It was wonderful having everyone back, but Cloud and I knew it wouldn't last. They had lives to get back to, and we were in no position to deter them. To be honest, I was actually somewhat relieved by their departure. Sure I missed them, but it felt awkward with so many reminders of the past around.
They left in a steady stream, for the most part. Immediately after taking the group photo Yuffie had to take the children in her care back to Wutai. We understood, of course. Not long after Cait Sith and Red followed suit, leaving together just as they had arrived; their destination unknown. Next to go was Cid, who claimed to have some modifications to make to The Shera, though he seemed hesitant to leave. Barrett stayed for several more days, which was to be expected. He left as well, however, leaving Marlene in our care once again as he went back to his excavation.
The biggest surprise turned out to be Vincent. He stayed for two weeks after everyone else had gone. He would arrive in the morning and vanish in the evening, offering to help out at the bar from when the doors opened until closing time. He mostly spent his time speaking with Cloud and Denzel, which I understood. He and I were never really close, and didn't get along the way he and Cloud did. However, even Vincent had other business to attend to. He said goodbye to us suddenly one night as we closed Seventh Heaven, and was gone within five minutes.
Then it was just the "family" again; Cloud, Marlene, Denzel, and myself. The night after Vincent left we had our first family dinner, and it was as good as could be expected. Most of the conversation came from Denzel and Marlene, who were happily relaying the events of the past month with us as though we hadn't experienced it. Their side of the story seemed to have a lot more to it than I could remember, and the imagination of the children made several appearances.
Though my ears followed every bit of their conversation, my eyes remained locked on Cloud almost the entire evening. He spent most of the night following the back and forth repartee the children kept going, smiling more often than I could remember. His eyes met mine three times, and I was pleased to see that he was capable of smiling for me as well; all three times. It was a sight I could get used to.
After dinner was over the two youngsters were defiant with the bedtime order, insisting that Barrett had let them stay up much later. I didn't doubt that, and was forced to be firm. In the end it was Cloud, who had never before expressed himself in an authoritive way such as this, who got both of them into their beds. Perhaps Cloud himself was tired, or perhaps he understood that I wanted some time to talk, but I'm sure he had reasons of his own as well.
After both children were successfully tucked in, he came back out to the bar where I continued to clean up. Taking a seat across from me, he leaned both arms onto the bar top. I merely raised an eyebrow, wiping a glass absently with a drying cloth.
"Have you packed away the wine yet?" He said casually, tapping the fingers of his right hand gently on the wood.
I'd never noticed Cloud tap his fingers, feet, or any other part of his body before. It was something new, and for some reason made me smile inside and out.
"Not all of it."
"Well, let's have a drink then."
Holding my smile, I pulled a bottle and two glasses from beneath the counter. It was Corel wine, which I had personally played around with and altered. It was better, and I can say that without gloating. I poured both glasses, handing one to Cloud and keeping my own in my other hand. His hand lingered on mine for a moment, and the brief contact made my whole arm tingle. Cloud smiled, raising his glass toward mine.
"To tomorrow." He said quietly.
"To every day after." I replied, not missing a beat.
Our glasses clinked together with a sharp ring, and we both downed the alcohol. We could both handle our drinks fine, even though we seldom actually had wine. Finishing both glasses, we set them down on the bar, and I immediately poured two more.
"It was good to have everyone back." I said while pouring.
"Yeah, for awhile anyway." Cloud replied after a moment.
I cocked my head sideways, giving him a curious look. Cloud shifted uneasily, taking the glass I offered to him and sucking down half of it. It was then that he found his voice.
"It all reminded me of… the way things were." He began. "And not all of it was pleasant. I think it was that way with some of them, too."
I merely nodded, taking a sip of my own wine, which suddenly seemed much bitterer. There was an awkward silence that lasted several drinks, before I broke it.
Cloud looked up from his glass, bright blue eyes fastened onto mine. I blushed slightly, setting my glass down and wiping both hands on the drying cloth.
"I mean, I kept thinking about all that was lost." I said, my eyes inadvertently shifting to the pink ribbon on his left arm.
"Yeah." He replied, his expression hardening visibly.
I had said the wrong thing, brought up the wrong pain. Apparently it was too soon for Cloud to touch on those feelings, and here I was shoving it in his face. I felt horrible, and it probably showed on my face.
