Lost and Found
I felt happier in that moment while he held me close to him than I had ever felt since my awakening. It felt so good to be back in his arms that I almost started to weep for joy. Upon waking in this strange world, I had many fears of never finding someone that actually knew me for me, not a fan that read about me in a history book. Those thoughts and fears were short lived once I found Nanaki and heard about Vincent and our past together. Knowing that I wasn't going to be alone anymore was reason enough to keep me optimistic.
Now I have Vincent back. I'll never be alone again.
"I missed you so much," I mumbled, clinging to him even tighter and pushing my face into the thick folds of his cloak.
"I cannot express how much I have missed you, Tifa. On few occasions the heart ache I felt made it almost impossible to move, thinking if I did my heart would burst, but now I will never let you out of my sight again." His claw gripped my hand tighter, but not tight enough to be painful, just enough to let me know that the words he spoke were the honest truth.
"Even when you sleep?" I asked, my heart lightening as I looked up at him with a smile.
A large grin appeared on his face at my joke. "I will just have to sleep with my eyes open from now on."
We laughed together then. It felt wonderful even though we were standing in a place that I desperately wanted to get out of, wearing an itchy gown that I absolutely despised and wanted to get out of even more. I was almost willing Judith to return with my discharge papers and my clothes. That would make me almost as happy as being in the arms of the man I loved.
A calm smile slowly spread onto my face as I breathed in the scent of his clothing, but when I felt his tight hold on me loosen I looked up and gazed about, wondering if someone had entered the room while I was aloof. When I discovered no one had come in, I became a little confused. The room was still empty except for us. I lifted my gaze to Vincent's face, hoping to find the answer there in his deep red irises, but instead I became even more confused when I saw the expression that darkened his eyes and held his face in shadow. I was getting ready to ask him what was wrong when he opened his mouth and spoke.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get to you sooner. I almost lost you because I was too slow."
My confusion disappeared completely as I realized what conflicted him. I placed my hand lovingly on his cheek and pushed his head towards me so he was facing me, but still he did not meet my gaze. "You shouldn't feel guilty about something you had no control over."
"I know," he replied, resting his human hand over mine and kissing my palm. "I was totally helpless when they woke you the first time. I thought you were going to die right there in my arms."
"Feeling helpless is part of being human, Vincent. I'm not expecting you to be a god."
He didn't reply, only held me even tighter than before. His silence during that time spoke volumes to me. He didn't need to say anything; I heard the words of his heart convey how horribly weak he thought himself to be. How he wished he had the powers of a god to protect me from whatever harm that should befall me. He wanted to turn himself into something that he wasn't just for me, but that's not what I wanted.
I wanted him to be himself. Nothing more.
I'm pretty sure that him and I would have continued to stand there, wrapped in each other's arms even if Meteor fell right on top of us, but when Judith marched back in the room with my discharge papers and my clothes, I pried my arms away from Vincent and signed them as fast as I could without making my signature unreadable. I wasted no time in getting that gown off either. I snatched my clothes away from the nurse that accompanied Judith and bolted into the small, cramped bathroom so fast she barely knew what hit her.
Once I was back in regular clothes I felt much better. I breathed a sigh of relief and left the gown in the bathroom, happy to be rid of it. When I exited the bathroom I was overjoyed to see that Nanaki was back as well. He flashed a wide smile at me as I ran towards him and gave him the biggest bear hug I could muster.
"I'm glad to see you again too, Tifa," he said, patting my back with one of his large, heavy paws. I backed away from him and went back to stand next to Vincent. "Oh, Vincent, I got passage for us back to Cosmo Canyon. The airship leaves in half an hour. Are you ready to go, Tifa?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
We thanked Judith and power walked out of the hospital, much to my relief. The walk to the airship station wasn't far, but I wouldn't have minded if it was a ten mile walk. Junon was absolutely gorgeous. Every time I was tempted to walk away from Vincent to go explore something I didn't recognize or something interesting that caught my eye, he would tug on my hand gently and remind me that we didn't have a lot of time.
"I want to come back here some time," I said, looking around with astonishment.
"We will. I promise," he replied, smiling at me.
Our airship ride back to Cosmo Canyon was spent in discussion. Vincent and Nanaki talked about what him and I were going to do. After a short while, Nanaki made Vincent's mind up for him. He would make a guest house ready for us once we arrived and that we were welcome to stay there as long as we like until our permanent home near Wutai was completed. Vincent said he would contact Emperor Nozomi to let him know that he was going to take him up on his offer of building us a house.
"He will be very pleased." Vincent took my hand and squeezed it gently. "He's been asking to build me a house for years."
I smiled and remembered how kind the Emperor had been when I met him. That made me think of Yuffie. No one in the group had really taken her seriously, especially after she stole our materia, but she eventually gained our trust back and became one of my closest friends. I didn't have to ask Nanaki or Emperor Nozomi how good an Empress she had turned out to be. I just knew.
Vincent and Nanaki continued to talk about other things once the important issues had been addressed so I scooted across the bed that we were sitting on to the small window and gazed out across the landscape to the areas that were familiar and yet unfamiliar to me. Even the land around the ever growing towns had changed. Nothing was safe from the passage of time.
