Chapter I; Shining
"Cloud? ..Cloud!?" Tifa cried. Cloud did not move.
"Oh my God.." She exclaimed, breathless from both the run and the shock.
Barret, Cid, and a few others of the party stormed into the tiny Mideel hospital as well, and stopped in their tracks to see Cloud, simply lying there, blue eyes bright and open, but frighteningly empty.
Tifa had run up and immediately knelt down by his side. The stray dog she had stopped to pet, her would-be execution, and all the hardship it had taken to find him, all forgotten in this moment of sheer terror.
What if he doesn't make it?
Tifa jumped as the doctor placed a hand on her shoulder. She met the middle-aged man's eyes in hesitation.
"What's going to happen to him?" she demanded, relieved her voice sounded calm and firm. At least on the outside she seemed alright. She could not seem weak to the others. They could not give up, even if Cloud did die.
"We don't know." Came the doctor's voice, in reply to her question. "I don't dare say. I, quite frankly, am flabbergasted he even survived the first three minutes after that intensity of Mako poisoning... I'm not really at liberty to say anything about his situation-"
"He was in Soldier." Tifa said, voice only slightly strained, and that sentence told the doctor enough.
"Then that's why he's still alive now. Still.. I want you to take a look at this."
The doctor walked to the door, closed it, and clicked off the bleak light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Everyone began to murmur in astonishment. Tifa stared. A faint cold light still filled the room. Slightly greenish, but only an echo, it seemed.. a humming, vivid memory of light. It seeped from Cloud's skin, it radiated from his bright blue eyes.
Cloud was giving light.
The eerie glow surrounding the young man dissapeared from sight as the doctor turned back on the lights. Tifa felt herself begin to shake uncontrollably, her eyes never leaving Cloud's face. If his body had been so saturated with Mako that he glowed in the dark.. what were the chances of him ever even waking up again?
She wanted to faint, to wake up and have it all be a dreadful, a dread-filled dream, and to find Cloud well again.
Now it seemed to Tifa that the group viewed her as Cloud's second hand, and in his absence, the leader-substitute. Barret and Nanaki both eyed her wearily, while the others still stared at Cloud.
"We.. we can't stop now. Not like this. I.. someone still has to do something about the Weapons. And Shinra. And Sephiroth.. and.." Tifa took a few very deep breaths. She could see them search her face for tears, but there were none. She could not cry. If she did now, in front of all her companions, they might think it the end. She might think so.
"And someone needs to stay with- ...with Cloud."
"You. You stay with Cloud for now. We'll take care of everything." It was Vincent who spoke. Tifa met his eyes carefully, feeling confusion and indecision take her over.
"I.. I don't know.." she murmured. "If I stay, maybe that would be better, but.. but if I don't come with you, how will I know you'll all be alright?"
How do I know it might not be better for my own sanity to get as far away from Cloud as possible? She added silently.
"No. You stay." The look in Vincent's eyes, matched by every single person standing behind him, discouraged any argument.
And Tifa wanted to stay. She didn't care if this uncertainty might drive her insane. She knew she wouldn't be able to fully concentrate on anything with the knowledge that Cloud could die any moment.
The others nodded and stepped out of the hospital, seeming somehow relieved. Before he left, Barret took Tifa's face in his one, huge, tan hand, and whispered, "Don't worry, Tifa. I know how strong you are, so do you. Be strong -everything's gonna turn out just fine." He let go and she nodded, and gave him a quick hug. Then he and the doctor retreated to the next room and closed the clean, white hospital door behind them, leaving Tifa in the room with the young man who gave light.
Not until everyone had left did Tifa cry. Tifa cried, and longed for someone who would share this new torment with her. Unsurprisingly, she thought of Aeris first. Aeris had, after all, been closer to Tifa than anyone else in their group, except for Barret and Cloud. Tifa could not turn to Barret with this. He held too much insecurity and rashness in his manner to be able to help Tifa. Tifa was afraid that she would not be able to do this, save this planet, these people, without him. She was afraid she would not be able to keep the group together as he had been able to, without difficulty. She was afraid Cloud would not come back.
"Oh.. Aeris.." she sobbed so softly no one outside of the room could hear her. "If you were here, none of this would have happened. Cloud wouldn't have lost the Black Materia, along with his sanity.. why did we let you get killed? I.. I can't do this alone.." Tifa stopped, realising the irony of this. She longed to see Aeris again, she who Tifa had long considered a rival.. but simply because Aeris meant harm to no one. Everybody missed Aeris.
And besides, she thought, boldly facing the harsh, barren truth, Cloud needed you.
Tifa nearly started to cry again, in self-pity this time, but stopped herself. No use crying over lost friends, or lost love. Just.. just take care of Cloud for now.
On impulse, she took his hand gently and studied it. Cloud had elegant hands, long and slender, not blunt and square like some men's hands were. His palms were soft, except where calluses had grown, where he had grown accustomed to his grand sword. His hand was limp, but warm. She pressed Cloud's hand to her face, smelled his scent, felt his skin.
How long ago..? There had been that one fated night, at the Seventh Heaven in Midgar, a bit before he had gone with Barret to blow up the first reactor. Tifa remembered the entire evening perfectly.
It had been late, very late. Tifa had served drinks to Biggs, Wedge, Jessie and Cloud. All the customers had been booted for the evening. Barret had gone to put Marlene to sleep. At one point, Jessie had excused herself and gone to bed, feeling quite nauseous. Not too long after that, Biggs and Wedge got some kind of bet going, something about picking up girls, and they had left as well, singing loudly and staggering out of the bar onto the street.
And then it was Tifa and Cloud.
Their conversation consisted of short, meaningful words, phrases that felt unnatural and unnecessary, a staged performance.
Tifa had been wiping the counter, and had walked around to where Cloud was sitting, when he had suddenly taken her wrists. She had dropped her rag in surprise, heart beating wildly, all of a sudden.
And Cloud had simply looked at her with those terrible, wonderful blue eyes.. and his head had dipped down. Cloud had kissed Tifa that night.
I remember every second of that kiss, Tifa thought sadly. Every mangled thought twittering in my poor brain.
She had kissed him back.
They had kissed quite a long time, Tifa feeling absolutely dizzy with him, with how she was finally with him now. She had ignored the warning bells going off in her head.
Her hands had crept up to his neck, his face, his own hands still loosely around her wrists. He was still kissing her. The second she heard footsteps, Tifa had pulled herself away from him.
Barret stood in the doorway, the usual expression of dissaproval on his face. He froze when he saw Cloud standing rather close to Tifa, holding her wrists.
"He botherin' you, Tifa?" Barret had demanded. Cloud had smiled lightly at this, and let go of Tifa.
"It's fine, Barret. Everything's fine."
Tifa sneered softly at the soft, long hand, the hand that had once held hers so surely.
"I should have known I wasn't to be so lucky, Cloud." She whispered. "I should've known I couldn't trust you like that.."
Cloud never mentioned the kiss again, as if it had never happened. And then, Tifa had realised why she had felt a foreboding as he had kissed her. Why he never spoke of it...
Cloud had been drunk that night. That had been the sweet taste in his kiss. That had been why he could not remember ever kissing her.
"I wish you were conscious. Then I wouldn't feel bad about punching you." She muttered now. Tifa had never told anybody about the kiss. She swore again she never ever would.
Time passed easily, hours slipping anonymously into days.