If you think that I could be forgiven

The bar's dark - windowless, a hole in a cliff wall, lit only by torches and candles. He would have sworn it had better lamps the last time he was in here, but that was six months ago, before Meteor. He couldn't read the sign. He thinks it's called the Cosmo Candle, but isn't that the name of that big bonfire they keep burning all year round? He hits his knee on a bench and bites back a curse. He almost always keeps his shades on, but he can't see in this cave.

He'd recognize the voice in pitch blackness though. "Blessed fire," she says, the holiday greeting, and it sounds as unnatural coming from her as it does when he says it.

"Yeah," he says, unthinking, and it's too dark for the shades, so he removes them, fumbles them into his pocket, and blinks at the firelight on her face.



"I'm glad you made it out."

"...I... thanks."

"The drinks are free," she says, then adds, quickly, "It's a holiday thing."

"Oh," he says, and then he remembers what bars are for, and takes a seat in front of her, noting the bulky sweater, the plain homespun cloth of the loose pants she's wearing, much like the clothes he's seen on everyone else here. She's been here a while.

"What'll you have?" Tifa asks.

"Oh. Um. Whatever you're having."

"I wasn't having anything," she says, but she fixes two drinks, and when he sips his, it's eggnog, maybe not quite as cold as the room itself. Probably made from scratch; for all he could see she was mixing it up when he came in. It doesn't matter. He'd drink anything she put in front of him.

"You weren't at the festival," she says.

He'd watched it, from his rooms well up the cliff - he was welcome there, they'd all said, but he would have felt like an outsider in his Shinra suit, stained and faded but still tailored, machine-made cloth among all their homespun, natural-dyed finery. So he just stayed in his room. He was supposed to be reading, but that day and night there were to be no lights that hadn't come from that huge fire of theirs. So as the light had faded he'd had little to do but watch the dark shapes moving below him, gathering around the fire in the snow. It was a still night, and he could hear the singing, though he couldn't quite make out the words, and somehow it had affected him more than he'd thought, even though these traditions didn't mean a thing to him. But now he just shrugs.

"You would have been welcome, you know."

"...I didn't believe in what they stand for," he says. "Guess they proved me wrong."

She comes around the end of the bar. "It's not a debate."

He watches her settle on the end of one of the benches, her back against the table. "Sure about that?" he asks.

"I don't know." She leans forward, elbows on her knees, and her face disappears into shadow. "It's been... two years."

"Unless you count the time I arrested you in HQ, or the fights, or that time in Midgar."

"Or the time in Wutai." She stretches her legs. "Three since we met. Nearly."

He's glad she remembered. "What's the date?"

"It's the Solstice."

"The twenty-first, right? Ten days off." She just nods. He needs to say it again, even if the conversation's giving him no excuse. "Tifa, I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" She lifts her head, and she looks like she might laugh or cry, it's hard to tell in the candlelight. Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. "For what? For dropping the plate? Sorry Shinra made Sephiroth, sorry about covering up what happened to Nibelheim? What are you sorry for?"

"...I just meant for lying to you." She laughs a bit, bitterly. "I'm sorry for all of it." He stops himself from adding, even the parts I didn't know about and the ones I had no control over. Because he could always have disobeyed orders, could always have quit rather than be a part of it. He stops himself from reminding her of Avalanche's death toll. There's too much that's probably unforgivable between them. Too much that probably should be unforgivable. "I can't change the past, Tifa."

She sighs, and even though she waits a long moment before she speaks, her voice is tight and unsteady. "Why couldn't you just tell me at the beginning?"

She'd said something about Shinra, hadn't she? He wants to think she did. That's probably not an excuse. "I don't know," he says. "I think you said you hated Shinra."

"I probably did. I did that a lot." She sounds tired. "Of all the ways to try to impress me."

He can't say anything to that. "I'm sorry."

She shakes her head, and her face is obscured again. "Did you know I was here?"

"No." She doesn't say anything else. "I was glad," he adds, finally.

"Come sit by me," she says, and he gets up, sits next to her on the bench. She finishes her drink, sets the empty glass on the table behind her, and when she's done her shoulder's touching his. He doesn't move.

"You don't need to work tonight?" he asks.

"Not really. I just... fidget with it. With the bar. I didn't want to go back to an empty room right after the festival. I stayed at the banquet part as long as I could, but it's so cold..."

"You're the only one here?" He finishes his drink, and before he can think better of it, puts his arm around her. She just resettles herself against his side.

"Everyone else went back home," she says, knowing what he meant. "And Cloud went up north, back to the City of the Ancients."

He winces. "I'm sorry."

She's looking up at him. "Don't be," she says, and seems to mean it. "I'm not waiting for him," she adds. "I've had plenty of time to think, living here."

He brushes the hair away from her face. It's getting harder and harder not to kiss her. "Good decision," he says. He wants to ask why, but he doesn't. She's warm against his side, and he's almost hesitant about breathing, not wanting to disturb her.

"What about the other Turks?"

"Junon," he says. "I just... felt like traveling."

"Reeve made it through, I know. Is he still with you?"

"Yeah. He's in Junon too. Hid under the Plate during Meteor."

"Who'd have thought that'd ever do anyone any good..." she says. "And he designed it, didn't he?"

"Said he never meant for people to live down there."

"Good. If he had meant for people to live there, I'd have to assume he's evil." He grins, and finds she's watching him, smiling. "It's been a long time since I saw you smile," she says. "You didn't do it much even when we were seeing each other."

"I don't do it much ever," he says, and she laughs.

"So they don't brainwash people."

"They just offered health insurance."

"Those fiends," she says, but his eyes have adjusted to the candlelight, and he can see the smile fade away, seriousness returning. "It could have been different, you know. If it weren't for Shinra." He can't say anything. "I wish it had been," she adds, softly.

Me too, he thinks, and he says "Shinra's gone," thinking that was inane, foolish, but she just says "I know," and then she kisses him.

The candles are burning low by the time they leave the empty bar. Her room's higher up the cliff, and as they make their way up the rock stairwell, moving slowly on the snowy steps, he looks out over the rest of the canyon village, seeing bonfires everywhere, candles in windows. And a riot of stars in the sky, more than he'd ever seen back in the days of Mako power and plentiful electricity.

Her room's just that, a single room, tiny but lovingly cared for and colorfully decorated. The bathroom would pass for a closet. The walls are adobe, not wood-paneled like many of the shops he's seen. There's a fireplace set into the wall, simple wooden furniture, more throw rugs than seems entirely reasonable. They start a fire in her fireplace, which takes far too long, as their words condense and hang in midair even though they're indoors. She lights fresh candles and they bundle into her bed fully clothed, laughing about the cold and rubbing cold hands against each other, playfully at first.

By the time dawn comes, the room's only cold in the way any room is colder than blankets. He half-wakes when he hears the mattress creak. "Coffee or tea?" she asks.

"Whatever you want," he says, rolling over, and he hears a scraping - poking at the fire, he thinks - and finally he sits up, rubbing his eyes. She's wrapped in another blanket, one of several that had been draped over the chair last night, and standing in front of the window. When his feet hit the stone floor he suddenly understands about all the throw rugs, and he pulls the blanket off the bed to wrap it around himself as she'd done.

Her window faces east. When he comes up behind her he almost forgets about the chill of the floor. The dawn streaks the sky gold and pink against the blue of the night, and below in the morning twilight the bonfires are still burning. He wraps his blanket-draped arms around her, and she leans back into him, settling her arms over his. "Do you think you can stay here for a while?" she asks, barely above a whisper.

"As long as you want me to," he says. She squeezes his arm, and when she tilts her head back, she's beaming at him.