Chapter XVI; Concluding this Tale

The girl walked slowly. There was a smile on her face. The moon was out, high and bright in the sky. It was neither full nor crescent, a little of everything. That was how she was feeling right now, she figured. Not really exuberant, just an inkling of happy stress beneath the skin. She was still reeling from what had just happened. It ached terribly, but she couldn't help asking herself if there would have been another way. She had been falling, she had been breaking, Cloud had caught her and glued together the chips and cracks in the eggshell of her smile, turning it from a disgusted grimace back to a heartfelt grin. He had healed her in his own harsh, rather blunt way.

She took in breath, letting the night air run chilly through her, into her lungs. The air was real. Air was real, air was existent, though she couldn't see it. What she had shared with him was real too, even though it obviously hadn't been on the same level of consciousness. Everything.. everything she had felt as true and real, it had been true and real. And as dreamlike as it was, what was happening to her now, it was real too.

She was falling in love all over again, while she had never fallen out of it, and was doing so with the same man she had already been in love with, ever since the beginning.

Tifa had always been careful with other people's feelings. Strangely, it had never occurred to her to be careful with herself. She had thus given her heart to this boy, this man, this being of beauty and love and light; and she had given all her heart. And for years, he hadn't known, hadn't seen her. She hadn't seen him, either, but had been convinced that he was who she remembered him to be. And now, after spending all these months with him, she had been rewarded for her passionate innocence, her belief in love, her conviction in her own.

Take my heart. My full heart. My beating, bleeding red heart. It's yours to hold.

She hadn't dared hope for his love, not until about a day ago, but a surreal and dreamstate day that held more within its walls than the whole past month had. She hadn't believed that he had seen the same ember, the same glow around her which she had seen around him, each time their eyes met. Now, he had been the one to go out on a limb, to reach out and grab her back as she drifted away from him.

She had been suspended on a golden wire, letting it wrap tighter around her throat and wrists as she convinced herself nothing was real. He was the one who had untwined the wire, unhooked her like a merciful fisherman would a mermaid. And still, a golden wire was taut between them. She smiled.


The young man walked, not really hurried, but with an air of haste around him. There was someone he wanted to get to, someone who he needed to reach. And wrap his arms around. And never give up to any cold, to any danger ever again.

He still felt a twinge of guilt every moment he thought back to what he had just done to her. She seemed to have forgiven him, but she was so great of heart.. she forgave so easily. She had forgiven him for deserting her, for ignoring her, for treating her as less than as the brilliance she was to him. He made himself stop wondering what she saw in him, stop wondering that she let him love her, touch her even. He banished the thoughts that had plagued him forever, and thanked every single star he could see that she loved him, that he had been lucky enough to be found by her the way he felt lucky that she had been found by him.

He winced as he walked. The cure materia had done well, but obviously his abdomen was still mostly blue. He had no potions or ethers with him, so he had left his blue belly for what it was and had started to limp back to where he figured she was.

He remembered running his hands, so much bigger than her own, through her dark hair. It was smooth, not knotty or sticky. It was long, with that cute flip at the end of it. He remembered more. Once, when they had been camping out in the open, and it had been his turn to watch while the others slept.. she had slept there beside him. He had really watched the camp rather poorly, because his attention had been focused solely on the girl, curled up, sleeping deeply, right near when he was sitting. At one point he had laid his sword aside. A glance had been cast at the older man with the gun-arm, who was snoring, spread-eagled on the ground, beyond the campfire. Then, the young man had crept forward, face near to the girl's sleeping one. Her face was turned upwards, as if she had been watching the stars when she fell asleep. He had felt her soft breath stream past his face; his own undoubtedly streaming by hers. And he had bent down, his lips slightly parted, his eyes on hers, though hers were closed.
She had suddenly let out a sigh, deep and sweet and to him, heart-wrenching. She was only twenty. He was only twenty-one. Why did they both seem so infinitely older? He had backed away again, very aware of how he had almost let their lips touch. He felt silly and childish, for he had seen romantic movies in which the hero or heroine behaved in such a foolish way. He was suddenly very aware of the meaning of the term 'romantic movie'.

Now it was the young man who sighed. He was quite sure it didn't sound heart-wrenching, so much as that it probably just sounded pathetic. He had thought he was pathetic, had thought it normal she hadn't been attracted to him. She always had wide eyes, holding something warm, something warmer than he had ever seen before in anyone's eyes. Or maybe he just thought so because he was violently in love with her. But she had confused him, drawing him out, talking to him, delving into him without realizing. Then, it seemed she would become afraid, and pull away from him, shy like a young deer. She had never actually passed up an opportunity to speak with him, or interact with him in anyway, but it was just that sometimes, there was sunlight in her eyes, directed at him, and warming him. And other times, there was a concrete wall, or perhaps a million concrete walls standing behind each other, protecting her. He just never understood until now from what.

