STANDARD MIND NUMBING DISCLAIMERS - Brought to you in Head Ache 0 Vision : Yeshke. I don't own any of the characters from FFVII, because they are the property of Squaresoft. I am mearely borrowing them in hopes of creating something entertaining - or atleast mildly interesting. Please don't sue .... please?
Written by Anikka
It was a beautiful spring morning, and the sun was just rising over the peaks of the tallest houses in the town. Already, signs of activity were coming to life around him, as the residents began to open their doors and attend to their business of the day. Several school aged children ran past and headed out for the fields surrounding Kalm. Now that the monsters had disappeared, the kids were safe to once again play their games. All in all it was once of those mornings that you just wanted to sit outside and watch the day go by.
Cloud slowly walked along the street, studying a crumpled piece of paper in his hands that contained an address. He would periodically look down at it, and then glance up at the numbers on the houses to make sure he was going in the right direction. A small cottage-like town house was nestled in between a grove of trees near the end of Pine Street, and Cloud stopped at the end of the drive way. It was a beautiful house, quaint even. He smiled, knowing that this could only be her house. But his smile quickly turned into a frown. How would she greet him?
He started up the drive way, his mind racing a mile a minute. It had been almost seven years since he had seen any of his former companions, or his childhood friend. Seven years since he abandoned her in search of personal answers and a fallen love. And now, standing alone in the streets of Kalm, Cloud Strife realized that he had made one of the greatest mistakes in his life.
All of those years alone, searching desperately to find himself, his true self, had left him even more confused and defeated. He could not find his lost love. Aeris was gone ; She had returned to the Planet and found her way to the Promised land of the Cetra, fulfilling her destiny as the last of her race. Cloud had become a bitter shell of a man, and making this one last attempt at finding happiness was all he could do for himself.
As he reached the door, he hesitated a moment before ringing the bell. It was one of the most nerve wracking experiences in his life, waiting for that door to swing open and to see Tifa once again. Several seconds passed before it happened. But it did not swing open gracefully ; it was pushed awkwardly by little hands that could barely reach the knob. Cloud was surprised to be staring down at a little girl, who couldn't have been over five years old, staring back at him with a mischievous smile. She was wearing white footie pajamas with patterns of chocobos and moogles on them.
"Hi," she said sweetly, "My name is Tabitha, but people call me Tabby."
Cloud furrowed his brow. Did he have the right address? It was then the little girl yelled out at the top of her lungs, "Daddy, there's a man at the door!"
Seconds later Cloud heard footsteps approaching the door, and then a voice called out, "Who is it Tabby?"
He was shocked when a very familiar bald man appeared in the door way and scooped the little girl up in his arms. Tabitha giggled and grabbed on to her father's shoulders, and then put her little arms around his neck. The man took one look at Cloud and put his daughter back on the ground.
"Tabby, why don't you go and finish your cereal," he said, a wary edge colouring his voice. The girl scrunched up her face, unhappy that she didn't get to meet her daddy's friend, but turned on her heel and trotted off back to the kitchen anyway.
"What are you doing here Cloud?" Rude demanded, narrowing his eyes at this morning visitor. He was tired, and it was evident by his robe and boxers that he'd just gotten out of bed to an energetic kid.
"I ... it ...." Cloud started, finding himself speechless.
Of all the people he would have thought he'd be meeting, a child and a Turk were not on the list. For a long period of time the two of them stood in uncomfortable silence, neither knowing quite what to make of the other.
"You came to see Tifa," Rude suggested flatly, breaking the quiet between them. Actually, it was more than a statement than a suggestion, as he deduced exactly why Cloud was here.
"Yeah," replied Cloud, "I came to see her."
He was about to say something else when Tabitha came bounding back out of the kitchen, her face and PJ's covered in milk, cereal, and crumbs. She looked up at Rude with an innocent smile, and wiped her face with her sleeve. He glanced back into the kitchen and grimaced when he saw a bowl on it's side and half of it's contents all over the table.
"I'm all done," she said proudly.
She looked back at Cloud, who had an unpleasant expression on his face, and then studied it thoughtfully. "You don't look happy," she concluded, and then staring down at her clothes she added, "Daddy, will you help me?"
Just then, another set of foot steps echoed through the house, and Cloud felt his heart explode when he looked past Rude and saw her coming down a flight of wooden stairs in a silk robe. Tifa was just as beautiful as he remembered, and it seemed that time had not touched her at all. Her long brown hair had lost a few inches in length, but it still hung past her shoulders, and those burgundy eyes still shone brilliantly. Tabby's face light up when she saw her coming, and she raced towards the stairs.
