Disclaimer: I own nothing in affiliation with Final Fantasy VII.

A/N: Oh, wow! I've been at this site for quite a few years, (back when it was an ENTIRELY different site) and this is the very first time I've broken 100 reviews for one story! I'm SO, SO happy! I was worried and discouraged at first because hardly anyone had reviewed, but then I was pleasantly surprised a couple of days later. I mean, 108 reviews! Whee!

Anyway, in this chapter you'll notice that the story is taking somewhat of a different turn within the personalities of the characters. While one turns dark and hopeless, the other discovers what it's like to feel. Role reversal, you say? I'd say you're right :)

Thanks again for all of your continuous support! (I've written yet another long author's note at the bottom. Watch out for it!)

"'I--uh...I bought it a while ago, actually. I'm kind of surprised that you didn't find it yet,' the blonde muttered, swaying lightly in his spot.

Tifa looked...into his eyes. 'A while ago...?'

Cloud nearly fell over at the realization that his words rang with a little more truth than he'd intended to share. He thought quickly to try and dust his tracks off once more."

Always In My Heart

Chapter Nine:

If I Lost You


Snow was falling. Solid crystal tears descended from the heavens, painting the earth's feet a pale white color. Children could be seen through open windows, playing with the powder of dreams and imagination. Their innocent laughter could bring tears to anyone's eyes.

Tifa Lockhart once played out there, frolicking in the snow. Her father used to tell her that the Planet's Christmas gift to her was hope—in the form of faded vanilla ice-cream that covered the grass and hid the roads. And got her out of school.

That year, though, Tifa could feel no burning sensation of hope in her heart. She could only think forward in time, imagining how the snow would melt shortly and be merely a memory of a particular time.

Though the world's people took advantage of the snow and reaped its benefits…it was only forgotten once sunshine poured down on the Planet and returned it to the earth. Needless to say, the brunette sympathized with the transient snow, thinking that her fate would be similar.

She placed a finger on the fogged glass window. She allowed her digit to slide down, marking the condensation with her touch.

Carefully, she lifted off, re-planted, and curved her finger against the glass.

Once she was done, she walked quietly away, leaving her hopes and dreams behind.

The glass window read, "Good bye, Cloud," to no one but an empty room.

-- --

The blonde had been out all day, leaving the brunette to dangerously ponder alone. By the time he finally returned, she was sitting on a barstool with her head down, her arms being used as curled pillows.

He loudly burst through the front door, causing Tifa's head to shoot up at the noise, her eyes widening. Before his face was a giant pine tree.

"Wh-what's that?" she stammered, the childhood memories coming back all too quickly.

"What does it look like?" His tone was light and unsure. He aimed to please, but he didn't know if he'd quite hit the mark.

-- --

Little Tifa ran up and down the stairs of her house.

"Christmas! It's Christmas! It's—" The little girl caught sight of a picture of her late mother, stopping her on the spot. "Mama, it's Christmas…"

She looked down to the floor, hiding her eyes beneath a veil of brown hair.

"Was I a good girl this year?"

A sniff.

"I wanted to send a letter to Santa, but I didn't remember his address. Will I still get presents?"

Young Tifa turned around with a jolt upon hearing the front door open. A smile of pure delight spread across her face.

"Papa!" She looked around her father, crestfallen. "…What?"

Her father disregarded her question, instead trying to focus on distracting his daughter from his empty hands. "Hey, sweetheart—"

"Where's our tree?"

He looked away nervously. Mission failed. "Baby," he started, "we couldn't afford—"

"Mama saved up!" she screamed, her voice cracking with youthful strain. "We had a jar…a Christmas tree jar!"

Tifa's father had to deepen his voice slightly, though he so disliked speaking to her sternly. "Tifa, we had to use that money—"

"You took Mama's money!?" The little girl refused to allow her father to talk, the absence of her mother's presence and influence even more evident.

"Tifa." He had had enough. "I used it for her funeral!" Young Tifa had stopped talking by then, making his declaration echo even louder.

The little girl's sniffing increased. She shook her head as she wiped at her eyes with one arm.

"B-but she's still alive!"

With that, she fled from her home and into the snow. She ran with her head down, using her fists to wipe at her eyes. Just as suddenly as her escape from her house, she ran into someone else. She plopped down on the floor, her tears uncontrollable.

