what could have been

She sighed, resigned, ruby eyes sweeping over the last straggler within her bar. He sat, a lone cigarette trailing whispy figures of smoke into the air as it dangled from it's precarious perch in the ashtray. She watched his slow, languid movements, muscles rippling along his arms and back as he completed the simple task of drinking and smoking himself into absentminded oblivion.

Tifa's new Seventh Heaven had long been rebuilt... the planet spending it's current peaceful years after the Fall of Midgar in glory, a happy time where prosperity and calm lay over all the lands. But, that same peace was lacking now in the broken man who'd sat at her table, now, in the far corner of the bar, eyes shaded, face downcast and fallen. She remembered when he was happy, when he smiled... she remembered when she had done the same, in turn... but it seemed both their love lives lately had eerie parallels.

Cloud left... unknowingly shunning Tifa's loyal affections in turn for the promising sickly green of the Lifestream and the beckoning of the flower girl - the last of her kind - Aerith. It was all Cloud had ever wanted, all he'd ever needed. It wasn't that he didn't love or care for her - oh no, Cloud had been to keen of her feelings over the last six months - it was just that he loved HER more, and his need, his emotions ran so deep that it wasn't even a matter of Tifa anymore, it was either answer his heart's longing or suffer meaningless empty days without HER on Earth.

And so, here Tifa was, nursing her feelings as well as her last patron's, as she shut the door and locked it down, shutting her and the man inside off from the rest of the outside world with a few clicks of a lock and a sigh.

"Why'd you bother?" He asked, gruff overtones piercing slightly with a passion that wasn't unlike him.

Tifa simply glanced at him, wondering if he was talking to her or himself before her unhurried steps carried her to his side.

"I bother because I care, Cid. You know that." Tifa mumbled and sat across from him, nipping his shot glass before he could and downing the contents in one fell swoop, ignoring, as always the haunting press of rolling blue that was his gaze.

"... every night though Teef? Aren't you fucken sick of me?"

Tifa shook her head, a short snort coming from her as she flipped aside her bangs gibly, thinking.

Every since Shera left... couldn't handle Cid's manner, and finally tired of it... she finally packed her things and one morning was gone. No goodbye, no note, just left, and with her, her subtle, knowing prescence and the lingering scent of vanilla forever gone from Highwind's now too empty home. Every since then, Cid had taken to coming around, more often then not.

Every night, every night for the past eight or so months, like clockwork, Cid strode in to her bar. She could set her watch by him. He never fell late, always strolled in, feet purposeful, face stern, never bugging her, never asking a lot of questions. He just resumed his seat at this very table, ordered a bottle of gin, and drank, waiting until she closed and came to sit with him, like now.

It was if he was waiting. Waiting for what, Tifa didn't know. Cid knew, but never pressed the issue.

"Well?" He mumbled sourly.

Tifa cocked a brow and slowly lifted her garnet gaze to his, able to meet his surprisingly alert stare. They weren't blurry and bloodshot with drink - no - they were alert and clear with the promise of something.

Curiosity eating at her, she simply sat back, crossed her legs, fiddling with the hem of her jeans. "Well, what?" She repeated, stirring the tension already circling in the tight space between the pair around the table.

"How long are you going to let me keep coming here?"

Tifa shrugged. "However long until you decide to stop slowly killing yourself."

He chuckled at that, low and steady, a gentle hum that flitted over her senses. He took a drag from the cigarette as his eyes slowly across her. "... you mean with these?"

She shook her head, rising. "No, Cid, I mean with guilt."

"You're dillusional Lockheart."

Tifa rolled her eyes, she was suddenly hungry. "... no more demented then you, Highwind."

She went into the kitchen, made herself and him a roast beef sandwich with all the fixin's, before returning to the table.

It was like this often, the two exchanging sarcastic, veiled conversations, never really getting to the heart of the issue.

But something was in the air, something rife and hot, something that screamed of change.

Tifa could taste it.

Cid dug into her food with relish, like he always did, finishing the sandwich, licking his lips and winking at her. She pushed the rest of her half eaten sandwich at him and simply watched as he slowly devoured it, like he hadn't eaten a meal in weeks. Tifa knew it wasn't the case, because he had consumed much of her food the night before in much of the same manner.

"S'good, Teef." He mumbled in between bites and sips of gin and inhalations from his cigarette.

She simply sat back in her chair, wondering over the change she felt humming in her blood, waiting for him to finish with his meal.

When he did, he yawned, downed a full shot of gin. It was then that Tifa noticed that less then less of half the bottle had been drank. She cocked her head to stare at him. "You're not..."

"What? Drowning my sorrows in the goddamned bottle? Nah, Lockheart, not tonight. I've been wantin' to ask ya somethan."

Tifa huffed. She knew it was coming. "Yeah?"

"... why bother?" Cid repeated for the second time that evening.

She blinked. This again? I thought he was going to... Tifa shrugged. "I told you, already Highwind. It's because I ca-"

Cid shook his head, goggles gleaming in the ruddy light. "No dammit. Not because you care. I know you care, I don't have my head up my ass. Not the question I was gunna ask, Teef. ...Why do you bother waiting for Strife?"

Tifa's eyes bulged. Her mouth opened and flopped shut, opened again, she looked like a fish removed from water.

"... speechless hm? Thought so. He's an idiot. ... Yanno that?" Cid muttered bitterly.

She crossed her arms, eyes shooting sparks. "He is NOT." Tifa retorted hotly, sounding not unlike a four year old aruging.

"... He is Teef, to be so blind as not to see how head over heels you are for him."

Tifa rolled her eyes. "Why do you care?"

"Because. I've fucked up. And I don't want you to go through the same shit. I drove the woman I loved away." Cid said plainly, his face solid, strong, brooking no outward emotion.