"It's getting late. We should get some sleep." Cloud said, leaving his mostly finished glass on the bar as he stood.
He smiled at me, though it was completely hollow, and walked off to his room without another word. I cursed at myself inwardly, and soon enough aloud too.
Tossing the drying rag under the bar, I scooped up both glasses and dumped the rest of the wine. I simply left them in the sink, not caring at the moment whether or not they were cleaned and left to dry. I packed the wine away for the night, and walked off to my own room.
I left the light off, changing quickly into a white shirt that I would have worn two years prior, but now felt strange in. They were comfortable, however, so I kept them for bed. I stood in darkness for a moment, frustrated at myself and concerned for Cloud. He had said he was over it. He had said he was done dilly-dallying.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was walking across the hallway, wearing only my white underwear and shirt, and pushing his already slightly ajar door open. Cloud locked up at me, his blue eyes slightly obscured by furrowed brows. His bedside light was lit, and he sat shirtless on his still made bed, not even trying to go to sleep. Before he could ask me what I was doing, I dove right in.
"When you said you felt lighter, did you really mean it?" I asked, ashamed that my voice was bitterer than that last drink of wine.
For a moment Cloud said nothing, only gazed back at me impassively. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to yell at him. Anything to get that look off of his face. It turned out I didn't have to. He broke my gaze suddenly, his face softening.
"Yes." He said simply.
"Then why are we still doing this? Why does your heart still seem so heavy?"
"Old habits die hard." He replied, locking his eyes onto me again.
I strode over to his bed, no longer caring that I was half dressed. He noticed, eyes chivalrously staying above my waist. I plopped down onto the bed as if it were a chair, my feet planted on the floor. I covered my face with both hands, sighing audibly.
"I don't want you to go back." I began. "I don't want Marlene to tell me again that you don't seem to be listening."
"She won't. The stigma is gone Tifa."
"It wasn't Geostigma that distracted you." I said, turning my head to look at him.
He knew I was right, and I could see it in his face. Like a child who had been caught in a lie. He looked down slightly, if only to avoid my eyes.
"You're right." He said suddenly, shocking me. "I still carried my sins. That was my weight, even after the end of it all. And I still can't really believe it's over. That he's finally gone."
Cloud looked back at me, and I'd only seen the same determination in his eyes when he was fighting for his life.
"But I know she's gone. I understand that, and I don't carry that guilt anymore. It's just…"
"What?" I asked softly, planting both hands on his bed and keeping my eyes on him.
"I'm just worried about what might come."
"I don't understand."
"I've managed to finally put the past behind me." Cloud said quietly. "But I don't know if I can handle something like that again…"
His fragility didn't shock me, but his willingness to express itdid. I simply stared at him, awestruck. Cloud Strife: Who never let his feelings leave his heart; was confiding in me.
"I have to worry about Denzel and Marlene now." He said gingerly, as if feeling out the concept. "And… you."
"Cloud." I said firmly, only to find I didn't know what to say.
"What if I lost you? Where would I go then?"
"You won't lose us."
"But what if I do?"
I found my words then.
"If you keep worrying about what might happen if we're gone, you'll be too scared to make the best of the time we have. If you're scared losing, then treat each day as if it's you're last with us."
Cloud was silent, simply staring at me. I crossed my arms over my chest as the night chill that inhabited Edge crept over me. Cloud lifted the corner of his blanket, offering it fully to me. Without hesitation, as if I had done it a thousand times, I slipped underneath it. I scooted toward the middle, as Cloud moved to accompany me.
"You're right." He said quietly, slipping his left arm around my shoulders.
I curled up next to him, wrapping both arms instinctively around his waist and resting my head on his chest. I felt Cloud's other hand on the top of my head, as he brushed strands of hair off of my eyes. He was warm and solid, yet at the same time completely comfortable.
I remember thinking how easy it might be to fall asleep against him, right before I moved from a waking dream into a sleeping one.
Author's Note: A short little one-shot, written from Tifa's perspective. I don't know what inspired me to do this. Perhaps because of how much Tifa seemed to appeal to me after watching Advent Children. I've never written anything in the form of a female before, as I am most definitely a guy. I really don't know if I pulled it off. I would usually write it in third person when digging into romantic scenes, but I wanted to try something new. I might have accidently used third person occasionally, as it is late as I write this.