He had near-well given up on the hope that she might feel for him what he felt for her. He had treated her with the love of a friend, afraid to show more of himself than that. He had treated her with the respect of a comrade; it was more respect than he usually showed anyone. What he regretted, he had treated her with the warmth of a lukewarm mug of milk; until recently, that was more warmth than he had given anyone for almost ten years. He hadn't been able to understand that showing only so much love, respect, and warmth simply wasn't enough, not for this girl. She had such a great place in her spirit for others that she had left none over for herself. She was self-conscious, insecure, closed and jagged, though she seemed open and smooth. If he wanted to convince her that he loved her, he had to plunge himself in; she wouldn't believe him if he was too careful and insecure about himself. He had to show her his whole heart if he wanted her to take it.

Here. Take my bloodred heart. Take my full heart.


She had her arms wrapped around her middle. It didn't really help against the cold. She didn't really care. Her arms might be cold, her hands might be clammy, her feet might be chilled. She was bright red in the face, she knew, and could feel her thoughts sending warm currents of energy throughout her body. Just thinking of him made her feel good. This had to be good.

She felt like singing but didn't. She looked around. Everything was so quiet, that was all. She didn't want to disturb this.
She was still in the ruins of Mideel, now standing on a small field that looked out over the Lifestream. The village was deserted, of course. People had set up camp on the east side of the island, between sand plane and coast, but near the forest that had sheltered them for so long. The west side of the island had been too open for the forest villagers, she guessed. She thought of the Weapon, and why it might have landed there. She understood that it was a creature that the Planet had created, along with a few gargantuan siblings. She understood that it could not think, only act out of supernatural instinct.
She felt wide open, a receiver for everything coming her way.
She was filled with so much right now. She was still a little shaky from the tears she had spent earlier, she was still a little fragile from the anger she had pounded him with. A small smile played around her face. That was the first time she had ever gotten that mad at anyone.

Now she lingered, and looked around, hoping he would come to her soon. She did not know why she was expecting him to; any other person beaten up so completely would have stayed put there, sleep the pain away. She couldn't explain the feeling she had, that he would come and find her, besides what experience had taught. He always did come and find her, in the end. Be it when she was dying physically, be it when she was dying mentally, be it when she was perfectly fine and just missing him, like now.

She took in a deep, sharp breath as she felt arms circle her, over her own arms. Immediately, she exhaled again, and relaxed her tensed body.

She turned to him fully now, and a happy smile, a relieved, tired smile, grew on her face, and he kissed her. He had his arms loosely around her waist, but as they kissed, one hand crept up to curve her jaw. They fit wonderfully, he thought. She had one arm up against his chest, pressed between them, the other was wrapped around his neck. They fit perfectly, she thought.
He hummed through the kiss, and then she laughed through the kiss, and they broke apart.

"Surreal." she murmured.



"I know."


He laughed. "It all ends up with food with you, doesn't it?"

"Food? That doesn't sound too bad."

"Sorry. I'd love to take you out to dinner, but we seem to be stuck on this island with only a deserted village and an airship, and a make-shift village where everyone's asleep, so no getting food there. And I don't feel like killing one of those giant grasshoppers. Unless you're craving one."

"Oh, God, no," she laughed, "that's not my idea of dinner."

"Why not? The legs are nice and crispy when they're fried.." he said, warm voice tempting. She cringed, and let out a sort of groan that had to be one of the most adorable sounds he had ever heard. Then she sighed, and wrapped her arms around him again, and looked up at him in total blankness. He blinked back at her. Then they both burst out laughing.

"I love you," she hiccuped, cuddling him.

"I love you, too," he choked, enjoying the cuddling.

They walked back to the airship, arms linked, still laughing.

Cloud had found his soul mate, his lover, the best friend he had always needed. Tifa had found her confidante, her rock in turbulent waters, her temple and her home. And, to put it simply for shallow-minded outsiders, Tifa had found a boyfriend, and Cloud had found a girlfriend. Things were quite simple, really. In the end, one could make something only as difficult as it needed to be. Now they walked back, and as they walked back, they each slowly, softly departed from their equally rough pasts, because now there was understanding, there was acceptance, there was complete love and wholeness. They could do whatever needed to happen. They had each other, right?