Author's Note: Here's the second and final installment in Tifa's POV.
A special thanks to my four reviewers: littlekittykyon, Red XIII's Twin, MiRaGE, and AngelaNight. Your thoughts are really the reason I managed to get this done as quickly as I did.
And in response to littlekittykyon's question about whether the chapter will be either a rehash of the last only in Tifa's POV or completely new…this chapter a combination of both. There's a little old, a little new, but from a different perspective. Hope those who read enjoy. And if you get the chance, review!
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII/FFVII: Advent Children.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing…if any of my actions are making a difference. It's become increasingly harder to figure out if the small steps I had set into motion three months ago have combusted around me in absolute failure, or if they are working splendidly well...so well that I can't even tell. But that last option seems almost lucrative to me. If I had made any progress, even a smidgen, you'd think I could at least tell, right?
I find myself on occasion drifting off into thought, becoming oblivious to my surroundings. In my circumstances, that tendency isn't the best habit to have, especially when you have customers breathing down your neck for service…correct service. I've had to catch myself a few times when I've been about to give some unsuspecting someone a drink they didn't order.
But, luckily I usually catch myself when I feel the absentmindedness drifting in, beckoning to take over and blur my usually quite clear senses. It's so frustrating, though…
There are some things you think about constantly, worry about incessantly, and mull over to the point you want to pull your hair out because the answers you so covet are annoyingly elusive. The root of my personal dilemma…or should I say the person causing all the confusion…
Yesterday had been an eventful day, one full of a nice amount of progress at the bar - quite unlike the day last week when I had been at my all-time high of inattentiveness. The state that my thoughts had been in then had placed me in an irreversible bind, making me a horribly pathetic barmaid. And when I say horribly pathetic…I mean it. Thank goodness for Denzel and Marlene. If it hadn't been for the two of them, I probably would have melted into a puddle of embarrassment behind the counter, too horrified to live out another day doing the job I normally do so well. Even thinking of the mishaps I caused makes me cringe inwardly.
But, I took my actions with a grain of salt, and decided that I would never become so wrapped up in my thoughts again like that while on duty. I allotted a specific time for those worries, and while I learned that shoving those annoyances aside was difficult and irritating, this plan of logic worked out well for me.
And the best time for that thinking…was while washing the dirty glasses. The task itself was simple, and needed no added thought to it. The effortless and mundane work served as an easy buffer for my roving mind. And throughout the past week, I'd found myself looking forward to the quietness it offered. It had quickly turned into my personal time.
Last night I had been rather full of an innumerable amount of ideas for Cloud's behavior of late…or lack thereof, really. When I had started that nighttime ritual of lightly kissing the corner of his mouth, I hadn't really known what to expect. The first kiss had been a spur of the moment act…one I hadn't planned - one I don't think I actually could have planned. Those few minutes after I had rushed out of the children's room, cheeks a fiery red, and mouth agape with my own surprised and somewhat horrified shock, had been excruciatingly long. I still remember thinking what the hell was wrong with me…if some of that alcohol we so heavily stock hadn't somehow snuck it's way into my water at dinner.
When I had seen Cloud minutes later, heart thundering massively in my chest, he didn't even acknowledge the action. I think that's what spurred me on. Honestly, how could he possibly not even have a small, minute, teensy-weensy, little reaction. Here I was about to pass out from the stress, and he acted like nothing happened.
So I continued.
Denzel and Marlene seemed to be caught between an odd fascination and instant 'yuck' that kids have about that certain thing. At least I was getting a reaction from someone.
And I started to do more.
Lean close here. Touch his hand…
He was a freaking stone.
I mean seriously, what does a person have to do to break Cloud's thread of inactivity? Was I that pathetic? Did he really view me as nothing but a friend? A roommate he lived with?
But, I hadn't stopped. I wouldn't until he told me to. Or at least that's I had decided a month and half ago. Last night, though, I hadn't been too sure.
There was only so much of nothing I could really take. Before, I had been so sure that at least one of those actions had to be getting to him somehow. There were some instances when I'd get a little close, reach out to him and see something flicker in his eyes, see a small reaction in his body language. But, nothing more. Never anything more.
From all the things he'd been going through lately, these motions, touches, kisses from me might just have been too much. I certainly didn't want him to disappear again. Especially if this time, it was my fault. That I don't think I could live with.
I had been on a depressing train of thought last night as I washed the dirty glasses. I'm sure everyone has their moments of deep, somber introspection, which make them utterly depressed for awhile. Those were mine. The menial task of soaping, rinsing, and drying the glasses had seemed to be an especially heavy task of carrying out at that moment, the thoughts of personal deficiency and possible mistakes filling me in a particularly crushing way.
