Since Cloud could not vocalize his words, he extended an arm, motioning Tifa to run. She did.
Except she ran towards him.
Her heart thundered furiously against her chest as she tried to remember how to breathe. Her arms and legs felt cold and numb. Despite the fact that she was a trained fighter, her assets were no match for her emotions. Fear welled up within her to the point where she couldn't even tell if it was that or the tears that were hindering her eyes from seeing the distance. Perhaps it was better if she was blinded from the real sight of Cloud. She let out a tearful whimper as she witnessed the blood pouring from the mercenary's shoulder. There was just so much. His thick crimson substance of life was being drained from his body each moment he made an attempt to move or speak.
"Cloud---UGH." She let out a cry as her foot unconsciously tripped over a jagged cement. She held out both hands as she fell forward. The rough glass shards from the destroyed windows ripped right through the tender skin of her palms. Her bare legs suffered the same consequence as she came crashing against the ground. She bit her lips hard to suppress the burning spasm that pulsed rapidly against her wounds.
Looking up, she could see Sephiroth shaking his head from side to side in a disapproving manner. His lips curved into a cruel smile as he maliciously continued to force his masamune into the depths of Cloud's shoulder.
Ignoring the pain that was igniting like wild fire, Tifa forced herself up from the ground with great difficulty. Sephiroth, the man who robbed her of her family and home was about to take another person she loved. She'll be damned if she let that happen. Her anger flared, giving her the momentum and strength she didn't know existed within her to push forward.
She felt a brief sense of security as her bloody fingers took hold of Cloud's hand. She released a deep breath, one that she had been kept confined for the past minutes as she felt his hand tighten around her own. Despite his frail condition, he was still alive and that was all Tifa wanted for the moment.
"Cloud..." She gripped on to his hand as if it was the only thing that was supporting his life. Fresh clear tears splashed across her cheeks as she buried her head into chest. She could smell the thick iron scent of blood as the side of her face was pressed against the cold steel blade of the masamune.
She gingerly wiped away the light crimson trickles dripping from the corner of his mouth with her trembling fingers. Her body heaved, her breathing was starting to become abnormal with fear, anger, hatred, and love all boiling inside her. She tried to say something, anything, but she only choked on her own tears as they landed on his wounds. She cursed at herself for letting him fight alone. Deep down, she knew something awful was going to happen and her premonition was indeed correct. Tifa had never felt so useless in her life. There was absolutely nothing she could do but to sit there and watch the only man she had ever loved die before her very eyes. She looked at her hands. They were now tainted with his blood. His death would be on HER hands because she was the one who sent him to the Devil.
"It's my fault Cloud...it's all my fault..." she manage to blurt out in a whisper. Her pink lips throbbed as she gently pressed them against his chin. Would this be the last time that he will feel her kiss? She was overwhelmed with confusion. Suddenly, she regretted being so harsh and unforgiving to him earlier. The realization that Cloud could succumb to death was never present. Tifa always thought that he was invincible...but now she knew it was only her hubris. His dying form in front of her only confirmed that he was a mortal just like her.
"N-nothing...is your fault...Tifa..." Cloud groaned. His usual vibrant Mako eyes were now dull and lifeless, but they were still overflowing with genuine emotions that were only meant for Tifa to see.
Tifa let out a loud cry as she suddenly felt his body buckle against her. She felt the cold blade whiz pass her cheek as the entire weapon was pulled out of Cloud's shoulder. Tifa immediately caught him as he started to fall backwards against the wooden poll that had been maintaining his weight all this time. She cradled his form within her arms as her eyes widened in alarm. The colors were slowly draining from his face and his heart was beating at a slow rhytmic pace.
"I can grant you the wish of dying with Cloud, Tifa. Would you like that?" Sephiroth sneered. He raised a single brow in a challenging manner. The silver haired soldier walked circles around the couple before him. The sight of the two strongest warriors in the world begging for mercy was indeed a satisfying reward. The only thing he needed now was Mother.