Our stay at Cosmo Canyon was a pleasant one. I spent a lot of my time getting to know Nanaki's mate and cubs. He also introduced me to various others of his species. The sight of so many of Nanaki's kind almost felt like a dream. His entire race had almost been snuffed out of existence, that is, until Nanaki found his mate, Meera. I had a chance to ask him how many litters of cubs him and Meera have had and I was very surprised to discover that they were on their tenth litter, with plans to have even more in the future.
Vincent contacted Emperor Nozomi shortly after we arrived and told him his good news, which the Emperor was quite excited to hear. The Emperor was so excited, in fact, that he promised he would have our house finished in less than a week. I was skeptical about the time it would take, but Vincent assured me that if the Emperor wanted something built that fast the workers would fall over each other to ensure it was done on time. I still was a little skeptical, but now that I was living three hundred plus years in the future I was quickly finding out that not quite everything was impossible.
I couldn't believe it when exactly a week after Emperor Nozomi had spoken with Vincent, he sent word that our new home was one hundred percent finished. He even sent pictures to prove it. The house was absolutely gorgeous, more gorgeous than I thought it would be. The intricate woodwork both on the inside and outside was remarkable and left me wondering how such beauty had been completed so quickly. The Emperor told us in his parting words that we were free to move in whenever we liked. Since all we had was each other we told him we would be there the following day.
What happened that night will be imprinted upon my memory for the rest of my life.
I had gotten tired towards the middle of the afternoon so I told Vincent I was going to go take a nap. I must have been asleep for quite some time because when I woke up, it was dark outside, but someone had lit a candle and put it on my bedside table. I was still a little tired and was about to close my eyes and go back to sleep when I noticed a note with my name scrawled on the front that was propped up against the candle.
I recognized it as Vincent's hand writing and eagerly reached over for it. I just so happened to reach for it with my left hand and almost jumped out of my skin when I saw my ring finger was bare. I forgot about the note and began to desperately search the guest house for it. After almost forty minutes of tearing the whole house apart to find it, I was so distraught that the note from Vincent had been totally pushed from my mind. I rushed back into mine and Vincent's room to look for it some more, thinking I had looked over it and missed it, but my frazzled state prevented me from seeing much of anything.
Now I have no recollection of grabbing the note Vincent left me, but somehow it ended up in my hand after I left the guest house, but I figured I picked it up without knowing I did it. It may be three hundred years in the future and anything's possible, but I have yet to see a piece of paper sprout legs and jump into someone's hand.
I paused and forced myself to calm down enough to read his note.
By now, I suspect you have noticed the absence of your engagement ring. Please, don't be worried, I found it. Meet me by the Eternal Flame.
I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. I don't know what I would have done if Vincent wouldn't have found the ring. I don't know how Vincent would have handled it if I told him that I lost the ring he gave me so long ago. He would have been so disappointed and I don't think I would be able to handle that. Thank Holy he found it.
Our guest house was quite a considerable distance from where the Eternal Flame was, but that would gave me enough time to think up the excuse I would give Vincent. I swore it was still on my finger when I got to the guest house to take my nap...
By the time I reached the Eternal Flame, I still hadn't come up with an excuse and the sight of Vincent standing there in front of the Flame almost brought me to tears. I didn't want him to get angry with me. I had never incurred Vincent's wrath and I wanted to keep it that way.
It occurred to me when I was just about to step onto the raised platform of rock that held the Eternal Flame that I had forgotten my shoes and on top of all of that I was still wearing the baggy sweat pants and plain white shirt that Nanaki had found for me. I looked horrible and wished I would have slowed down enough to change.
While I was having thoughts of sprinting back to the guest house so I could change, Vincent turned around and spotted me standing there like a deer caught in the headlights. He smiled and reached out his claw to me. Without thinking, I set my ringless left hand into his claw. I tried to keep the strained expression off my face, but he already knew it wasn't going to be on my hand so what else did I have to lose?
The rest of my dignity, for one, if anybody saw me out here like this.
"I'm not mad at you, Tifa."
That one little sentence lifted the immense burden that had been thrown on top of me. It was like he had read my mind. "You're not?" I asked, still a little unsure.
"Of course I'm not," he replied, switching my hand from his left to his right. "I just hope you don't get angry with me though."
"What do you mean?" I asked, utterly confused.
"Well," he began with a bit of shyness in his voice. "while you were sleeping, I took it off your finger." My jaw dropped as he produced it from his pocket, but before I had a chance to get angry with him he got down on one knee and carefully slid the ring back onto my finger. "I know I've already asked you once before, but that was a long time ago." He paused and took a deep breath. "So, Tifa Lockhart, I love you with all my heart and soul. Will you marry me?"
Movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I almost died of embarrassment right there on the spot. It seemed like every man and beast in Cosmo Canyon had shown up to watch Vincent re-propose to me. He was lucky I loved him so much or I would have throttled him right there in front of everyone. My unoccupied hand twitched slightly as I held myself back from reaching out and shaking him until his teeth rattled.
I let out a long, exasperated sigh and jerked him to his feet. "Of course I will!" I whispered harshly, my face still red. "I said yes once already. What made you think I didn't want to marry you anymore?"
He rolled his eyes around in mockery of deep, contemplative thought then shrugged his shoulders like he couldn't think up a good reason. "I don't know. My mistake." He flashed one of his very rare and very handsome grins at me before pulling me to him and enveloping me in a passionate kiss.
Curse him for being so damn gorgeous.