Title: How It Goes
Author: Savage Midnight
Disclaimer: I don't own Cloud or Tifa or any other character/concept related to the movie. I'm just playin'.
Summary: This is how the story goes.
Author's Note: I'm taking the time out to explain a few things about this fic, so if you choose to skip over this part, don't be disappointed if you find this fic purely self-indulgent.

As I've warned before in my LJ, I don't know much about Cloud or Tifa past Advent Children, which is a movie I very much enjoyed despite the fact that I've never played the games. This doesn't mean I haven't done my research into Final Fantasy VII. I have. I just want my readers to bear in my mind that my knowledge won't be as extensive or as easy-coming as it is for the more hardcore FF fans out there. If that bothers you, this fic isn't for you. I'm definitely what you would consider an amateur when it comes to this fandom and I'm unfortunately quite ignorant when it comes to the general FF universe. Readers who choose to read this fic must keep in my mind that this piece is AC-centric for a reason.

I mention this because, while I'm fully prepared to receive criticism for this fic (which I'm very much open to, so don't be shy), I don't want the bulk of that criticism to focus on the fact that I don't know enough to write in this fandom. I know that already. I wrote this regardless because I wanted to. Nothing more.

So now I've finished preaching at you all, I'll let you get on with reading. I just hope I haven't scared you all away.


This is how the story goes:

Hands tangled in blonde locks, mouths sliding over warm, wet skin, legs hitched and curved around his waist.

This is how it began:

People lived and people died. People hurt and that would never change.

They're both hurting when it happens. They're afraid. Afraid to die, afraid to live, because neither one is easy. There are ghosts that comfort and there are ghosts that haunt, and sometimes, just sometimes, there are ghosts that do both.

He smiled for the first time in an age today and something inside Tifa broke. It was the comfort of a ghost that will haunt them both, and it haunts them even now as they both learn what it is to forgive and forget and remember, because that's what it takes to exist.

This is what it takes to live:

Touch and taste, mingling together to create sensation. They crave it, cling to it, because it's all that's left.

She clings to him when they return to the orphanage. Alone and afraid they collapse into one another and crash to their knees on her bedroom floor, curled together so unbearably tight. She cries into his neck, tears of relief and anger and fear merging with the rain droplets still decorating their skin like shards of glass. Except the rain doesn't wound, it heals, and if that were so, she thinks, why do I still hurt?

They're drenched and shivering but they don't move for a long while. They sit, still entwined, silent and still and just a little bit broken. Cloud doesn't cry or whisper pointless platitudes about how everything is going to be alright, because, like him, she already knows that. They won, didn't they? And he's safe now. They all are. Aeris saved them and that's enough.

But she's still raw. She hasn't quite let go of the bloodlust yet, the terror, the helplessness. If everything can be fixed so easily, how simple would it be for everything to fall apart again?

And then, in that quiet, smooth tone of his, he tells her to breathe. And she obeys, exhaling loudly. Her muscles unclench and she sags against him.

They part eventually. She either learns to let go or he helps her to. She's not sure. Either way they separate and he disappears to his room to shower and change. She does the same, slipping beneath the scolding hot water to wash away the dirt of the battle and the chill in her bones.

When she's finished she pads back into her bedroom and changes into clean underwear. On the way to her closet she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror in the corner and freezes. She moves towards it, pauses, and her fingers absently trace the bruises decorating her skin. There are many, most of them superficial, and she is mesmerised by the blossoms of purple, black and yellow.

They make her body ache. She's suffered worse, has known pain far greater, but somehow this is different. The ache is constant, gnawing, and it makes her tired.

She knows it's safe to rest now. Her family are alive and back where they belong. But part of her -- that hopeless part -- is afraid to sleep, scared in case she wakes to find him gone, lost, broken by the ghost that saved him and damned him all in the same breath.