"Don't...you...dare...lay a single...hand on her..." Cloud manage to utter between harsh breaths. His gloved hand gripped the hilt of his own sword. He did not care about his life but he did care about Tifa's. Hell. Did she even have a life? No...she was only starting to understand and live through the joys that life could offer. From the moment she was born until two years ago, she had been a slave to the Planet. It only took from from her, but never gave anything in return. Things were finally starting to fall in place for her now and he would die to protect what she has.
"Cloud, don't talk!" Tifa pleaded. More tears cascaded from her eyes as she recalled all the times he tried to protect her. He stood beside her in Nibelheim, Mt. Nibel, Midgar, the world, JENOVA, Sephiroth...through good times and bad. Guilt consumed her as she remembered blaming him for leaving her two years ago. Perhaps it would've been better if he had stayed from from her. She was like a curse that attracted him to every danger possible. Keeping his true identity from him and allowing him to carry out Zack's character was something she could never forgive herself for. She had no idea that a little lie could accumulate to the point where he could've nearly been mentally destroyed. Then again, calling it a little 'lie' was a joke.
She never really did anything to protect him, but there was always the chance to start.
Squeezing his hand one last time, she felt more than prepared to take on Sephiroth. It was as if the contact had channeled some unexplainable energy into her body, enhancing her performance to the point where she was able to defy all laws of physics. Turning around, she leaped into the air and delivered a roundhouse kick that was aiming for the One Winged Angel's head.
Laughing, Sephiroth ducked in time. He retreated back a few steps and drew out his masamune. Although the blade was the only object poised between them, Tifa was well aware that the weapon itself was an obstacle just as strong as the wielder himself. She landed both feet back on the earth and before even having a chance to recover from the attack, Sephiroth lashed out his sword. Instantly becoming alert, Tifa threw herself on to the ground where tiny pieces of glass dug into her skin once more. Wincing slightly, she swept her right leg across, ramming it into Sephiroth's shins. The warrior slightly lost his balance from the Waterkick, which brought Tifa just enough time to spring back up and execute a string of quick but powerful punches.
The masamune held hand was flailed to the side, leaving the front of his body exposed to the rapid Beat Rush that was followed by a perfectly executed Somersault, which sent the man tumbling backwards from the force of the impact. Without even wasting a second to breathe, Tifa lunged forward and caught the falling man in mid-air around his neck. Her fingers deeply clawed into his skin, applying more pressure as anger fueled her attacks. She roughly tossed him to the ground and released her grip from his collar. The martial artist suddenly yelped in surprise as Sephiroth's hand latched around her wrist, dragging her down with him. She landed beside him with a thud and watched him bounce right back up to his feet as if the attack had no significant influence over him.
She watched him close his eyes as he whispered incoherent words under his breath. Tifa came to the conclusion that he was summoning magic as the atmosphere around her was being replaced by a thick black mist. The limited light from Midgar was now completely shrouded by the inky fog that consumed the entire city into a maelstrom of darkness. She gulped down a deep breath as she felt her lungs constrict from the black toxin surrounding her. She turned to look at Cloud to make sure he was all right. The blonde was using every bit of energy he had left in his body to gain enough strength to stand. She saw his muscles in his arm tense and flex as he forced himself to pick up his weapon. With each attempt, more blood spilled from his deep gash and that sight horrified Tifa.
Sephiroth's eyes were still closed as he chanted his ancient spell. Forcing herself up once again, Tifa thrust one fist into his chest while holding back the masamune with the other hand. The silver haired warrior's eyes instantly opened when he detected the interference. He gave her a sickening grin as he took both of her arms into his grasp and crushed his fist around her muscles until he felt them tearing inside.
"TIFA!" Cloud yelled in a hoarse voice. He felt tears stinging his eyes as he helplessly watched his enemy slowly killing off the one person who mattered most to him. Damnit, why couldn't he do anything? He relentlessly cursed at himself as he was forced to watch Tifa brutally being injured by the one man who had taken everything from him.