And as I had stood behind the sink, hands covered with soapsuds, I knew that if what I had been doing for the past three months had really bothered Cloud, he would have found a way to tell me. The inaction of his was too vague of a message for even Cloud if he was trying to get me to back off.
But I'd like to think I know him well. Well enough to realize that he likes to keep things bottled up until the point where they burst out unexpectedly. Maybe that's what I had been hoping for. And maybe that's why his actions last night hadn't taken me by surprise at all.
Now that I think about it, I guess that's what I expected.
Cloud's abrupt acceptance?
I expected his intensity. His need for approval. His desire to think things over fully, completely, and thoroughly before acting.
Admittedly, though, the sight of seeing him standing there in the doorway, wearing only a pair of black pants and the red ribbon tied around his upper left arm, had surprised me. The pained look on his face had given me pause. He seemed slightly lost, as if unsure as what exactly he was doing, and I had hoped an assuring smile would have drawn him from that introspective trance he seemed trapped in. Speaking his name seemed to send him further away from me, his eyes deepening in thought. And then I grew a little more confused, wondering if maybe he was sleepwalking or if he wanted to tell me something that was difficult to verbally express.
And so I moved over to him, hoping that a closer proximity would help. It wasn't until I said his name a second time that I really looked into his eyes, catching the clear and utter brilliance of his blue gaze. The clarity and decisiveness in his vision at that moment made me realize he knew exactly what he was doing. The blue had been swirled with something I couldn't yet recognize and as he slowly gathered me into his arms, his face alight with warmth, I felt a slight ringing of doubt, and I couldn't help the suspicion that crawled into my mind.
"You're acting awfully weird tonight. Are you okay?" I had said, watching him closely.
A small, low chuckle had accompanied his reply of negativity, and all those insecurities I had been saturated with earlier were slowly washed away as I sank against his body, his mouth against mine in a long awaited kiss of tangled depth and implausible fervor. It had been hard to even think rationally pressed so closely against him, the feel of his familiar body under my hands. It was almost surreal, the knowledge that Cloud wanted this as much as I did…that he felt the same way about me as I felt for him. Love, or even close contact for that matter, had never been something he dealt with reasonably well. This was a humongous step for him to take, and I cherished the moment because of that.
There really would never be anyone else. If it couldn't be him…I'm not sure if I wanted it to be a different man. After years of knowing Cloud, studying him, being by his side…always…Cloud had become something to me that no one else would ever be able to attain - he had reached an untouchable and completely separate place in me apart from all people.
When I had felt him clenching his hands in the fabric of my clothes, I noticed a palpable desperateness creeping into his actions. That slight motion reminded me of where exactly we were…and what we were doing. The last thing I wanted was for Denzel and Marlene to walk blurry-eyed into the bar searching for either of their guardians, and find us like this - entangled and breathless.
I remember looking into his eyes after pulling slightly away, making sure that this was what Cloud wanted…that this was what he needed. Intensity had radiated from his body, his gaze holding an almost pleading question of an acceptance he so coveted. Looking at him at that moment made me realize that those words he had voiced months ago, about staying and never leaving, had been utterly true. And at this moment, that conviction was the strongest. Yes, he stayed for the children. But most importantly, I knew he stayed for me.
My next actions were almost a mingled haze of blurred recollection. I remember taking a hold of him, pulling him along, walking with him to my bedroom, and finally falling into a slow, passionate embrace, loosing myself in the corporeal sensation of skin against skin, limbs intertwined with limbs, the exploration of tongue and hand alike, and a dreamlike joining that left the both of us breathless, replete, and pleasingly sleepy. I can't say I'll ever feel the same about anything anymore, really.
It's weird to think of sex as a moment in time that irrevocably effects how the rest of your life is lived, but with Cloud, we've crossed a boundary that can never be reversed, and we've felt emotions for each other that transcend everything I've felt for all others.
But this change, I don't fear. In fact, I welcome it.
Of course…those thoughts had raced through my mind before I woke up this morning alone and shivering, the covers of my bed tangled messily around my waist. Thinking back on the surreal events the previous night had yet to calm the erratic beat of my heart and soothe the ruffled, irrational fear of abandonment.
I refused to open my eyes and see what the day had in store for me. I refused to be disillusioned about a night that would forever cause my stomach to curl with a knowing anticipation, and make me shiver slightly with remembrance.
It was stupid, I know.
But…I kept my eyes closed, and remained in my dark world of uncertainties.
