A/N: The setting is Post-AC, actually, but it could also be taken at any point after Aeris's death.

Ways of the World

You win some, and some you lose.

That's the sort of thing I tell myself when I'm alone and my thoughts start drifting to where they always start drifting. It's supposed to console me, but it gets me somewhat hopeless instead. I don't know why I do that to myself – it's not like I mean to. After all, some say I've got it all together. Maybe all they see are the strong fists and the sure words. It's not an act, not really. I am strong. I can deal with trouble, and alone. Just not when the problem is about the…well, the ones I care about. And that: myself. There are so many ways of the world, and fear of loving happens to be one of them.

Fear of loving?

Did I really just think that?

I'm becoming dramatic again. That always happens when I over-think things. I've been smiling so much these days my face feels like cracking, and while there's joy in me I haven't been able to shake off the feeling that there's something I'm not quite admitting to myself. The rest of them know too, I think. I see the worried glances that quickly dart the other way when I turn; I see the questions dancing on their lips and the curiosity stuck in their throats, too polite to crawl out. It's concern, and concern born out of friendship. But I do tire of what they're thinking, and what they're thinking is, 'Poor Tifa. It's so sad she's got to have this perennial heartbreak.'

I want to tell them, I'm fine, thank you, but I just can't seem to. I know that they'll think I'm trying to be strong, and I'm only saying that.

No. It is the truth. Most of it, anyway.

I guess I'm waiting for them to realize that the mere fact I haven't broken down all these years is because I have come to terms with things, I have accepted this and that, and the ways of the world are ways I duly accept. I might look like one, but I'm no rebel.

It's as simple as a fairytale, see. There's this boy. And he's got the power to save the world, and everyone knows he will in the end. He's a hero, and he's got a whole group of friends to support him, and they've all got their own special capabilities, attitudes and agendas, but they all come together anyway because they want to help. There's one friend, the one that's stuck with the hero since childhood. She's dependable, she's strong and sturdy. And there's another friend: the princess, the heroine. She has to make the greatest sacrifice of all, and it's a sacrifice done for the good of the earth. She gives up her life. Because of that, they're able to overcome all odds and right all wrong. All would be well, except the princess has died, and maybe, just maybe, she took some part of the hero's heart with her too.

I've told it that way to Marlene so many times, like when she's helping me make dinner or in the mornings when I'm helping her fix her hair, trying not to notice the way she likes her ribbon done is the way Aeris did hers. It's a great relief she doesn't get what I'm really talking about.

So Cloud loves Aeris, even if he never said so aloud and would probably deny it if anyone said it for him. Or he could say, "We all did," and that would be the end of that because it's true. We all loved her (how could you not?). I loved her. She was so kind, so sweet, so fearless. I'm not going to whine about how I'm not as good as her, but I do know she had one thing I never did: guts. There was this silent confession I always made in my tiny gestures, a hidden meaning in all my gentle words, but only Aeris took that step an inch of courage further and really made things clear. Even if she didn't, I'm guessing he'd have fallen in love with her anyway. She's just that sort of person.

When she died, there was this spark in him that burnt out like a dead wick. Which is all the same, because she brought that spark into him. She took it when she left, extinguishing the flame with her final breath. She didn't mean to. Cloud simply took it upon himself toheave the burden of guilt onto his shoulders, tragic like the hero he was meant to be. I couldn't even try to light that spark again. It was too precious. It would be so intrusive and arrogant of me. As if I could replace her just like that.

Only she replaced you, just like that, and you'd been with Cloud all your life.

No, that isn't true, stupid treacherous thought like that.

I have to hit myself sometimes, the silly things I think.

Aeris means so much more than just a petty squabble over love.

That's the truth.

Cloud loves me too. He never said so either, but I can tell. He loves me, I'm not sure in which way, but he does. Enough to stay with me. Enough to be the closest thing to a father for Denzel, and the closest substitute to Barret for Marlene. Enough to keep his promises. Enough to help me when I'm in a pinch. I appreciate it so much. Cloud's happiness…I don't know if anyone will think it's more than mere sap when I say this, but it really does equate to mine. He's usually gloomy or expressionless, so his smiles, his laughter, they're all small miracles to me. And I love Cloud.

But Cloud loves Aeris.

Well. I also love Aeris.

And maybe that's the end of this argument, only it comes back to haunt me whenever I seal it that way.

If Cloud ever told me he loved me, or something like that, I think my first instinct would be to tell him, please, no, stop that.

Because he shouldn't.

Because he loves Aeris.

Just think how much that makes me feel.

That's the sort of thing I'm pulled apart by.

The stupidest thing is, I keep waiting for him to say words along those lines, only I know when he does, I'm going to deny him.

I'll never admit that

It hurts

Because I know Aeris's sacrifice

Was the greatest of all

But what about mine?

My sacrifice.

Ugh. That's plain treachery, and it fills me with guilt and all my unspeakable envies. I hate it.

So I quash it down, fiercely, with an emotional punch. After all, there's so much to do. Like make dinner for everyone. They've been staying the week, and they're always ravenous at mealtimes. I should have started preparing half an hour ago, but I got lost in my thoughts again.


We'll have dinner later, and maybe Cloud will say certain things and maybe he won't. In any case, after the meal I'll let them all know I've lost this perpetual heartache. (I never had it to begin with, really.) I've got to tell them: I understand.

There are ways of this world you can't change.

Like, some you win.

But just some.

(A/N: For me, I guess, Tifa's sacrifice of giving up Cloud really was the biggest one of all. I'm not too good at reflection without action, so the tenses may have gotten screwed. I hope I did Tifa's narration all right, and I hope you enjoyed reading. As always, I don't mean to put down any coupling, if anybody takes it that way. Comments and reviews are all greatly appreciated. :D)