"I-I'm sorry!" cried the little boy she ran into.

His apology only made the tears fall faster. In a panic, the boy bent down to meet Tifa in the face. Feeling his presence near, she removed her arm from her eyes.

Brown met blue. The little boy recognized the brunette as Tifa and scooted backward, making his cheeks turn even more red than usual. Meanwhile, the brunette stared at him, her wet mouth slightly ajar. She knew who he was, but they had yet to make an impression on the other. At least…that's what she thought.

"T…ifa?" he squeaked.

Tifa whimpered, suddenly remembering the happenings inside of her house that she tried so hard to escape. Having fallen in the yard of only the next door neighbor, she felt just as miserable as before.

"I'm…I'm really sorry. Are you hurt?"

The little girl wiped furiously at her eyes with the back of her hands, sniffling in an attempt to at least preserve some of her dignity. Her makeshift pride quickly dissolved when she saw her wide-eyed neighbor still beside her, concerned.

"…Christmas…" she started, only to be interrupted by her cracking voice.

"Merry Christmas, Tifa," Cloud peeped.

Tifa shook her head wildly, shuddering as she felt herself hiccup. "No."

"No merry Christmas? Um…not a merry Christmas?" Inside, Tifa honestly felt he was trying so hard to be there for her.

"Christmas tree…" she sobbed. "I wanted…a Christmas tree."

She had taken her hands down from her face, finally able to look at him after she spoke. He winced at the attention, looking down into the snow for courage.


All of a sudden, his head perked up and he grew a terribly big smile.

"Wait here! I'll be right back!"

And just like that, he was gone. Tifa looked up at his rapidly retreating form with big, curious eyes. Her tears no longer fell, and she noticed that their brief interaction had already made her feel better. She didn't know that Cloud boy well, but she didn't see why her Papa didn't let her play with him.

The door burst back open, and a short blonde boy came running awkwardly out. As he reached her once more, he leaned down to catch his breath for a moment, a strange object jutting out from his closed right hand.

Cloud straightened himself once more and proudly extended an open hand to Tifa. She sat up very straight and peered at his limb. Inside of his tiny hand was a gingerbread cookie. The little girl reached out her own hand and carefully picked the cookie up.

"It's a Christmas tree. My mom made them today. We have a lot more at home, so please don't cry anymore."

Tifa looked up from the cookie to Cloud. He had a shy smile on his face now, holding his hands behind him expectantly.

She smiled back.

-- --

Knowing that his kind gesture touched Tifa on a personal level, Cloud smugly walked towards the living room with the pine tree still in tow. Tifa could note quite the march in his step, though she supposed he could cop it off to the fact that he was, indeed, carrying a giant tree.

"Get me a bucket and fill it with water, would you?"

Nodding slightly without words or expression, Tifa otherwise remained as an unmoving object. Of course, Cloud's thoughtfulness brought back memories and helped patch up some old holes in her childhood, but she couldn't help questioning the point of it all. Her better judgment told her that new memories were better than bitter normality, but it was too hard to accept that. It seemed too much like absolutely accepting her fate.

Hearing Cloud grunt from the living room snapped her back to reality. She hurriedly retrieved a bucket from a cabinet beneath the sink and filled it halfway with water. Tifa waddled into the living room, holding the bucket on both sides. Placing it in a free corner of the room, Cloud at last sat the tree down inside of the bucket. Stepping back while dusting his hands off, Cloud sized up the new decoration.

"That looks good, doesn't it?" he asked, still shy and quiet.

Tifa stared at the Christmas tree, her eyes large and one hand over her heart. "Yeah...it really does." Shaking her head, she sighed, somewhat happily. "...Christmas..."

"Merry Christmas, Tifa."

Tifa managed to smile, recollecting the Christmas from twelve years before. "Merry Christmas, Cloud."

-- --

The grandfather clock struck midnight, its toll echoing through the quiet house. The tree stood in the corner, still bare and with no presents beneath it. Tifa didn't mind that she wouldn't be getting any presents for Christmas; after all, Cloud had been gone for two years and having him back was good enough...even if it wasn't for long.

She strolled into the kitchen, her arms wrapped around herself. Nibelheim winters were frosty, so a cup of coffee would do her well. Earlier, in spirit of their childhood memory, Tifa had baked gingerbread cookies. With nearly childish excitement, Tifa shrugged and decided that she may as well have cookies with her coffee. The two went hand in hand, after all.