A blinding green light started to form between Sephiroth and the female. The sphere twisted around, absorbing the morbid energy from the black fog until it expanded to the size that was almost equivalent to Tifa's body.
Cloud's body stiffened. He knew that ball of energy all too well since he suffered the consequences of not being able to evade it. His mouth went dry as all the air escaped his throat. Big beads of sweat rolled down the sides of his forehead and riveted through his petrified features. He struggled to break from the invisible chains that grounded him to his post but to no avail. He was forced to shut his eyes from the blinding rays of green light that ripped from the ball with a shattering crescendo, which faded moments later revealing an unconscious brunette lying all too still on the ground.
Cloud did not even bother running towards the female. As soon as the light dispersed, Sephiroth was met by a crushing force that was exerted into his chest, throwing him up into the air. Behind the thick steel blade, he saw furious Mako eyes burning with disgust and torture as small trails of white crystallines flowed freely from pools of tears. Cloud drove the sword deeper within his enemy. Although he was almost enjoying the sense of pleasure that it was bringing him, he was by no means a sadist. Years of experience had taught him to forget and forgive, but as he looked into Sephiroth's blazing green eyes, he no longer saw the Sephiroth that was his friend seven years ago. His thoughts, confusion, and ambition for power has molded him into a monster that could never change back to his original form. If there was one thing Cloud admired about Sephiroth, it was his determination and strength and it was about time Cloud used them to his full advantage.
From his sheath, multiple swords were released as they were haphazardly thrown into the air. He felt the black typhoon ruffle through his hair and eyes as he used the strong wind to propel circles around Sephiroth. He was quite relieved that the maelstrom was aiding him more than it was hindering him as he grabbed each hilt of the swords and hastily sent them piercing into Sephiroth with swift fluid motions.
The One Winged Angel could do nothing as the swords ripped into his body from all angles. His body rattled out of control when he was met with the final blow that entered the core of his heart. It was also the one that ended his entity as God. He knew the Lifestream was being sucked from his body and returning to the Planet as he felt his existence collapsing around him. The black shadows threatening the city slowly retreated into the corners as the original light was restored over Midgar. The feathers from the one black wing protruding from Sephiroth's back perished along with the great God. What was left after the transformation was merely a weakened silver haired man.
Resting his battered body against his sword, Cloud watched as Kadaj lied motionless with his green eyes wide opened.
"Mother..." he muttered under his breath. He was exhausted from the fighting, but he was more emotionally drained from knowing the fact that he did not even meet Mother.
"Kadaj...let go and you'll meet here there," Cloud replied back gently. He gave his shoulder a small squeeze, urging him to free himself and find peace.
Obeying with a nod, he accepted his death as he allowed the warm energy from the Lifestream to envelope his body. Cloud became mesmerized with the sight. It was almost magical how the shimmering green circled Kadaj's body and lifted him into the air, guiding him to a realm where he would find harmony and more importantly, Mother. Deep down, he knew Aeris would be able to watch over the man who was now coming to accompany her.
And knowing that made him feel content.
"TIFA!" he suddenly shouted. Turning around, he found the female lying there without a single flinch. Wincing from the pain that was still scorching his body, he rushed over to the brunette and lightly held her in his arms.
Brushing away the river of black locks, he saw that her face was pale and her eyes were tightly shut. Numerous cuts and bruises claimed her body with blood freely flowing from the open gashes. Cloud reached for her hand to see if he could find a pulse, but to his dismay, there were none. He felt his body shake uncontrollably when the thought or fact that Tifa Lockheart was dead entered his mind. He shocked his head, refusing to acknowledge that she was really gone, but her unresponsive state was evidence that that perhaps she had already entered the Lifestream.
Cloud tightly wrapped his arms around her frail form and buried his face against her's, letting his tears freely splash against her cold cheeks. "Please don't leave me Tifa..." he begged. He had never been so worried or frightened in his life. There was nothing he could do to stop the blood from escaping her body and there was nothing he could do to stop the tears from falling. He could care less about his own state of health. His shoulder was still aching with burning flashes, but at this point, he felt numb.