"Mommy, I finished my cereal, but I spilled some of it and daddy's friend doesn't look very happy," she said informatively, pointing towards Cloud.
Tifa stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Cloud in the doorway and stared at him with her mouth hanging open. She hadn't expected to ever see this man again, and to have him suddenly show up at her house was an enormous shock. Her gaze traveled between Cloud and Rude as she started back down the stairs.
"Cloud?" she finally said, "What are you doing here?"
He, on the other hand, did not look as good. His face looked tired, worn beyond his years. His once bright blue eyes looked cold and defeated, and his clothes seemed to be worse for wear. She just couldn't get over the fact that he was there, standing at her door, looking just as shocked to see a child and another man, like he had expected her to wait for him or something. Tifa raised her eyebrows suspiciously, as she approached the door.
"I'm going to take Tabby upstairs and clean her up," said Rude, equally suspicious of Cloud's sudden arrival, "Come on kiddo."
He scooped Tabitha back up and they went upstairs. Cloud watched them go, as she clung to him like he'd seen before, smiling all the way. Then, realizing he was staring, he turned back to Tifa. She motioned for him to come in, and he slowly stepped forward while Tifa closed the door behind him. He took a moment to look around his surroundings, and saw what a beautiful home they had.
"Can I get you something?" she asked softly as she retired to the kitchen to find herself some coffee.
"No thanks," he replied quietly, wandering into the living room.
It was a well lived in room, littered with a few of Tabitha's toys, but other than that, it was spotless. A great fireplace on the east wall held a mantle full of memories, the most significant being a silver framed photograph. Cloud carefully picked it up, and studied the image. It was of Tifa and Rude on their wedding day, holding each other in a passionate embrace, smiling for the camera. There was a deep feeling of pain inside him as he stared at this picture, almost like he couldn't believe this had happened. There was a sort of surrealism to it all, like he was walking around in one of his own dreams.
Setting the photograph back in it's resting place, he moved on to look at some of the other pictures on the mantle. There was one with Rude, Reno, Cid, Barret, and Reeve celebrating with cigars and beer, and another of Tifa and Rude with Tabitha when she was born. It was a collage of the last seven years, and Cloud had missed out on it all.
At this moment, Tifa returned to the living room, carrying a mug of hot coffee. She sat down on one of the sofas, and looked at him expectantly, like she was waiting for an explanation. There were so many things he wanted to say, but nothing seemed appropriate or relevant. With every passing moment Tifa seemed to grow more and more impatient, and Cloud floundered to think of something to say.
"Y-you married a Turk?" was what came out.
"Ex-Turk," she replied sharply, "And he's got a name you know."
"Sorry ... I just, didn't expect this," he stammered in reply.
"What did you expect, Cloud? Did you expect to find me waiting for you to come back like a puppy or something?" she shot back, her anger starting to catch up with her, "You honestly expected me to put my life on hold so you could figure out yours?"
"No, but I just thought that -"
She made a snorting sound and interrupted his sentence, "You thought that I would accept you back into my life after you just ran out on me like that."
He was about to reply, when Tabitha came barreling back down the stairs, and launched herself into her mother's arms. She was now totally free of her breakfast, and had been changed into regular clothes. Cloud marveled at how much she looked like Tifa, right down to her long brown curls. But he also saw deep green eyes, which belonged to her father, who had also changed and found his way back down stairs.
"Guess what mommy," Tabitha squealed with excitement, "Daddy's said he's gonna take me to the park!"
"Oh yeah," replied Tifa with a huge smile, her mood suddenly changing for her beautiful daughter, "That sounds like lots of fun."
"Yep," she agreed eagerly, "And then we're gonna get ice cream and see the chocobos."
"Well come on then, let's get your shoes on," said Tifa, helping the girl out of her lap and bringing her over to the stairs. The child sat down as she fetched a small pair of shoes from the hall closet. Handing one of them to Rude, she placed the other on Tabitha's foot and started lacing it up. While the girl excitedly told her mother what she planned on accomplishing that day, Rude looked back into his living room and saw that once again Cloud was observing them with a scrutinizing glance.
He didn't like having this man in his house, and the thought of leaving him alone with his wife after all these years made him uncomfortable. After all, he knew that she once loved Cloud very deeply, but he hurt her very badly. And though he trusted Tifa completely, he didn't trust Cloud not to hurt her again. Rude had a feeling that a lot of pain was about to resurface and regretted words would be exchanged, and he certainly did not want Tabitha around to hear it.
