Dedicated to Pied Flycatcher...This is actually an idea that's been floating around in my head for a long time, but I couldn't find the inspiration to properly write it until reading her story 'Fragility' (which is beautiful so if you haven't read it, definitely check it out 3), and the brief review/reply that followed between us :)
It frustrated him on occasion, that she never quit smiling. With as long as they'd known each other, after love triangles, fighting and defeating Sephiroth (twice), spiritual infidelity, estrangement, and finally finding the courage to look each other in the eye and say the words they had danced around since they were fourteen, he liked to think she could let her walls down around him.
A small, embittered part of him wondered if she didn't remain close on purpose, as payment for the many years he left her waiting, guessing. But that was the past. He wasn't always cheerful and he still forgot to call more often than not, but he spoke and listened to her now, when she let him, and more importantly he communicated.
What bothered him more than anything was that he knew what upset her, knew the reason she laughed a little more than normal when she spoke because if she didn't she'd start crying. Why when he tried to bring it up she would only shrug it away, claiming that she was fine, really, why would she get upset over something like that?
She thought he didn't notice that she always had tears in her eyes after she tucked Denzel into bed, or the subtle reluctance she had when Barret finally settled down and re-married, and Marlene went back to live with him. She'd always said she hoped one day Barret would start putting his daughter first, but when it happened she cried, and he knew it was more than just because she would miss Marlene.
They never married, at least not traditionally. After the Wars were over and oil had replaced Mako, he suggested it. Without them realizing time had pushed them together, starting with shy kisses goodbye on the cheek, and then sharing a bed on that one really cold night when the power was out and they'd given Denzel the extra blankets, and then just sharing a bed in general. He never thought about formalizing anything (though afterwards he realized she probably had), until Denzel one day pulled him aside, embarrassed because his new school application had forms to fill out with his home information and he didn't know what to write, because he didn't know if he and Tifa counted as parents, and if they did how could he write it since they weren't married?
He wasn't afraid to bring it up, and he wouldn't say it had been a proposal. Just casually over coffee one morning, after Denzel had left for school, he asked if she wanted to as though asking if she'd go for a run with him later that afternoon. He saw her eyebrows raise from the other side of her newspaper, before taking a sip from her mug, telling him they may as well be already so she didn't see any problem with documenting it. Reeve got them marriage certificates and in the presence of Reeve, Vincent, a few WRO officials, and the Turks (Reno later told him they only came because they'd had a bet going for years on whether or not it would ever happen, and he refused to pay up until he saw it for himself) they signed their lives together. Denzel was mad they did it while he was at school and Marlene yelled at Tifa for ten minutes about "doing it wrong" and "you're supposed to wear a dress and do it in a church and invite everyone you know and how could you not tell me first?!"
He knew she wanted a baby. They both loved Denzel and introduced him as their son, and even while Marlene was there she had cared for her as her own, but those children had come to them later in life. It had been a long ride on the day they went to Rocket Town to meet the new Highwind, the day Shera had chewed his ear off about how perfect Tifa was with the baby and she deserved more than anyone to finally have a child of her own, and he better give her one soon because women had their limits.
So the mornings when he awoke to find the bed empty and her tearing around the memorial garden they'd planted outside the bar, he knew, and he wanted more than anything for her to finally cry over it instead of cheerfully greeting him with light-hearted quips of "maybe next month."
Vincent must have heard their plans from Cid, because he came to visit several months after the trip to Rocket Town, and spoke to Cloud in a low voice while together they watched Tifa wandering between rows of tomatoes and peppers, touching each fruit and speaking to them words only the Planet would ever hear.
"It's the Mako, isn't it?" Cloud didn't bother skirting the subject or bracing for the truth. He'd wondered about it even before they tried.
"Probably. It was brought up as a concern when Shinra first started running the experiments, but dismissed without research. I don't know if they looked into it again, after the Jenova Project."
"What about now? There's enough people from Soldier still alive, is it possible to start the research again?"
"It started already, about two years ago."
"There's a small percentage of cases in former Soldiers, where we linked it back to Mako showers. Most of those men were already pre-dispositioned, or we could find traces of other causes. It doesn't seem like the normal showers or injections were enough to cause permanent effects."
"The normal showers or injections," he repeated the words more for Vincent's sake than his own. Tifa had moved away from the fruits and vegetables. With the height of summer the roses were in full blossom, and from the way she swayed her body as she walked and the constant movement of her lips, he knew she was singing to them. And old gardening trick she'd learned from the woman who had once called flowers from ash.
"I'm sorry, Cloud."
"Is there any chance?"
"We don't know. There have only been two other people ever exposed at the same level of concentration as you, and they are both deceased."
"I figured you'd be honest," he smiled slightly. Vincent, like himself, had learned to stop waiting for the ax to fall, but was still not a man to hang his happiness on a fragile hope.
"Like I said, we don't know. There's no way of doing concrete research...unless you volunteer to be a participant."
He let the proposal hang in the air. On one hand, he needed to know. Tifa needed to know. But it was experiments that had caused the problem in the first place.
His eyes locked on the woman in the garden who now knelt beside the vines of autumn harvest, trailing fingers over the tiny buds of pumpkins and squash. They were barely discernible from the dirt and leaves now but in a few months he would be out there, letting her load his arms with the (literal) fruits of her labor until he could barely see and was wobbling his way back into the bar.
It didn't matter that she still felt the need to be happy around him, or that she wouldn't just tell him the problems he could clearly see. It was the only area she still felt the need to hide, and maybe it was because they had held a common fear--the fear, he now acknowledged, he had not shared with her either.
"I'm sorry Vincent. Maybe I've gone soft, but I don't want to give up hope."
Vincent nodded as he walked out the door and into the tilled earth, meeting the hands of the woman who turned too late to hide her tears, the only thing between their palms the heart of a new life.
Like I said above, this is an idea I've wondered about for quite awhile...in the real world, sterility is a side effect of being irradiated, so it makes sense that the same could be true of Mako...especially for someone who spent 5 years sleeping in a tank of it.
Title is by Emiliana Torrini. I wanted to use "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" (which is by Coldplay), but it seems a little too campy...so I'll just add that as a footnote subtitle :D
And I tried to at least have a small element of optimism this time, even if it's bittersweet and forced :)
And apologies for the complete abuse of visual analogy :D