Pairing: Cloud x Tifa (One-Shot)
Summary: A family of four. A home for four. But neither a family nor a home is complete when the heart's not there and when the feelings are missing.
A/N: Another Cloud-Tifa fic attempt, since I adore the couple very much. Hopefully, I've been able to do justice for them cause I think given the chance, they could really work out despite all the little hitches and whatnots. Anyhow, do enjoy the fic, cheers!
Seventh Heaven was packed with the usual dinner crowd. A little girl in braids bused the tables while a boy, barely a few years older, passed on the orders to the barmaid behind the counter. When the need to clear a finished table arises, he would dutifully do so. It was a little difficult handling a horde of hungry patrons with only the three of them – two being children, but the patrons understood their lack of manpower and usually waited in patience.
Occasionally, there would be those non-regulars who would kick up a fuss, and the little girl who played waitress would be the target of their verbal assault. When that happens, it was absolutely pre-determined that they wouldn't go out the bar the same way they had came in. When it comes to the children, Tifa Lockheart was not one to put up for anything. They may be just kids, but they are her kids. The regulars know better than to maltreat the children. Besides, there was also the young man who lived with them as well. He was barely seen, but the people in Edge know of him and his 'relationship' with the young family. What kind of relationship it was, no one really knew. He left early in the mornings and half of the time, return late into the nights.
The door to the bar suddenly swung opened, signaling yet another patron. Marlene, the little girl, quickly looked up from the table she was waiting on to greet the newcomer.
"Wel-" her greeting stopped midway when she saw who it was.
"Cloud!" an excited Denzel exclaimed as he ran over to the blond by the door. A few of the eating patrons stopped to look and little bouts of whispers were exchanged, although in a curious, harmless manner. Tifa immediately turned away from her position at the sinks at Denzel's announcement.
"You're back early," Denzel said happily.
Marlene beamed up at Cloud from her position beside Denzel. "Do you want something to eat? Can I get you anything to drink?" she asked, equally excited to see him as Denzel was.
Cloud merely gave a slight shake of his head before he closed the door behind him. When he looked up again, he saw Tifa standing behind the counter, with a smile to greet him. He gave a small nod of acknowledgement.
"Aren't you hungry Cloud? Tifa made us onigiri earlier. I left some for you," Denzel prodded.
"Yeah Cloud. You should eat something," Marlene chimed in. The children looked up at him with expectant, wide-eyed looks and he felt himself giving in to them. When he finally nodded, the children leapt with joy before quickly telling him where the onigiri were as they had to rush off to answer several customers' calls.
As he passed the counter of the bar to make his way to the back, he stopped for a moment to look at Tifa. He watched as she mixed a couple of drinks before turning back to the stove to continue with her stir-fry dish. His lips moved as he attempted to call out to her, to say a solitary word, but before he could do so, she was called to attention by a customer who wanted a second drink.
With that, his original intention dissolved and he continued his way to the back. He had never gotten a chance to say it to her before. There was always something to distract, to divert, to avoid, or sometimes, it was just a case of bad timing. Like when he comes home past midnight and she's fast asleep, tired with the day's duties and chores. He doesn't like the idea of waking her so he would contentedly watch her sleeping form from the door before retiring to his own room. Just to ensure she was safe and alright. Today's deliveries were less than the usual hence his early return. Yet he still hasn't had the chance to say what he wanted to.
Tifa turned to the spot where he was standing moments before. A low sigh escaped her lips as she forced herself to avert her gaze away. Once again, just a small nod. She knew he wasn't a man of words, but non-verbal communication can only serve so much. Still, she quickly brushed her thoughts away and reminded herself to be contented with what she has. Across the room, Marlene and Denzel both caught the happenings between their guardians and their faces held a similar worried look.
When the crowd dispersed and the last of the customers trickled out, Tifa sent the children up to wash up and prepare for bed. Despite their protest, the cleaning up was always left to her as she insisted they had done more than enough.
As the children raced up the stairs to beat each other for the first usage of the shower, Tifa began her task of cleaning up. She was so concentrated on her tasks that she didn't hear Cloud coming down from the stairs. It was only when she heard the sound of the running water from the tap did she look up from her mopping of the floor.
