Pairing/Fandom: Cloud and Tifa/Compilation of FFVII
Saying Goodbye
This is a heavily edited version of a much longer NC-17 story entitled, Reality Made Fantasy, posted on my LJ.

He needed to leave.

The lesion on his arm was small and easily hidden by a bandage, easily dismissed as a scratch taken in one of the many short skirmishes he had every day. But the disease was moving now, he could feel it itching and boiling and eating away at the muscles and tissues of his arm, working to erupt. This small mark was a warning, a sign.

He needed to leave before it worsened. Before Tifa noticed, and before he became a burden. Before Denzel found out and let his own hopes fade. The little boy obviously idolized him. How much harder would it be to remain positive when the disease he struggled with struck his hero down? There was no cure, he and Tifa were both well aware. But that's not what you told a child. You gave a child as much hope as possible, so they could enjoy the good days – the pain free days – to the fullest. You told him that if he ate right, and rested, and kept clean and was cared for... he would recover. Cloud couldn't stay and be the proof that they had lied.

Still... he didn't want to leave. This place was home, more so than the house he'd shared with his mother had ever been. These kids and this woman were his family. Tifa's label, but he felt it as strongly as she, even though he didn't express it nearly as well. He'd even had new, fragile dreams of making it a family in more than name, of finally learning to let Tifa know how he felt, of letting her reciprocate with everything that shone in her warm brown eyes when she looked at him.

Foolish thoughts. Fate seemed to like making him live up to the name Strife, and took added pleasure in dragging anyone he was close to along for the ride. Why should his relationship with Tifa be any different? At least he could be thankful that the disease chose him rather than her.

Sighing, he stood, took another look around his room. He was taking very little, giving the illusion that this departure was nothing unusual, just another long delivery. Tifa would need that pretense, at least for a little while. And when he didn't come back, it would be easy to believe that he had never planned to leave in the first place.

Leaving his boots and pack on the landing, taking extra care to be quiet, he climbed the short steps from his room to the hallway above, and eased open the door to the kids' room. Both were sleeping soundly, Denzel's peaceful rest a good sign that he'd be up and about, enjoying the day tomorrow. He straightened their blankets, tucking Marlene's doll back under her arm and brushing Denzel's hair off his forehead. They didn't wake, but he felt somehow that they would know he'd been there, that he cared, and that was enough.

Saying goodbye to Tifa, even with her asleep and unaware, would be far more difficult.

He was even more careful opening her door, as she was a light sleeper – partly due to the reflexes honed in their journeys two years before, and partly due to some strange female sense relating to children and late night out-of-bed excursions. To make sure she didn't wake, making this even harder, he silently cast Sleepel before entering.

Her curtains were drawn, filtering the already dim starlight to the faintest of slivers across her sleeping form. Perching gingerly at the foot of her bed, he watched her sidelong as he tried to decide what to say. It was almost as awkward as it would be if she were awake! He cleared his throat, stared at his feet, scratched the back of his head...

Jumped out of his skin when she sighed his name, shifting under her blankets.

Blue eyes flew to her face, and found her still sound asleep. That could make it easier. Everyone – even Nanaki – had teased her about talking in her sleep. If he talked to her, would she answer? Or remember? As deeply asleep as she was now?

Hesitantly, he moved closer, covering her hand ever-so-lightly with his own. "Tifa?"


He had to smile as she tilted her head on the pillow, exactly the way she cocked her head to listen when she was awake. Her hand turned under his, fingers twining.

"I have to leave, Tifa. I.... I don't think I'll be back." Ever. He swallowed. Her forehead was crinkled, although whether she was puzzled, troubled, or angry, he wasn't sure. "I just wanted to say goodbye."

She shook her head, patting the bed with her free hand for emphasis. "Too early. Stay."

Cloud shook his head ruefully. She was far too cute like this, sleepy and only loosely understanding what he'd said. "I can't, sweetheart." He wasn't sure what made him say it, but even asleep the smile it brought to her face was bright. Then she was tugging on their clasped hands, and he was collapsing on the bed next to her while she snuggled up to him like he was that horrid, giant chocobo Barret had sent Marlene.

"Stay," she mumbled, lips brushing his throat where she'd buried her face against him. She shifted again, kicking one leg free of the covers to throw it over his. "G'night, Cloud."

Blinking in surprise, Cloud froze. Now he was in trouble. He sprawled half atop her, pillowing her head on the arm he'd flung out to catch himself, one leg trapped between hers. Attempting to ease away only made her hands fist in his shirt. Any tighter, and he'd have to wake her to free himself, something that was both a bad idea, and a bit difficult to achieve thanks to the spell he'd used. Exhaling slowly, he let himself relax. If he stopped struggling to get away, maybe she'd stop clinging like a limpet.

Part of him hoped she'd hold on tighter.

Wondering if he only imagined the laughter in the back of his mind, he propped himself up on an elbow and took this opportunity to look his fill, admiring the form pressed against him clad only in silky shorts and matching top. A top that was riding up in the front, giving him a tantalizing view of her tummy and the curves of her breasts. Before his body got any ideas, he quickly shifted his gaze to her shoulders, then to her face. Long, dark hair obscured her features, and the hand not currently pinned under her gently stroked it back, letting his fingers ghost over her face, memorizing the arch of her brows and the curve of her mouth. Then he dropped his head and buried his face against her throat, breathing deeply to remember her scent.

This was far harder than it should be.

Falling into a light doze as he waited for her hold to relax, he jerked awake, blushing, when she turned on her side away from him. Reluctantly, with no further excuse to stay, he eased from the bed. Lingering for just another moment, he brushed a kiss to her forehead, and tucked the blankets tighter around her form as she searched, blindly, for his missing warmth. At the door he countered the sleep spell, and left as quietly as he came, leaving no clue that he'd ever been there.

In the morning, Tifa awoke from a dream in which a masculine voice murmured soft words in her ear, while gloved fingers stroked her face, and strong arms held her close to a hard, warm body. In the dream, she had been unable to see who it was; but it felt safe, heady, and comfortable all at once, a combination she always associated with Cloud. It was the best, most soothing dream she'd had in a long time, and she allowed herself to hope that maybe this was a sign. Maybe things between them would really move forward now.

Unnoticed in the sunlight, the wolf ring she wore on her right hand sparkled, its eyes glinting as if with unshed tears.