind stood waiting. Cloud arrived before Aerith, who insisted on getting there herself on the train instead of riding with him on Fenrir. (“The last time I rode on the back of Fenrir in a dress the wind lifted my skirt up and that entire demolition crew in sector 8 got a peep show.”)
In some ways he was thankful for it. His nerves were on the verge of getting the best of him. “Were you this nervous when you asked Shera?” he asked Cid, who waited for her with him.
“Sure as shit I was nervous, Spike,” Cid replied. “I meant to do something fancy like this, take her for a ride on the Highwind, but I was so god damned nervous I asked her while we were drinking our morning coffee and fucked the whole thing up.”
“Well, she still said yes,” Cloud observed, feeling comforted by the knowledge. “Do you think…”
The words died in his throat as his stomach lurched. He could see what could only be Aerith’s Chocobo carriage approaching the hangar.
Cid clapped his back. “Don’t worry, she’ll say yes. Poor kid’s a masochist. She’ll be just crazy enough to marry you, Spike.”
Cloud swallowed when Aerith stepped out of the carriage and turned to say something sociable and undoubtedly charming to the driver. She was wearing a soft pink dress with a short, A-line skirt and a silver ribbon in her hair, which was only partially pulled up to the side.
She almost never wore her old trademark pink ribbon. She would never show it outwardly, but she had been traumatized enough from her near-death at Sephiroth’s hands that she seemed to quietly avoid things that reminded her of it.
Thinking of that made Cloud grip the handle of the small sword he brought with him and bite his lip. He knew it was needless to bring a weapon, but he felt anxious without it.
“Hi Cid,” Aerith said as she scurried up to them. She hugged him and turned to Cloud, looking him up and down appreciatively. He was still in his usual dark garb, but had traded his sleeveless turtleneck and bracers for a smart button up shirt. “Shall we mosey on over to the control room, handsome?”
“You’d best take care of my baby or I’ll beat your ass, Spike,” Cid told Cloud, nodding towards the airship. The younger man nodded as Aerith took his arm and led him up to the Highwind’s front control room, leaving the Pilot behind.
Cloud’s stomach continued to lurch with nerves as he followed Cid’s previous instructions and set the course for their destination. They took off quickly at a hasty speed. No time to waste.
“You’re awfully quiet, Mister,” Aerith observed as he finished. She had the faraway, strained look in her eyes again. Something was on her mind, which wouldn’t do. He needed her relaxed.
“Tonight is about us,” he said. “Just us. But mostly, I wanted to make it special for you.”
“Do I get to know where we’re going yet?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Cloud replied. “I won’t take us long to get there. Once we do I’ll take you down to the bridge and we can be outside and enjoy the sights.”
To his relief, Aerith’s eyes twinkled. “Ooooh, sights. I have a feeling I know where you’re taking me. Is that the surprise? Or is there something else going on?”
Cloud took a deep breath. “Remember back when we were chasing Sephiroth? You asked me to take you on an airship when we were in Junon and saw the Highwind for the first time?”
Aerith smiled gently, the melancholy in her eyes would have been unmistakable to anyone but him. He felt as though he knew her best. “Cloud, I’ve been on the Highwind before. We took it when we went to stop meteor.”
“I know that, obviously,” Cloud grumbled. “You’re missing the point. It’s just you and me right now.”
“But we’ve been on the Highwind alone before too. Back in July when we went to Icicle Inn to retrieve those recordings of Ifalna and my father for Reeve, and I took you down to fool around in the steam room and got you so worked up you ripped the handle off the—
“Aerith,” Cloud hissed, his face heating up in embarrassment. “I’m well aware of the times we’ve been on the Highwind together. Gaia, I’m terrible at this.” He put his hand on his face in exasperation.
Aerith giggled. “I’m sorry, Cloud. I’ll stop teasing you, I swear.”
“Are you sure you can?” Cloud arched an eyebrow at her.
“Well no, but I’ll try.”
The dashboard blinked red, indicating they had reached their destination and were stopping. Cloud offered her his hand. “Come down to the bridge,” he told her.