"Have you eaten yet?" she asked.
He nodded. "Denzel left some of his onigiri for me."
"I could make something else for you if you'd like," she offered. She stopped mopping and walked up to the counter. "The onigiri wouldn't be able to keep you full."
"It's okay Tifa."
Her face fell at his response but she quickly covered her it with a nod and a smile. Quick as it was, Cloud still managed to catch sight of her disappointed look. She said nothing more as she turned to continue mopping. "Tifa –"
She took a deep breath and plastered a smile to her face before turning around to look at him, "Don't worry about it. I was asking just in case. I know you wouldn't tell me on your own accord if you needed me to cook you something. Since you've said you're not hungry, then – that's good then. But it you feel hungry later, just let me know."
Their gaze locked on each other's for a moment as he tried to figure her out, knowing that she was hiding herself from him again. But Tifa kept her smile, defiant to convince him she was really alright.
"Tifa, it's not that –" he paused mid-sentence.
"Cloud, it's really okay. It's just dinner right? Trust me, I'm not going to lose sleep over this," she joked with a light laugh.
"But it's not." Her laughter stopped upon hearing his words. Cloud sighed inwardly before continuing, "This is more than just dinner."
"What do you mean?"
"I think you already know," he quietly said.
This time, it was Tifa's turn to sigh inwardly. "No Cloud, I don't know. I'm sorry but I just don't."
"It's about my return –," he paused, sounding hesitant before finishing, "here."
Here. Isn't this home for him, she wondered.
"I don't return as early as you'd like me to. And leave earlier than I should. You – you probably feel – as if I'm avoiding you," he looked into her wine orbs, "Tifa –"
"Cloud," she interjected, "No I don't feel as if you're avoiding me. I understand you are busy with your deliveries and there are times when you just want to be alone. I understand all that. So please, could we just let this go?
"Trust me, everything's alright and you returning here late isn't – isn't a big deal. But is there something else that you actually want to talk about?"
He looked away to the door, to the floor, before looking back at her. She raised an eyebrow expectantly. Being with him and knowing him for so long had her picking up the times when Cloud needed to talk about something and she knew this wasn't merely a conversation about dinner. "I guess I feel I need to apologize," he said.
"Oh Cloud, there's nothing to be sorry for," Tifa said as she came up to him around the counter. She hesitantly reached out her hand to his and gently touched his hand on the counter in hopes of reassuring him.
"I'm sorry. For what happened before."
Tifa raised her gaze to him and offered a small smile, "It's okay. What matters is that you're alright now, so is Denzel, and everyone else."
"I didn't mean to just leave like that. I was a little – afraid, and lost," his last words had came down to a barely audible whisper. He looked up at Tifa and she noticed a flash of defenselessness within him. To everyone, Cloud Strife is a hero. However to her, he was the boy next door from Nibelheim, who has imperfections like any other human would. Still, she loved him all the same and she wished he would see pass the imperfections and weaknesses of his own and see himself in a different light. A sudden wave of weariness overcame her. She suddenly felt tired with the charade they seem to keep up with, the endless truth-finding of his feelings and identity. And as hypocritical as it seems, she was doing just the same for herself. She was still discovering her own feelings and uncertain of where they led her.
Her feeling of weariness prompted her to speak. "I wish I could give you more than I can. But I can't," she paused and turned away from his blue eyes. "Cause there isn't anything left for me to give," she softly said.
His eyes widen at her words and he slowly shook his head.
"Don't say – that."
With a tone of regret, she continued further. "I wish I could change how things are for you. Maybe then you'll be happier. But I can't, and maybe that's a weakness of mine. I'm sorry for that weakness."
Silence descended upon them at her words. She stared at the floorboard below her. He stared at her quiet figure. Marlene and Denzel stood dismally at their hiding place, afraid to make a sound. Afraid to be discovered. Afraid to be caught eaves-dropping. But most of all, afraid of the outcome of the bitterness between their guardians.
Finally, Cloud spoke up with much hesitance laced in his voice, "Is my happiness – that important to you?"