"What does that have to do with me?"

Cid grinned. "It's got every thing to do with ya, Lockheart. You're in the same position Shera was in. To go, or to stay? That is the question."

Tifa snorted, again, indignantly. "Well, I'm not leaving him, and I sure as hell ain't Shera."

But, Cid, crass as he was, wasn't even offended. He merely snuffed out his cigarette and poured himself a shot. "Never said you were."

Tifa blinked. She didn't know what to say to that.

"'Sides, he's a dick, stringing you along like that and then one day leavin. It's isn't right. It's abusive."

Tifa's brow furrowed. "There's no comparison between our two situations, Cid."

His gaze shot up to her so quickly then, she was caught in the depth of it. It was then that she saw the pain, the raw, bleeding pain seeping from his eyes, the hurt that she'd never gotten a glimpse of until tonight. It was staggering.

"Yeah, there is Teef. I abused Shera verbally, hell that sentence in itself is a fucken understatement." He stopped, downed a shot, poured another. "She felt obligated to me from the guilt... the grief that she ruined my dream of going into space. And you..." Cid pointed to her, gloved hands steady on the grip to his cigarette; "And YOU Lockheart, are letting Cloud abuse you. Not verbally, no, but sometimes, the unspoken words hurt the most."

Tifa turned her head away, feeling the prick of tears sting her eyes. She rose to clear their plates but the iron hard grip of the pilot on her wrists stopped her movement. Slowly, her eyes trained on him. He met her steely gaze and returned it.

"There are parallel's Tifa. More then you know. I was punishing Shera, using her through her guilt, and her love. And she stayed because of that guilt. Cloud's punishing you for your guilt. The guilt of not befriending him as a child, the guilt that you never noticed him... the obligation to stay by his side in the fight for the planet, to make sure he wasn't really fucked up in the head."

Tifa, riveted, limbs numb, couldn't avert her eyes from his.

"... and you stay, Tifa, ever loyal, bound by your love, to him, even now, when he trollops off to go be with the late Aerith, Planet rest her soul." Cid scoffed. "And... bull shit Tifa. There IS a comparison between our two situations." Cid simply let her wrist go, busying himself with finishing off another shot.

Her hands were shaking. So tonight... he came to my bar... just to get me all riled up about Cloud? With trembling fingers whose grip that she struggled to steady, Tifa began walking back to the kitchen to cast the porcelain plates into the sink.

"It ain't what yer thinking, Tif. Trust me." Cid laughed bitterly, his usual laugh, deep and rolling, shaking his head as he readjusted his goggles, watching her head in the back. He shook his head as his eyes stayed too long on her form. What was WITH him?

When Tifa returned, Cid was standing at the door, Venus Gospel clasped tightly in his right hand, brow raised as she approached him.

"Well?" She poised his earlier question, hands on hips, eyes shooting darts, posture defensive and poised for a fight.

Cid smirked down at the smaller woman.

"Whaddya the hell do ya mean 'well' Lockheart? I'm goin' home."

Tifa smirked back, her voice light. "You came all this way, after all this time, just to build up the balls to ask me about Cloud?"

Cid shook his head, exhaling, blaming his reddening face on the abundance of spirits he'd consumed and not the certain proxmimity of a certain Tifa Lockheart. He stepped closer to her, until he could feel her gentle breath fanning across his cheeks.

He looked down at her. "Nah. Teef, I didn't come for that."

Tifa leaned her head back, guileless face puzzled. "What didja come here for?"

Cid grinned, that grin he did when he used to fly the Airship in crazy sickening motions to scare the hell outta everyone. Never a man to back down from a challenge, hardly one to cower in fear, he was more apprehensive of her stare and her judgement then he would ever willingly admit. Highwind had finally gathered enough courage to act on the more then a friendly liking he'd taken to the bartender.

"You don't know? Damn you're dense. ... Every night I come here, I come for you, Teef."

Cid bent swiftly and brushed his lips across hers gently, grabbing her before she could react. The kiss turned from tender to primal in the second she responded, kissing him back, the shock and odditity of the situation causing wave after wave of pure shock - as well as a slight thrill of pleasure - down her spine.

The passion, the alcohol, his drive - whatever the hell it was that temporarily posessed him - reigned as he deepened the kiss before pulling away from her, figuring they both needed a bit of air. He licked his lips slowly. "Damn, Lockheart." He shook his head. He was definately sober now! "... Strife has no idea what the hell he's missing."

Tifa still stood there, hand poised in midair as if to grab Cid and stop him, eyes now open and glazed wide with... with what? Equal stirrings of emotion?... she didn't know. Her lips still felt the press of his and she could taste the sting from the gin he'd drunk, her heart was racing and her mind was a tumble.

"I swear to fucken God... If I were ten years younger I'd..." Cid began candidly after unlocking the odd padlock system on her door. He swung it open, letting in the comforting balmy night air of Kalm, before turning back to Tifa.

She was sitting down now, eyes slightly spacey, face confused. All this time...? All this time he wanted me and I never knew...?

"... see ya around." Cid uttered and was gone in a wink, a flash of moonlight reflecting off of his weapon as his heavy booted steps carried him down Seventh Heaven's steps, and out into the night, which swallowed him up and muted the sounds of his departure.

Tifa just pondered over the what if's as the languid breeze sluiced over her thinking form. She just sat there, never moving, never looking at the door way, just... thinking. After a long time, she pressed her fingers to her still tingling lips, narrowing her eyes as the memory of the bruising kiss slanted over her.

It was a long time yet after that before she finally headed off to bed, regret seeping its way into her dreams over the moment that happened and the haunting of possibilites of what could have been.