Cloud fiddled with his thumbs while he attempted not to stare at Tifa. But he couldn't help it, and looked on while she exchanged words with Rude. She placed her hand on his shoulder, and kissed him on the lips. It was hard, but he tried as best he could not to watch, and was relieved when Tabitha grabbed onto her father's free hand and started to drag him towards the door.
"Come on daddy," she insisted with frustration, "If we don't hurry all the good swings will be gone."
"All right kiddo, I'm coming. Say good bye to your mom," said Rude, easily giving into her demands.
"Bye mommy," Tabitha said, hugging Tifa around the legs. When she released her mother, she turned to face the man in the living room, "Bye Cloud. Daddy says to be nice to you because you're mommy's friend, so I will, okay?"
Flashing a baffled look, Cloud just nodded at the kid and said, "Have fun."
"Oh, we will," she said confidently, "Come on daddy."
Rude gave Cloud one final look before he followed his anxious daughter out of the door, leaving him alone with an angry Tifa. He could tell be the look on her face that she was not happy to have him suddenly appear on the door step and interrupt her life. He knew he owed her an explanation, and he was prepared to give her one.
"Tifa ... I'm sorry I just showed up here, but I needed to see you again. It was wrong of me to leave you all alone, but I had a lot of searching to do, not just physically, but within myself. I was left with so many questions after Sephiroth was killed ... and all of these unresolved feelings --"
"And you think that makes it all right!?" she bellowed with frustration, "What kind of an excuse is that, Cloud? You just got up and left in the middle of the night, and you didn't even tell me. Instead you just left a note. Did you know what it did to me when I woke up and found that thing? I ... I was devastated. And now you waltz in here, surprised to see that I haven't been waiting for you, expecting me to forgive you or something?"
"I know Tifa, it was a foolish and extremely selfish thing for me do have done to you, and I don't deserve your forgiveness. But, I ran away from everyone because I thought my problems were to much."
"Then why did you come back?" she asked, her voice straining on the words. She seemed to be more frustrated than anything else.
"To see you," he replied simply, "To see if you were all right and because I wanted to know what happened to you."
Once again, Tifa's anger began to flare up inside of her, and she scowled at Cloud viciously.
"You want to know what happened to ME? Well if the great Cloud Strife is curious, I had better fill him in. Like I said, after I found your letter I was devastated. I didn't understand how you could just leave me like that to search for Aeris. For a long time I was really depressed -- I sold the new bar in Midgar and just left everything behind. I was convinced that you and I were supposed to be together ; I used to believe a lot of things back then. So with my own stupid pride I set out to find you, even after Barret had tried to convince me to just let you go."
"You came after me?" he asked with amazement.
"I did. I searched the continents for months, but I could never find you. I never kept in touch with anyone, and after I had been gone for a while, they got really worried. Reeve had the Turks come and find me, and that's when --"
"When you met Rude?" Cloud suggested, completing her sentence.
"Actually, you're forgetting that I already knew him," Tifa corrected, "But that's when we got closer. I was going to say that's when I went into therapy. I tried really hard, and I worked through my feelings for you and my subsequent depression."
"So when did you two become ... well, involved?"
"Rude was a such good friend to me," she responded with a small smile, "He was always there when I needed someone to talk to or if I needed a shoulder to cry on. He helped me with my anger and the feelings of hopelessness I had, and he just made me feel better. Eventually I realized that what I felt for him was more than just friendship. It was so much more. Next week is our sixth anniversary, and I love him with all my heart."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this. You married a Turk ... what about all of the things he did for Shinra?"
"What is so hard to believe Cloud?" Tifa asked questioningly, "He's a good man, and Tabby couldn't have a better father. Both he and I are well aware of each other's pasts and what we had done. But that's just it Cloud, it's all in the past, and we've dealt with it, and what I can't believe is that you would have the audacity to question his integrity, especially when you were the one who left me."
"Don't ... just don't try and talk your way out of this. I don't know why you would come here now, after all this time, but there is one thing that I can't forget. You abandoned me when I was vulnerable, Cloud. You left when I needed you the most, and when you couldn't find your lost love, you finally decided to come back to me, because you had no where else to go."
"It's not like that."
"Then tell me what it is Cloud, because I sure as hell can't figure it out."
He sighed heavily and ran his hand through his blonde hair. He wasn't sure what to say himself. He had come to her home in hopes of a reconciliation, but it was becoming clear to him that he wasn't wanted.