His fingers roughly weaved through her thick long hair as he clutched her against his chest. SHE was his life now. If she really were dead, he had nothing to live for anymore. If her life was robbed so cruelly, he didn't deserve a life at all. He made a reach for the hilt of his sword. He truly wasn't afraid to die if it meant that he would be reunited with Tifa in the Lifestream. He knew she would be waiting for him and knowing that made him feel serene.
His thoughts and actions were suddenly interrupted when he felt drops of cool water splash against his skin. Looking up, he was surprised to find that the city was raining. However, there was something strange about the substance that bounced across his skin. It felt mystical and refreshing at the same time. The single droplets soon exploded into a shower, drenching the entire Midgar.
Cloud saw his skin glow with a faint aura and felt a familiar restoration enter his body. It was the same soothing effect he felt whenever Aeris stood beside him in battle. Could she really be among them now? He watched in awe as the healing rain splashed against Tifa's wounds, closing the cuts and erasing the bruises that blemished her body. A gentle breeze ruffled her hair before restoring the natural colors back to her pale face. Cloud watched with hope as the curative magic brought Tifa back to her original state--the strong, healthy, and beautiful female that he had grown to love over the years.
His heart skipped a beat when he felt her stir within his arms. Her black lashes fanned out when her dark eyes fluttered open, revealing the tiny specs of sparkles of joy within her gaze. She gently placed a hand against his shoulder. "You're not hurt anymore..." she observed. Her rosy lips broke into a bright smile as Cloud threw himself onto the female, almost knocking her over. She gasped in shock before hugging him back tightly. Cloud was the least person she expected to show any form of emotions. In fact, she didn't even know if the man in front of her was the same Cloud when he parted enough so she could see his pearly white grin.
"You're...back..." he choked out in relief. He cupped her face and took a good look at her. She was soaked from head to toe from the rain with her usual neat locks of hair in a total disarray. He tucked a couple of loose strands behind her ear before placing a tender kiss on her forehead.
Tifa blushed darkly in response. It was the first time Cloud had ever done something so intimate to her. Perhaps he really did change. She gracefully accepted the hand that he offered her. Pulling herself up, her eyes roamed over the city of Midgar from the rooftop with Cloud closely standing behind her. She saw children dancing beneath her, welcoming the rain with pure delight. What fascinated her the most were the tiny lights emitting from their skin. It was almost like some kind of spell had been casted on them. Tifa opened her own palms and found that all her cuts had been healed.
"Is this holy rain?" she asked curiously.
The blonde nodded. "I think so. It looks like this is the only cure for Geostigma."
"You're absolutely right..." Tifa whispered happily. She knew there was only one woman who could've be responsible for this wonder. Thank you Aeris...She leaned her head against Cloud's shoulder while riveting her eyes across the horizon. Seconds later, she heard loud engines bustling above her. The entire cockpit of The Sierra was filled with the remaining AVALANCHE members waving to her and Cloud. She waved back and felt as if she was experiencing a sense of deja vu. They were victorious for the second time since the battle at the Northern Crater. The Planet had been saved again, but the more importantly, they were all alive and well.
It was at that moment when Cloud Strife realized that the Planet had been more than generous to him. Not everyone was fortunate enough to receive a second or a third chance in life, but he did...and he was going to do things right this time.
Author's Notes: First of all, I want to thank all the readers who gave me positive support and feedback. Writing this fic was an AMAZING experience for me because I wanted to eject my own version of Advent Children and I'm so glad that you were all fine with it and even liked it better than the actual movie! You have no idea how much that means to me. I'm sad to say that this is the final chapter of Ardent, but I will DEFINITELY be writing more fics in the future based on Advent Children and FFVII. Of course the majority of them would be Cloud/Tifa! Once again, thank you all so much! I wouldn't have gotten the motivation to complete this story if it weren't for you guys. I love you all!