Title: So Long and Goodnight
Summary: Cloud and Tifa and that famous meeting in the Sector 7 train station. Some Crisis Core ending spoilers.
Notes: Actually, to clarify, this doesn't directly spoil anything, I guess, but the last scene has more meaning/makes more sense if you've seen the CC ending.
She strolled by the Sector 7 train station one day and it changed her life.
It was that one train conductor – the really blustery one – carrying on about something that first got her attention. "Been here all night, probably; drunk, or worse!"
Tifa peeked over his shoulder and took in the blond slumped on the stairs, a huge sword draped across his lap. Her heart dropped to her stomach. A few steps closer confirmed her suspicions – Cloud.
"Cloud!" She knelt before him. "Cloud Strife!?"
"You know him?" the conductor said gruffly, watching the pair. "What's wrong with him?" Because indeed, Cloud had made no indication that he'd heard a thing.
"I don't know..." Tifa frowned.
The conductor just shrugged. "Poor kid," he remarked, and moved on with the rest of his day.
Tifa stared in disbelief. Seven years since he'd left Nibelheim...had it really been that long since she'd last seen him?
"Cloud!" she tried again, thoroughly disturbed at the glassy look in his eyes. "Cloud!" She grabbed his shoulder and shook him once.
Finally he moved, lifting his head up just enough to look her in the eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment,
"...Tifa," he said finally.
"Yes," she said, relieved. "It's me, it's Tifa. Do you know where you are, Cloud?"
Cloud slowly looked up, the glazed look beginning to fade as he took in the underside of the upper plate. "Midgar. I made it."
Tifa worriedly looked him over. He looked pale and scrawny, as if he hadn't been getting enough sleep or enough to eat. There was dried blood on his clothes and matted into his hair, but as far as Tifa could tell, Cloud wasn't hurt. "...What's happened to you, Cloud?"
He looked back at her, and for a second there was look of indescribable grief on his face, but it was gone so quickly Tifa wondered if she'd imagined it.
"Nothing," Cloud answered. "No – wait, lots of things happened. I joined SOLDIER. Made it to First Class."
"That's...wonderful, isn't it?" Tifa breathed.
He nodded, then shook his head. "No! No...I'm not with SOLDIER anymore. I quit. Now I'm a..." He trailed off, as Tifa watched him expectantly.
"...A what, Cloud?"
The distant look was coming back. "A mercenary. That's what I'm gonna be," he said softly, after a long pause.
"Why did you quit SOLDIER?" Tifa asked, feeling her hands trembling. Why was she so afraid?
Cloud looked at her, his expression pained and helpless. "I hate the Shinra. They've done horrible things. I don't want to be a monster."
"You're not a monster, Cloud." 'But you're not a hero, either,' she thought before she could stop herself, remembering with a queasy stomach her sore limbs and the pain of Masamune in her side. But no; this was no time to be thinking of that night.
"What have you been up to, Tifa?" Cloud asked then, his expression normal once more. "It's been five years since I saw you last..."
Tifa frowned. "Seven years, Cloud."
He shook his head. "Don't you remember, Tifa? Five years ago, Nibelheim and...Sephiroth; and I came too."
Her eyes widened. "Cloud-!?"
"What?" he asked, deadpan.
Tifa bit her lip. He had not been there. Granted, her memories of that night were fuzzy – Zangan always told her it was just post-traumatic stress, and not to worry about it too much – but wouldn't she have remembered if Cloud had come to Nibelheim with Sephiroth, and...besides, she did remember clearly the boy that had come with Sephiroth, mostly because the two of them had been so different from each other, and-
"What?" Cloud asked again.
"...Nothing, Cloud," she said, struggling to keep her voice calm. "I run a bar here in Sector Seven, called Seventh Heaven. Let me take you there, so we can get you cleaned up."
He could stand on his own, but it seemed as though walking would be a bit more of a problem. Tifa put his arm around her shoulders and let him lean heavily on her.
"I can walk, you know," Cloud muttered, but made no real protest. Tifa smiled vaguely. Still the same old proud Cloud.
And then Tifa eyed the sword he was clutching tightly, and once again the terrible fear flared up in her; the instinctual knowledge that something was horribly wrong.
The long shower did wonders for clearing his head. Though, he couldn't really remember any of his conversation with Tifa at the train station, which was strange; although all Cloud really wanted to do then was sleep and worry about it later.
She'd promised to wash his uniform because he'd immediately protested when she said maybe they should just throw it away. Why did it matter to him, he wondered? He wasn't a SOLDIER any longer, right?
So Tifa had left him a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, saying "Biggs is probably about the same size as you, and he wouldn't mind..." Who Biggs was, Cloud had no idea. In fact, the bar had been mostly empty when he'd arrived there with Tifa, save for a little girl in pink who had ducked behind the bar when she saw the newcomer.
...Cloud was beginning to wonder exactly how many people Tifa was harboring here, anyway.
Cloud walked into the spare bedroom Tifa had told him to use, and was shocked to see himself sitting on the bed, albeit a partly transparent version of himself. The other Cloud looked up, his eyes mournful, frustrated, and disappointed all at once.
Cloud just stared. 'This isn't real,' he told himself. 'Just close your eyes and he'll go away. Just a hallucination from lack of sleep...' But then the other Cloud spoke.
"This isn't what he wanted, Cloud," the other Cloud said softly. "He wanted you to be the proof of his existence, not steal his existence from him."
"Who-?" There was a loud, static ringing sound in Cloud's ears, though he could still hear the other Cloud clear as day.
"You can't pretend it didn't happen, Cloud. As much as it hurts you – us."
Now his head was pounding as well. Cloud sank to his knees. "I don't understand-!" he shouted.
"It would really hurt him to see you like this," the other Cloud said mournfully, "after he died to get us here."
And Cloud thought he heard a second voice, but the static was just too loud. Right before he passed out, he could have sworn he heard the static morph into an almost inhuman scream.
(A/N: Not sure about the ending. But then I'm like, never sure about my endings anymore. XD
Because not telling Cloud what she knew about Nibelheim and Zack, for fear of "something terrible" happening, was definitely the most selfish thing Tifa did EVER. Kind of interesting to explore.
Ugh how ABOUT that CC ending, huh? The little head-chest bit, and... everything Zack said, andandand when Cloud said, "Goodnight" and he just like walked away... Gah. I think Cloud's reactions just made the whole scene eleventy billion times worse; you could tell he had absolutely no idea what was going on until Zack was actually dead. X.x)