"I'm sorry -- I thought that maybe things could be the way they were again, y'know, before the whole mess with Meteor and Sephiroth and Aeris. When I was by myself for all those years, just wandering around the continents alone and confused, I realized that even if I found what I was looking for, I had left behind the one thing that really mattered to me. I was searching for answers to my past and to her past, and do you know what I found? That the true inner peace and happiness I sought comes to those who accept what they're given and live their lives. I did neither. I was always looking for something else, and I didn't realize that I did have true happiness sitting right under my nose. You -- and now I've lost you again."
She shifted her weight on the couch and folded her arms across her chest. "You realize that I was never yours in the first place, no matter how much either of us wanted it back then-- or didn't want it."
"I know, but I can't help thinking to myself how much of an idiot I was to have left you. I'm sorry things turned out the way they did for us."
Tifa, totally catching Cloud of guard, started to chuckle at this statement. He gave her a look of confusion, and she sighed, some of the anger leaving her face. Getting up off the couch she absentmindedly walked over to the window and withdrew the curtains. Sunlight flooded into the room, dancing over the sofas and the fireplace, illuminating the pictures on the mantle.
"Is something wrong Tifa?" he asked with bewilderment.
"Come here Cloud," she said, gesturing for him to get up. He followed suit and approached the window.
"Look out there and tell me what you see," she said, her eyes never lifting from her view of the outside world.
Cloud nodded and peered outside. A few feet in front of him he saw Rude and Tabitha, walking hand in hand down the street, each holding an ice cream cone. The little girl suddenly stopped and tugged on his pant leg. He bent down as far as he could, and she scrambled up onto his back, laughing the entire time. Rude carried her piggy back down the street as they headed for a large wooded park.
"My family is my life Cloud," she explained, "You say you're sorry things turned out this way, but I'm not. I love Rude and my Tabby very dearly, and I don't know what I would do without either of them. I'm happy now, even though I had to go through all of that pain. Please don't say you would have me abandon them for your happiness."
"Please Tifa," he said somberly, "I need you."
She briefly gazed into Cloud eyes and saw all of the pain inside of him, and it made her feel terrible. It reminded her of a time seven years ago when she would stare at her own reflection and see the feelings hurt and loss in her own eyes. Tifa did not want to hurt him. After all, this was the same Cloud she had spent her childhood with and the same Cloud whom she had loved once. However, there was no avoiding it. Though she did not feel genuine hatred towards him or his actions, but she couldn't conceal the anger she still carried with her, nor the feelings of rejection.
Tifa slowly turned her head to look at Cloud, who was staring at her intently, waiting for her reply. She lifted her hand and placed it gently on his cheek. His skin felt cold and foreign to her touch, and the expression on his face was sterile. She didn't want to do this to him, but he didn't seem to understand that although she still cared for him as a friend, she did not love him anymore.
"I need you Tifa."
Withdrawing her hand, Tifa stared at the floor for a moment, and then locked her eyes with his.
"I don't Cloud," she whispered softly, "I don't"
C'est fini! Okay, I know I am going to get flamed to Hell and back for this, but I couldn't resist. Please, if you are a fan of the Cloud/Tifa dynamic, refrain from chasing me down the streets with a board that's got a nail in it. Lemme explain this. First of all, I wrote it on a whim, which I don't usually do because doing so always gets me off track with other projects. But I got inspired and I just had to get it all down before I forgot.
Realistically, I don't think this would have ever happened following the games events, because it becomes quite clear that Cloud is aware of, and maybe even acknowledges, that Tifa has some kind of feelings for him. But then again, I hate that pointy headed dope, so it was kinda like revenge. I know, I booted him around quite a bit, but like I said, he deserves it.
I felt really bad for Tifa in the end, because he kept talking about going to find Aeris and what not, when all she wanted was to be with him. Did you see the look on her face when Cloud said he thought he could meet Aeris? It was so sad. >_< Sounds mushy, I know, but that's just my perspective. So I thought I'd give Tifa some happiness, and since Rude is one of my favourite Turks (and a dude) and he said he liked her, well, there you go. (Side Bar : This fic is especially for SaraH, who is one of the biggest Rude fans I have ever met!! What's up chickie?) I don't remember where I got the name Tabitha from ... I think it was a character on a television show I was watching at the time, or possibly the name of the leprechaun that tells me to burn things, I'm not quite sure.
Well, that's all the pointless rambling I got in me today kiddies, and besides, it's 3:30 in the morning, so I'm gonna rap it up. If you have any comments, questions or criticism, then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Hell, if you've got some flaming dog doo on a stick, send that to. There's always the possibility it could be constructive.
Thank you for your time.