The two of them left the operating room and moved down to the hull so they could step outside on the bridge into the fresh air. They were suspended into a stopping point, so there was a cool light breeze offset by the heaters Cid had installed several years ago. The table with their steaks, decorated in candlelight, stood in the exact spot Cloud had planned, with a vase in the middle sporting a yellow lily—their special flower.
“Oh Cloud, its wonderful,” Aerith breathed. He held onto her hand and took her to the railing. Below them was the north crater. The lifestream still poured out of it in streams, from when Aerith had summoned it to stop Holy. The sight bathed her in an ethereal glow as she looked down, the strain returning to her green melancholy eyes.
Cloud shook his head. That wouldn’t do. He took her hand and turned her to face him, lifting her chin up so he could look into her eyes. “Just us,” he told her. “We… we can be up here together, and it almost wasn’t that way. That’s… That’s why this is important.”
Aerith smiled up at him while he stumbled over his words, trying to express himself, her eyes softening. “Oh, Cloud,” she said quietly. “I love you. I don’t want this to ever end.”
Cloud bent his head and moved the strap on her dress over slightly to kiss his favorite spot on her shoulder. She whimpered breathily and he moved his lips to her collarbone, then brushed them over her jaw.
“Cloud,” Aerith purred. “I’m really.. excitable these days.”
“More than usual?” Cloud murmured against the corner of her mouth.
“Yes, so we should eat. I don’t want to fall into the North Crater when you put me on the railing. You’re always so rough with me.” She leaned back slightly to pout up at him with her usual deceptive innocence and he caught her around the waist to avoid her prediction about falling over the railing.
“I’m rough? You’re the one who woke the neighbors last week,” Cloud scoffed as he took her by the hand and led her over to the table. He pulled out her chair for her and poured both of them glasses of wine before unstrapping his sword from his waist and hanging it across the back of his chair.
“So cool,” Aerith giggled. Cloud gave her a half smile, thinking about when she’d first said that to him, and as they ate in comfortable silence his panic started to return. His pessimism tried to get his mind to think of all the things that would go wrong is she didn’t give him the answer he wanted and he gulped down his wine, hoping it would drown out his thoughts.
Through the resulting mind fog, he noticed that Aerith’s wine was untouched. “Aerith,” he said.
“I got that wine from the vineyard you really like in Kalm.”
“Oh, did you?” Aerith asked, a strange look on her face. “You’re so handsome and chivalrous when you want to be.”
When she didn’t pick up her wine glass, realization slowly set in as he dimly connected the dots between her comments and behavior all evening. “No, I’m an idiot.” He said at last. “Aerith, are we going to have a baby?”
Aerith looked down in her lap and pressed her stomach, the melancholy in her eyes returning. “I always thought I would be the last one. Cetra, I mean. It’s been lonely—that is, until you came along. Is that how he’s going to feel? Can I help him carry this burden? Should I even ask him to carry it?”
“Him?” Cloud’s head was spinning and not from wine. This was one of those important moments again, when he couldn’t let his words fail him. “I’m not worried at all, especially if he’ll be anything like you.”
It was true, what he felt was the opposite of worry. There was no way to show or speak the depth of his emotions. He wondered if this could be real, or that he could deserve such happiness.
Aerith peered at him mischievously. “Can we go down in the steam room again?”
“Cid will kill me if I break anything else. When we get home.”
Aerith pouted again. “Tease.”
She played footsie with him underneath the table while they finished eating, and he almost broke twice, but clenched his teeth and vowed to really give it to her when they were alone in his apartment—his plan had changed.
Since phase 3 had turned out differently than he thought it would, he improvised with phase four, which wasn’t easy. When they got home it took two hours for Aerith to finally tire out and fall asleep—she hadn’t been kidding when she said pregnancy was making her more “excitable.” He could barely move his legs enough to creep over to his sword and quietly open the compartment he’d created in the hilt so as not to wake her.
He pulled the ring out. It was a shard of Meteor he’d kept for years, encased in a mythrill band. He still owed Vincent big time for helping him forge it with his beast flare while transformed into a Galian.
My son. Cloud thought in amazement as he returned to the bed and gently stroked Aerith’s bare stomach. She stirred, but didn’t wake, and he slipped the ring on her finger, looking forward to a morning that he would always cherish.