Her gaze swiftly shifted to him and her wine orbs answered him without her having to speak a word. His happiness and being meant the world to her. They say, to the world you may mean nothing, but to one person – you mean the world. That's how he is to her. She had hoped she would be his but she knew she couldn't be selfish and ask for him to do so, no, that wasn't Tifa Lockheart at all. Selfishness was a trait that was never in her blood. She wouldn't and couldn't put herself before others. Sometimes, it was her unselfishness that caused her sadness and pain, but it didn't matter, as long as it made someone else happy. What she wished for others, what she advised others, was never used for herself. Some say it's hard to listen to your own words of advice. Be it a self-defense mechanism, or a hypocritical side, or a general mannerism, it was just the same for Tifa.
"What is happiness Tifa?"
His question took her by surprise. A dubious look crosses her features for a moment before it turned hesitant as she tried to answer.
"It's the lightness of a heart which leads to a smile that never ceases to fade," she bravely answered.
"Tifa," he took a step forward to her, but he felt a slight stab to his heart when she took a step back from him. "Happiness is not necessarily seen on the outside." She bit her lower lip and waited for him to continue. "I may not show it, but I do feel it," he quietly said.
Tifa looked away. He thought it was in disbelief, but in was in fact, to hide the vulnerability she was feeling that was threatening to expose itself. He boldly took another step to her. This time, he decided, there's no running away. There's no reason for him to do so anymore. Reasons for him to stay have grown and been reinforced more so, especially by Marlene and Denzel. The role they play in his life had widened significantly, especially after the events of the Geostigma. But the main reason for him to stay – was just a few steps away from him. Tifa. His childhood friend and crush. His comrade and partner. The young woman whom he had given his heart to when they were much younger – and never took it back cause he knew, she had and would always keep it safe within hers.
The past years had him lost and confused within his own memories and identity. Yet one thing remained unchanged, his heart. She had kept it alive and beating by constantly reminding him who he was when he was frustrated with his disfigured memory; standing by his side whenever he needed someone; believing in him when he was lost.
It wasn't until recently did he realize he had a hold of her heart as well, but had failed to keep it safe like she did for his. He had selfishly left it cold and alone, hurting her in the process without even knowing it.
"Tifa, not being able to change things is not a weakness. I've never saw you as someone with weakness. If anything, you were always brave and kind-hearted. Those alone, conquered all other flaws that you might think you have.
"You've given – more than I could ask for. You didn't give up on me Tifa. That is why I am no longer afraid and lost."
At his words, Tifa's gaze immediately shifted onto him. He noticed the glassy look in her eyes, unshed tears that threatened to spill from the wine orbs. Knowing that he noticed the tears, she looked away again and blinked a few times to keep the tears at bay. A part of him wished she would stop being selfless and allow herself to reveal of her emotions. Another part of him wished he would stop being the reason for her tears. His hands by his sides fisted and unfurled themselves as he willed himself to boldly continue. What he had in mind was not going to be a typical Cloud Strife's words, but to get his message and feelings across to her, typicality had to be forgone.
"I think not giving up on a person is one of the best things you can do for someone. When that person has given up on himself, believing that he can do no more, that's one of the worst feeling in the world. But when someone stands by him and believes in him, despite his own fear and incredulity, it helps. It gives him a reason to believe again.
"And when you don't give up on someone you love, it makes the reason to believe even deeper. The reason to believe in life, in hope – and in love once more."
Her head jerked up in surprise at his words. Cloud had acknowledged her feelings for him, something which she thought would be impossible given the history they had. She had furiously tried to keep them locked away so that they wouldn't burden him but she knew, they occasionally showed. And when they did, she would quickly dismiss and hide them again.
"Thank you Tifa," he said earnestly. A small smile graced his pale features as he said those words. In a swift motion, he closed the short distance between them. She could feel his breath lightly tickled her skin as he whispered, "For not giving up on me."
Her wine orbs met his blue, Mako ones. A particular childhood memory involving her and a short but cute blond little boy suddenly flashed before her eyes, and when she opened them again, the small smile was still on that boy's face. Only he was no longer a boy, but a young man of twenty-two, much taller in height with chiseled features and a well-built physique.
