Dawn

by Thyme In Her Eyes

Author's Notes: Another shortfic, but this one's a Tifa-centric piece for a change, and while not being overtly romantic, it still contains some pretty strong Cloud/Tifa implications (they're not a couple who come all that naturally to me when writing…how am I doing with them in this?). Heh, somehow, I think I managed to make this both dramatic and angsty and sweet and fluffy…bizarre stuff… O.O Anyway, the story is set straight after the game's ending, and told through Tifa's perspective. Enjoy, review, and remember that I own nowt. :)

-- DAWN --

My eyes fluttered open lazily. I couldn't make out much at first; just random colours and sounds that didn't make any sense. I repeated to myself again and again that everything would be alright. Every one of my senses was jumbled, running into each other like colours on a ruined painting. I didn't know what had happened, or where I was. Everything was spinning, distorted. All I really knew was how numb I felt, as if my limbs weren't mine anymore. I tried to move, but I couldn't. I tried to say something, tried to call out a name, but I couldn't force up a single sound. I couldn't even tell if my eyes were actually open, if I was awake or dreaming. Nothing felt real.

I didn't know where everyone was – where Cloud was – or what had happened to them, and I was concerned, but I couldn't panic. I didn't have it in me now. I just felt…peaceful, I guess. I accepted. We'd done everything we could. It was up to the Planet now. And no matter what had happened to us, Cloud was with me, going through the same thing, so I didn't need to be scared, or anything but strong.

The last thing I remembered was a brilliant, blinding white light. I shut my eyes tightly, but I couldn't shut out that light. I'd called out Cloud's name, I think, but I can't remember if I ever made an actual sound, or if his name just flashed through my mind, at that last second. Then, all I could feel was my feet giving way under me, this strange and beautiful light swimming in my head, dancing behind my eyes. The deep green of the Lifestream was everywhere, flowing around my mind.

It's strange (or maybe not so strange), but I'm sure that for a split second between consciousness and unconsciousness, I saw her face. Aeris…smiling at all of us. And I was just so happy to see her that all my fears melted away. Then everything disappeared around me.

Maybe we'd all died. Maybe this was what being a part of the Lifestream was like. Maybe Aeris was smiling because she was welcoming her friends to her, her way of telling us that death wasn't so scary. I wished I could cry then, because even though I felt weak and tired and sad, I didn't want to die. I didn't want Cloud to die. I didn't want all our friends to die. We'd all tried so hard, believed so fiercely that we deserved a second chance, that we could make everything right again. I believed in that so much. Even now, it burned in me.

And while I was there, standing on the deck of the Highwind and watching Holy fail, watching everything we'd fought for come undone, feeling hollowed out by emotion, for the first time in my life, I started to think about the future. Really think about it. I realised that there was so much I wanted to do with my life. I remembered the girl I used to be five years ago, before all the loss…I can see her vaguely in my mind, down a hazy corridor of time. She was a girl with a life plan, with expectations. She was a girl with a list of things she wanted to do and experience, a list she planned to follow precisely, to the mark, and enjoy it. Before Sephiroth burned it all out of her.

I used to think that as long as I'd finally told Cloud how I felt, let him know how much I loved him, then I could die with no regrets. But there were regrets all around me, once I'd had a taste of hope. I wanted to be with Cloud, and help him heal the scars his life had dealt him, and support him through it all. I wanted to keep my friends near, and live a life where I could see them often. I wanted to help the people living in the slums, help make the world a better place.

And I wanted to be a mother someday. I hadn't known that until right then, at the end of the world. Mother to a baby, a beautiful little girl. I wanted to raise her in a safe world, to be as good a mom to her as mine was to me, to always be there for her and always love her, to tell her stories of this adventure, stories about all my friends, so that she'd grow up wise and caring, knowing how important our world was and the good intentions it was built on, and what people were willing to give up for the sake of the future.

As soon as I realised that dream, I was terrified of losing it. Because if we died, it meant we'd lost, that the stars saw no hope for us, that the Planet didn't want us. I was so scared of that. I wanted – I want – to be brave and accepting and deal with this without fear, but I guess I was always too sensitive. I just want everything to be okay, for everyone.

So here I was, drifting in and out of life or death, and all I could do was pray. Please please please let me not be dead. Please listen to us, please understand us – we're sorry, we're all sorry for everything. Please give us another chance. Please believe in us. Please let it have worked, let the Planet and the people be safe. Please let it not be over.

But then the sounds around me became clear. The sound of a faint breeze whistling. The sound of metal being hauled around. Then, there were voices. The faint buzz of a number of people talking at the same time, and then later I started to pick out voices I recognised. Cid was swearing and shouting orders. Yuffie was squealing with joy. I heard Barret and Red XIII in the distance, discussing something, but I couldn't understand what exactly they were saying.

Then I slowly returned to myself. I realised that I was lying down. There was a warm pressure wrapped around my right hand. My head was throbbing, my eyes ached, and everything hurt. My whole body was in pain, but I couldn't have felt happier. I don't think I had room in my body to contain it. The pain meant that life had returned. I was alive! We were okay! We'd made it! We'd survived!

I felt a wetness on my cheeks, and knew that everything was okay. And if it wasn't, then we'd make it okay. We could change things. I knew that now. I was forgetting the pain quickly, getting used to it, feeling my strength come back to me with my awareness.