And like a ghost his face appears in the mirror behind her, cerulean eyes catching hers and holding her gaze until she breaks and bows her head. Her dark, dark hair shields her face from view and she clenches her eyes shut because she dare not look. She doesn't want to gaze into that face, those eyes, and find something missing. Today she saw peace in him, but she knows how fragile peace can be. She only prays it has yet to break.

But most of all she doesn't want him to see how afraid she really is. She's fought battles and won, danced with Death and triumphed, but saving Cloud is something she will never be able to do. If he walks away now she cannot stop him, cannot fight him, because this is not her war.

She remembers too well how lonely it was for her and Marlene and Denzel without him, how lonely it is for him without Aeris, but in the end it's his choice to make and not hers.

She trembles when he touches her, just a light brush of his hand against her bare shoulder, and she lifts her head to look at him in the mirror. But his face is unreadable, his gaze shuttered, and she looks away again.

And then her eyes slip closed involuntarily when his fingers push her long, wet hair away from her neck and his mouth brushes softly against her pulse point.


He does it again and her knees buckle. His hands move to grasp her arms and she can't remember a time when Cloud wasn't there to steady her.

Yes, I can, she thinks, and her breath catches on a gasp, half pain, half regret. But he's here now.

She turns and buries her face in his neck and her fingers sink into the rough material of his navy jacket. His skin is still damp from his shower but she doesn't care, just burrows in closer until his arms finally come up to hold her.

Their embrace is more for him than for her; a reminder that it's okay for him to need people, that it doesn't make him weak, that being alone only hurts that much more. She's not ashamed to need him, but she's afraid, and she's tired of being afraid.

She wonders if he's tired, too.

"Tifa... "

His voice is soft, pleading and reassuring all at once, and it confuses her. She lifts her head to look at him and smiles when her eyes meet his. They're not broken. A little sad, yes, but not broken. It's been a long time since she's seen his gaze so clear and calm.

It took dying to take that heartbreak away. Death put it there and death took it away. Something tightens inside of her when she thinks about it, because she knows now that death is the only constant, the only thing that can break them.

But he's here now, alive and whole, though a little damaged, a little different. But they all are. The changes happened, with and without their knowledge, and she's okay with that.

And now? Now there's a new change staring back at her. And though she couldn't control the destiny that led them here, she can control this. She can give in, give up, surrender, and once upon a time that was something they all refused to do, even herself, but now... now everything is different and she knows now that giving in means letting go, having faith, and letting destiny take its course.

So she makes her choice and finds it easier than she thought it would be. And Cloud understands, he can see it, and he leans down, still a little uncertain, and kisses her, a soft brush of his lips against hers. He pulls back a little, barely an inch, and she can feel his breath against her mouth, light and hot.

Something inside of her ignites. She moves in, presses her lips against his, kisses him over and over, tiny butterfly kisses that are a bear whisper of things to come. His hand comes up to cradle her face, fingers curling around the back of her neck. He tilts her head and kisses her harder, more urgent, his tongue tangling with hers as his arm bands around her waist and pulls her closer.

And then everything explodes. She moans, once, a low sound in the back of her throat, and he reacts, pushes her backwards until she's pressed against the wall of her bedroom. He kisses her, harder and harder, and then tilts her chin with his fingers to slide his mouth down the column of her neck, his lips brushing against her jaw, her pulse point, the hollow of her throat. His hand slides down, curves around her hip and pulls her against him and his fingers against her bare skin are an electric shock that jolts her awake. Her eyes snap open and she gasps in disbelief.

This is Cloud. Her best friend. The hero she fantasised about as a teenager, too chaste and naive and innocent for her imagination to push past the first kiss.

And now his lips are covering hers and his hand is buried in her long hair, his other hand slipping beneath the elastic of her panties. And it's so far beyond the realm of possibility that she feels a little unreal.

She remembers how it went when she was a kid. Remembers waiting for him when he disappeared to become the hero she dreamed about. Remembers waiting for him to come home, older and stronger. Remembers waiting for him to finally, finally rescue her.