The moment seemed to have caught her in a whirlwind of emotions as she suddenly whispered, almost inaudibly, "I love you". Her body stood frigid as she stared at the young man before her. She had said it. The words that carried the feelings hidden within her heart for so long, the one that she had feared would trouble him if he knew. Her words had meant to come out as a confession, but it sounded more of a question. One that she needed affirmation for. She readied herself for his response, mentally telling herself that what's done was done and there was no turning back. Tifa could only hope.
"I love you," he whispered in return. His voice was steady and sure, with his gaze still on hers as his hands found their way to hers and gently took hold of them. It was all the affirmation she needed. It was the affirmation he needed as well – to his own buried feelings. The feelings that began when he was a child and stayed as he grew into his teens. However, they began to conceal themselves when he was thrown into Shinra, AVALANCHE, Sephiroth and the Meteor. It wasn't that they dissolved into thin air and left forgotten, but they were kept aside as he couldn't deal with too many events happening at once.
After the Meteor happened, the feelings crept out bit by bit, reminding him once more of how he felt for the girl next door who had now became the young woman who fought and stood by his side. He tried to show it but the occasional guilt from the past still had its hold on him. Cloud still felt responsible for the events that happened, but most of all, the death of someone close to him – Aerith. The fear of losing someone close to him again, or worse – someone he loved, drew him away from his feelings once more. When the Geostigma affected him, he did the next best thing he thought he should do – leave. He didn't want to worry Tifa anymore than she already was with Denzel and he didn't want to affect her as well. As long as she was safe, he was willing to be away from her.
Now, with Aerith's smile of forgiveness and reassurance, and a healed world from the Geostigma, Cloud finally felt everything was alright. Everyone was safe and sound. Marlene, Denzel, and Tifa. They were now the most important people to him in the world.
Cloud hesitantly moved his arms upwards and slowly enveloped her within them. As he pulled her closer, he felt her hands gradually making their way to his upper back as she reciprocated his hug. He tightened his hold on her when he felt a sudden wetness on the base of his neck where her lone tear had fallen. Despite the tear, a reassured smile grew on Tifa's features as she huddled closer to his neck and breathed in his scent.
The children breathed in relief and quietly made their way to the adults. Their little figures proceeded to join in the hug with their arms barely reaching around the adults' waist. Upon the children's sudden warmth around them, Cloud and Tifa pulled away and enveloped the children in a big hug. Tifa's hand reached down for Denzel as Cloud's reached for Marlene.
Seventh Heaven was packed again the next evening. The children helped around the bar as usual as Tifa handled the food and drinks. It was 7 pm and the crowd was still picking up. It seemed there was an extra influx of customers for the day. Marlene and Denzel bravely withstood the hungry crowd with a cheerful front as they tried to work as quickly as they could. Tifa was swamped with the orders but yet maintained a calm, cheerful exterior although on the inside, she felt her legs and hands were more than ready to give out on her.
The door swung opened and Marlene almost groaned aloud but stopped when she saw the newcomer. A huge grin crossed her features as she cried out, with a great amount of relief, "Cloud!"
Denzel almost dropped the plates he was holding when Marlene called out Cloud's name. He turned to greet the man with a grin, before it changed to a pleading 'help me' look. A few patrons once again stopped to look and curious whispers were exchanged yet again. Tifa looked up with a smile, the frazzled look in her wine orbs disappearing to one with a light twinkle.
Instead of the usual nod, he gave a small smile. Small, but significant nevertheless.
He made his way towards her and behind the counter. She stopped midway at her drinks-mixing as she watched him.
"Tadaima," he softly said when he reached her side. The smile widen on her lips as she replied with an "Okaeri".
Marlene and Denzel watched the exchange with delighted smiles. "Okaeri!" they chimed in with huge grins on their faces. Cloud turned to them with a smile and nod, "Tadaima."
A smile and a single word, 'Tadaima'. Tifa couldn't help but feel life couldn't be anymore complete than it was. He was home.
P.S A few Japanese terms were used cause I felt they would sound better in the original than to have it translated. Just in case, here are the meanings to the very few terms used.
Tadaima: I'm home
Okaeri: Welcome home (the word okaeri varies according to the usage, either the polite form or the shortened, casual form. In this case, it's the casual form)
Onigiri: Japanese rice balls with fillings