Then, the colour came into focus again, and I realised that my eyes were open and I was looking up and directly into something. Into blue. Blue eyes... I blinked a few times, letting my eyes focus properly, and wincing a little as I moved my head to a comfier angle.

"Cloud…" I managed, giving him a weak smile.

There were tears in his eyes, and he was trembling, but I could see that it was out of happiness. He was smiling down at me, not his usual demi-smile that betrayed nothing, but one that was warm, intense and happy. The light of a new dawn was shining behind him, and it made the tips of his spiky yellow hair blaze with gold. He looked beautiful. He didn't seem lost, or confused, or self-doubting but focused and certain of something. Then I noticed that the pressure I'd felt on my hand was his hand, holding mine gently but firmly. I guessed then that he'd been watching over me, kind of like he always had been, and it meant so much to that I couldn't think of any way to express it. I don't think I'd ever felt safer, or more hopeful.

"Hi Tifa," he said warmly, totally casually, and I wanted to laugh.

"Hi Cloud," I responded weakly but happily, feeling as if I hadn't seen him in years, but at the same time feeling so close to him, like nothing could pry us apart, no matter how far away we were from each other. I felt overwhelmed; so happy to be alive, with Cloud by my side.

"You feeling okay?" he asked, concern etched in his face. "I've got a Cure materia here that Yuffie didn't manage to swipe…"

"No, I'm alright," I said, "I've felt better, but I'm alright." I wondered for a minute whether or not I should tell him that I'd thought I'd died a short while ago, but I decided against it. I could bring it up sometime later, maybe. I only wanted to talk about good things right now.

I thought about the plans that had flashed through my mind at the end, all the things I'd wanted for the future, but hadn't admitted to myself. I decided I'd tell him these dreams sometime, that I wouldn't feel ashamed of their conventionality or self-conscious of myself around him – just comfortable, just myself. I wanted to tell him every thought in my head, every feeling in my heart. And now it was okay, we could do that now. We could be close.

"Is everything –" I started asking, but he interrupted me with a brisk, affirmative nod.

I laughed faintly. "Is everyone –"

Another nod. "Yeah, they're okay. As well as everyone else on the Planet, I think."

I nodded back at him, and smiled. I tried to push myself into a sitting position, but he stopped me.

"Better not try it yet," he said in explanation. "We had a rough landing earlier…don't want you to strain yourself."

"Sounds right…" I said. "…Cloud?"

"Mm-hmm?"

My voice was very quiet, slightly nervous-sounding. "Did…did you…see her? Because I'm sure I did, just before I passed out…I was so sure she was there, smiling at me. I know it's not possible, but it felt real. It felt so real. At least, it did to me. Did you feel something like that, Cloud?"

For some reason, I needed him to. I needed him to have seen her one last time, to have felt what I felt, to have shared this with me, so that we had this between us. I needed that.

His face clouded with poignancy. "Yeah…I saw her, Tifa. She looked up at me and smiled."

He looked away from me for a second. "I thought it was just me that saw her, because…" he trailed off and ran his hand through his hair, "I dunno, because I wanted to, I guess. But you saw her too…that makes it real. It means it really happened, didn't it? She really was there for a moment, with us."

"Yeah…" I said, smiling, before quietly venturing, "I really miss her. I…I just wish she was here, that she could be with us for all this, for a new beginning."

I thought about her church, remembering when she told me about it and how much time she'd spent there, how much she loved it. I remembered her telling me about her flowers, worrying about how they were managing without her. I remembered Meteor razing the Upper Plate and wondered if her little church was still standing, if some people had taken refuge there and prayed, if it had withstood everything and protected them. I wondered if a part of her had been there, watching over them.

He didn't say anything, didn't move a muscle. He just looked pained, and I knew he understood. He still felt the grief, the shock, the loss of her death. I gave his hand a tiny, sympathetic squeeze, letting him know that he didn't have to hide it. His icy eyes snapped to mine and looked so vulnerable. He squeezed my hand back gently, and with his other he touched my face, tenderly wiping the fresh tears off my cheeks. Then he moved his hand to my hair and smoothed it, stroking it comfortingly, his eyes still fixed on mine intensely but gently, and unafraid.

"Tifa…" he started, but he never got beyond that. And he didn't need to.

Normally, I'd beg anything out there that listened not to let this moment end, but this time I didn't mind. I didn't feel desperate to hang on to this, or poignant about being so happy. I was happy to let this moment go when the time came for it to pass, because I knew there'd be another one like it, and then another. It didn't have to end.

"It's funny…" I said, "There's a new world out there, a new start, a new life…but I can't think of anything to say…"

He smiled down at me. "Don't worry, Tifa." he said, "Everything's going to be alright."

I was moved. It was the first time he'd ever said those words without my prompting him. And it was the first time he'd ever meant them. And it was the first time I'd ever believed him.

I used all my strength to push myself up and hug him tightly. It wasn't like me at all to be so impulsive, and I could tell by his reaction that I'd surprised him. He'd tensed, unsure, but then his arms relaxed around me and held me; gentle and strong and protective. I leaned my head on his shoulder and nuzzled against him, feeling so happy, so precious and so full of love.

I heard Barret call out my name, and noticed that the whole group was coming over to us, eager to see if we were alright. I was happy to be with them, so glad that they were alright, but right then I couldn't see anything except Cloud and the brilliant dawn framing him, and a world of new beginnings ahead of us.

-- FIN --