It didn't happen that way. He came back older and stronger but weaker somehow. And it was her that rescued him, because he needed rescuing and she didn't, and she realised a long time ago that fairytales lied. The hero isn't always perfect and the damsel isn't always helpless and happily ever afters take tears and blood and time. It was a hard lesson to learn, but she learnt it, and she's better for it now. She knows that sometimes fairytales aren't enough.

And they never mention the part where the prince has the half-naked princess pressed up against a wall.

But just as she thinks it the thought disintegrates as Cloud slides two long fingers inside of her. She arches towards him, bangs her head against the wall and whispers, "Oh God," beneath her breath as her hands twist in the fabric of his jacket. And then his fingers curl and she shudders and tries to breathe.

It's enough, too much, his fingers sliding in and out of her, his lips brushing against hers over and over. She tries to relax against him, tries to unfurl her fingers from his jacket so she can reach the button of his pants, but it isn't working. She's too tense... waiting and waiting for something, anything, willing it to come but unwilling to let it end.

"Tifa... " he whispers into her neck, his voice low and husky, begging her, pushing her.

"No," she gasps out breathlessly. "Not yet. Not yet."

She fights him, forces her hands to work and manoeuvre them around his body until her fingers finally curl around the fastening of his pants. She undoes it, slides the zipper down and isn't at all surprised to find nothing underneath. She forces herself to concentrate, forces her body to hold off for a little longer, and wraps her hand around him. And it works. His breath hitches and his rhythm breaks and she can breathe again.

"Tifa... "

And it doesn't matter how many times he says it, she will never tire of hearing her name on his lips.

But now she's tired of talking, so she moves her hand slowly and renders him speechless. She draws a moan out of him -- his first -- and smiles. No matter how surreal this moment is, it's hers to keep and she's going to cherish it.

She doesn't counter on him fighting back. His fingers slide out and brush against the bundle of nerves between her legs, the barest of touches to tease and punish, and she jerks in surprise.

And that's all it takes. She releases him, pushes his pants down and off and rises again to see him staring at her, his Mako-blue gaze lazy and hot.

It makes everything real. It makes him, this, them, real. And she's okay with that.

Her panties go the same way as his pants and then they're pressed together, breathing heavily. They'll never make it to the bed, she knows, and she's okay with that, too. Nothing is ever perfect and she doesn't want it to be. They haven't even talked about this, what it means, and this isn't happily ever after. It just is.

Cloud's gaze is fixed on hers as he slides a hand around her thigh and curls her leg around his waist. Her breath is frozen in her chest as he pushes forward and slides into her, slow and deep. They exhale at the same time, a whisper of breath that flitters on the edge of a moan, and Tifa is only glad that he's here to steady her this time.

Neither break rhythm again. Even when she moves to unzip his jacket and brush her hands against his chest, they keep moving together. It's slow and languid and he pushes impossibly deep each time, drawing from her tiny moans and gasps that sound alien to her ears. But even sweeter are the sounds she draws from him. Even a slight hitch in his breathing warms her, because she knows that it's her doing. She's finally broken past his silence.

She says his name when she feels something inside of her pull impossibly tight. And he understands; slides out and back in with excruciating slowness and watches in fascination as she shatters around him.

It's his undoing. She's dizzily aware of him pressing back into her, of him moaning low in his throat. And then he goes rigid and there's a pulsing inside of her that vibrates all the way to her toes and fingertips.

They're both still for a long second. They lean into each other, sated and drowsy, and then they finally, finally move. She drops her leg from around his waist and wraps her arms around his neck as he buries his head in her throat and brushes his lips over her pulse point. It makes her breath catch, even now.

They don't say anything as they stumble over to her bed and wrap themselves around each other. The lay there, perfectly still and silent, until he tilts her face up with his fingers and kisses her.

"I'm home, Tifa," he says. "I promise."

And that's how the story goes.