Tifa took an aged pot from a cabinet and filled it up with water. But just as she put the pot on the stove to boil, Cloud stalked into the kitchen. The brunette was gathering the coffee beans, sugar, and her mug, when Cloud sneaked up behind her.

She jumped and nearly dropped her mug onto the ground, startled. Cloud expertly caught it before it was broken, but Tifa was still irritated.

"Yes?" she asked through clenched teeth. "Would you like some coffee?"

Instead of answering, Tifa was startled further when Cloud began to make his way between her and the stove, an already close fit. She backed up to prevent their bodies from brushing against one another's, though her roommate apparently would not have minded the contact. He turned off the heat from the stove.

"Cloud, I was going to make coffee at least for myself!" she said, exasperated, though still blushing from their near-encounter. "What are you doing?"

"It's Christmas, Tifa," he spoke, quiet but determined.

She cocked her head to the side, not quite amused. "Yes, I know."

Cloud reached both hands deep into a pocket on either side of his pants. Tifa, embarrassed by his newly casual manner, looked away.

"Merry Christmas, Tifa."

Her eyes closed, she wondered why on earth he had to turn off the stove just to say that. In an almost droning voice, she replied, "Merry Christmas, Cloud."

Opening her eyes once again, she returned her gaze to her roommate. She gasped at his outstretched hand. He appeared to be nervous and awkward once more, evidently holding a Christmas present in his hand.

Cloud handed the brunette a small box, placing it gingerly in her hand. He brushed his skin against hers, only to pull it back once he could feel the heat of their chemistry. She looked up and down from the box and her childhood crush, not believing her eyes. It was Christmas, so receiving a gift from Cloud wasn't entirely out of the question. But...the small velvet box led her mind to wonder a multitude of romantic gift ideas.

Still, it seemed unfair at the same time that he should be giving her a gift then, of all times. She'd been there for years before, yet when the sands of her life were just about to run on empty he chose to notice her...

"Thank you..." she started, her voice much softer than she'd intended, "but I--"

"But nothing..." It was Cloud's turn to look away from his childhood crush. He had more to say, but he was fighting against his tongue to speak them. "I..."

Tifa looked up from the velvet box for the first time since she began talking. Cloud's face was reddening, and he was scratching the back of his head in an attempt to calm himself down.

"I--I...don't need anything. Anything from you...if I lost it, I'd..."

If I lost you...

She leaned her head forward, yearning for his next words and fearing them at the same time.

You would what?

Cloud looked away, his sentence lingering.

"...be sad."

Tifa shook her head in disbelief. She realized the error of her recent ways and what it had done to him. In light of her questionable health, he had been trying to push himself to be more honest with her and his feelings. Having time and determination to discover his feelings, however, would only make it harder once she..

Deciding that she had lied for long enough, she convinced herself that the truth must finally be told. Truth be told, she was wondering who exactly she was trying to protect...herself or Cloud. She swallowed hard.


"Tifa...you haven't even opened it."

Nodding slowly, Tifa silently lifted the lid on the velvet box. Sitting snugly inside of a small pillow lived a golden ring, three diamonds perched on top of it. A pink heart-shaped diamond lied in the middle of two white diamonds.

The brunette stood still, absolutely speechless. She had never received a real piece of jewelry in her life. Everything she had was all she could afford. And it was a ring...coming from Cloud?

"Cl--Cloud...it's..." She couldn't seem to find her tongue yet, having been caught extremely off-guard.

"I--uh...I bought it a while ago, actually. I'm kind of surprised that you didn't find it yet," the blonde muttered, swaying lightly in his spot.

Tifa looked up from the ring and into his eyes. "A while ago...?"

Cloud nearly fell over at the realization that his words rang with a little more truth than he'd intended to share. He thought quickly to try and dust his tracks off once more. "Yeah, well, we're supposed to be...married, remember? I figured we ought to at least make it look credible."

She gingerly removed the ring from the box and held it up to the dim light from a lamp, watching it shine. "So...this is a wedding ring?"

From the corner of her eye, she watched Cloud's facial expression distort. He was in a state of extreme emotional constipation and couldn't seem to organize himself.

"Um...I guess so."

"Then I don't want to put it on."