Of course, Cloud could be doing a multitude of things like cooking, going to the bathroom, talking to someone on the phone about a delivery…but the eerie silence had me disappointed about those options. And I had myself wondering was so important that he left without even saying anything?
Had his old insecurities returned with a vengeance? Had he woken, take one look at me, and fled the scene like a wanted criminal?
That last thought had me smirking a little, a small breath whooshing from me as I attempted to curtail that hushed burst of amusement.
I tensed instantly, the fighter in me becoming immediately attuned. The slight sound had come from near the foot of the bed. Could I attribute the tiny sound to the weariness of the floorboards, or to an intruder?
Two in a row. Not a coincidence.
Clenching my eyes shut for a moment, I sucked in a deep breath and bolted up, forgoing to cover myself with the sheet, because at the moment I was too concerned about my bodily wellbeing, and that of the kids down the hall.
But, I stopped dead when my narrowed gaze connected with a mildly surprised and amused blue one.
A chair had been pulled up near the foot of the bed, and flipped backwards. Cloud was sitting in it, resting his forearms on the chair's back, his chin propped on top. His blond hair was in a highly disheveled state, falling sloppily into his eyes while his lips were held in a straight line. His eyes were the only clue as what he was thinking, and they were trained unblinkingly on me as if he had been watching me all along.
I could feel the flush rising up my neck, flooding my cheeks a healthy, soft pink as I immediately deflated, my raised arms falling to my sides. I clumsily made a dive for the before forgotten sheets, wrapping them around my upper body hastily as my hair fell haphazardly over my face, covering my eyes, and for once I was happy about that.
I took a deep, collecting breath before lifting my gaze once more, peering at Cloud through the veil of my long, dark hair. He was looking at me somewhat quizzically, his mouth now turned in a slight frown. My eyes lifted as I watched him get up from the chair, push it aside, and then sit heavily down the bed facing me. I held my breath as he reached out and brushed my offending hair from my face so he could more easily see my eyes. That small brush of his fingers against my skin made me shiver involuntary.
"Are you cold?" he asked, eyes searching my face.
"No. I…no," I answered weakly. A few seconds ticked by before I cleared my throat, raising an eyebrow in question. "So how long were you gone?"
"Five -!" I sputtered. But I had been awake about thirty. That must mean…he had been watching me a lot longer than I thought. I nearly groaned at my stupidity. You think I'd be able to sense that he was in the room. I caught a small ghosting of a smile on his face as he watched the burst of incredulity flash over my features before I quickly swept in away. "Why'd you leave?"
Cloud sighed deeply, taking his time to answer as he searched the pocket of his pants for a moment. "I went to pick some grass."
"Grass?" I replied, utterly stupefied. He'd left me to play in the grass?
He grunted softly, shuffling in his pocket for a second before pulling out a small circle of braided grass blades. My gaze was still speculative as I watched him eye the unknown contraption for a moment before holding it out to me, his eyes innocently expectant.
"What is this?" I asked as I tentatively took it from his outstretched fingers.
I knew? Holding the grass circle up and peering through the center at his face, I frowned, grasping for some elusive answer. "Uh…a ring?"
His only response was a small nod. I felt like asking him what said ring was for, but he obviously expected to know the answer to my supposed question. Leaning back and placing my free hand to the side on the mattress, I nibbled my lower lip for a moment, flicking my gaze from Cloud to my grass ring.
And then I knew. I felt like falling back on the bed with a snort at my downright stupidity, but instead I lifted wonder filled eyes to Cloud's and felt a wobbly smile curve my lips.
"You mean something like a promise ring?"
His lips slid into a slow smile, his head lowering a little in silent affirmation. That wonderfully sloppy blond hair of Cloud's slipped a little more into his eyes, making him appear boyishly handsome. The smile on my own face grew into a carefree grin…one I could barely contain.
Cloud took a deep breath, inching toward me on the bed. "I - I'll get you a real ring, but for this morning, that's all I have."
Glancing down at the grass ring I held carefully between my fingertips, I tilted my head to side, sliding the circle onto the ring finger of my left hand. "I think it fits rather well," I told him teasingly, "You know if this wasn't made of material that will eventually wilt, I think you wouldn't even need to buy something else."
I looked up in surprise as I felt his hands curl around my upper arms, pulling me to his chest in a swift move of possessiveness. Pushing me back as he buried his face the curve of my neck and shoulder, I sighed, feeling a spectacular completion settle in my chest.
"Perfect, in fact," I murmured, running my fingertips along Cloud's shoulder. He raised his head slowly, eyes softening, and then gifted me with a rare, unhindered, and brilliantly open smile.
And I smiled in silent response, sinking my fingers into his mussed hair, following him into delicious oblivion.