Azure eyes shot open and looked up. He had to kick himself and put his best foot forward; otherwise, his efforts...and thousands of gil...would be wasted.

"Y-you're right. I'll...put it on you."

It had been a long time since the two held hands. Back when Tifa would get in trouble, he'd often have to grab her to try and save her, most notably the instance after Cloud was ejected from the LifeStream. The two were bashful and awkward around one another, so Cloud's insistence on grabbing Tifa's hand and sliding the ring onto her wedding finger made for a silent but sweet encounter.

Once he let go of her hand, a blushing Tifa once again raised the ring up to the light of the lamp. She marveled at the piece of jewelry, feeling her heart soar at what the ring represented. And the implication that Cloud had picked it out long before.

In front of her, Cloud fought back the urge to smile. He wondered why he never thought to buy her anything before. He had obviously missed out on a lot of Tifa by leaving her behind, but he was glad to be abandoning his reticence. Swallowing his apprehension, Cloud reached up and once again took Tifa by the hand.

Too shocked to resist, the blonde easily led Tifa into the living room and before the Christmas tree. Tifa felt his warmth in her fingertips. Though she knew that she should tell him the truth about her health, she didn't want to ruin the moment. She didn't want to let him in go. And, deep inside, she knew that he felt the same.

"I always imagined...having a great big Christmas tree, decorated with home-made ornaments and lined with popcorn or something," Cloud started, feeling Tifa's eyes concentrated on him. "I wanted...to have a family to do that with."

As Cloud's grip on her hand seemed to tighten, hers loosened in his. "A family?" she breathed, feeling an ache in her heart.

The blonde nodded. "Tifa...let's decorate the tree, okay?"

A family...

A family was something that Tifa had always wanted...but would never have.

Their hands still clasped together, Tifa looked over at Cloud. He had a shy smile on his face, his loose hand behind his head in an almost expectant fashion.

She smiled back.

I don't know where or when

This sensation awoke within me.

Maybe in that little bar

In the city.


Without wanting to, I fell in love

Upon your glance.

I was anchored to your touch,

Without even knowing it.


A strange thing happened to me,

Empowering me.

I was always a wreck,

Though I thought I was living.


Strange feeling,

My infatuation.

It came like fresh water,

To calm my intense thirst.


Strange feeling,

My infatuation.

Ever since you came into my life,

I've seen a light in my sky.

A/N: A lot of lyrics again! I dug pretty deep to find this one, and most of the lyrics were really appropriate. Hope you like it :).

(Long A/N ahead. If you don't want to read it, please review now :)

Wow! I'm SO sorry for taking so long to update once more! I actually went through a lot of drama involving a crazy ex-boyfriend, suicide threats, and the police. I'm perfectly fine, but that was awful and draining. I graduated high school, though! Wooo! ...I'm old.

I also had surgery. I'm MUCH better now that two weeks have passed (I was really drugged up until a week ago, haha). I still have four holes in my mouth, as I had all four wisdom teeth removed, and I have to flush them out pretty frequently. Then I can have crunchy stuff again! Hurrah!

As for my mom, this past surgery was A LOT more successful than her previous one. Thank you to everyone for keeping her in your heart, thoughts, and/or prayers. She'll be going in for her third surgery later this month, and I can only hope that everything goes well. Please continue to keep her in your thoughts!

I'm still working on the soundtrack for this story. I wrote out a fully orchestrated song for my FF8 story A Love Beyond The Twilight, and I've recently written out the melodies for two new tracks for this story. I'm awfully excited. :D

Oh, and everyone! Two or so months ago, I was introduced to an amazing Final Fantasy 7 forum called Genesis Awards. It's a great site that aims to improve this fandom's fanfiction through helpful advice and some pretty nice recognition. Please look at my profile and click the link I've provided. Join today! And say that Bianka invited you, would you:)

Extraño Sentimiento (Strange Feeling) by Ricardo Montaner does not belong to me. I translated the song from Spanish to English, possibly leaving some awkwardness in the phrasings. Though I changed some words to better suit the English language, I still credit Ricardo for having inspired me!

Thank you SO MUCH for reading! PLEASE REVIEW! Reviewers get a preview of chapter ten, though gimme some time to write some bits out :).

Have a wonderful day! And to my readers in America, happy Fourth of July! (7/4/07)