(A/N) Okay, I lied. I said that my next writing project would be that AU story that I started some time ago, but I ended up finishing this one first, so here it is. :P This could probably pass as a sequel to my other oneshot Coming Home, but only because it's around the same time period, (several months after Advent Children.) and some similar things are discussed. This one is in Tifa's point of view, though. :D
I probably could have gotten away with a K+ rating, but because of the sexual content (however mild) I wasn't sure. O.o Oh, and in case nobody noticed, the title was inspired by a song by the band Lifehouse, because I think the lyrics sort of encompass the theme of the story, and the title is pretty apt too. :3
Hanging by a Moment
It's been a long day.
It's Saturday night, the busiest night by far in Seventh Heaven, and hundreds of customers have been coming and going from the bar in a seemingly endless stream for hours. I've been running around all day, and my feet are absolutely killing me. It's almost eleven-o-clock now, but I've just finished with the last of the dishes, and I'm setting the dried glasses on the counter. I really should mop the floor, but that can wait until tomorrow, because Sunday is my day off.
Cloud came home about a half an hour ago, looking about as tired as I feel. It's winter, and the holidays are coming up, so he's been working late and running himself ragged trying to keep up with all of the extra deliveries. Thankfully, even though he's worn out, he offered to help me by putting Marlene and Denzel to bed. They always try to push the limits of their bedtime when the bar is open late, and I just don't have the patience to deal with their energy tonight. They don't fuss with Cloud nearly as much as they do with me, though I can't imagine why; maybe because he lets them get away with things a lot more often than I do.
I sigh heavily, rubbing my temples with my fingertips as I really start to feel the effects of the long day. Luckily I dressed for bed earlier when the last of the customers dissipated, in my usual long-sleeved shirt and tattered sweatpants that I wear to bed in the winter, so I don't have to worry about dragging myself back upstairs for awhile. I set the dishrag down on the counter and make my way into the living room, thoughts of a good book and a cozy seat on the sofa pulling my tired legs forward.
Our living room is relatively small, because the bar makes up most of the first story of the house, but it's just large enough for the little TV, our matching couch and reclining chair, and the low coffee table in the center to fit in. I've always liked it a lot because even though it has a real homey feel to it, we're still able to squeeze all of our friends in here when they decide to visit.
I retrieve my novel from the edge of the table and plop down on the left end of the couch, tucking my legs up under me and sinking into the cushions as I make myself comfortable. I've just flipped to the dog-eared page that I was reading last when I hear quiet footsteps descending the stairs. Cloud has always moved really quietly, even on the wooden floorboards of our house, but after living with him for so long I've learned how to listen for him.
He rounds the back of the couch and sits down next to me; not at the opposite end, like he would have only a few months ago, but rather in the center so his arm is just a few inches away from mine. He doesn't say anything, but I glance up from my reading to look at him when he exhales tiredly. He's dressed much like I am, and his hair still looks slightly damp from the shower, so I know he must be planning on going to bed soon too. His head is tilted back, and he closes his eyes as he runs his fingers through blond spikes on his head, which causes them to stick out in an even wilder fashion than usual.
"How was work?" I ask quietly, hoping that I won't wake the sleeping children upstairs.
He cracks an eye open and peers over me, but I only get a tired grunt from him in response.
I giggle lightly and smile to myself; I expected as much.
Before, his lack of response or one word answers would have frustrated me, because I took it as a sign that he was trying to push me away. We did okay for a long time after we moved in together, but then he slowly started distancing himself from me and the children, before he finally didn't come home one day. I understand now that it was because he was living with so much guilt and then the knowledge that he was dying from Geostigma, but at the time I was confused and hurt that he wouldn't talk to me. Now though, a response like that just means that he's had a long day, so I don't mind.
He leans over and grabs the television remote from the other end of the couch, and then begins flipping through the channels methodically. I figure that he'll probably settle on the news, since there's really never that much else on anyway, so I go back to my book. Out of the corner of my eye I see him yawn, stretching his arms out. His right arm falls back by his side, remote still in his hand, but he wraps his left arm around my shoulders and pulls me against his side.
I lean my head against his neck, content to be with him like this. It's funny, considering how much turmoil that used to be going on inside of him, that his presence brings me such a great sense of peace now. I think part of it is his smell, too. I've never been able to identify exactly what it's like; not musky, but not sweet either. It's just him. I'm not quite sure why, but it makes me feel safe, like I'm home.
I've considered Cloud to be my best friend for quite awhile, even during the times that he kept me at a distance. He's been healed now though, I can see it in his eyes, and we've become a lot closer lately. It happened very gradually, but now I'm not the least bit startled if he puts his arm around me, or holds my hand while we walk to the store, or even pulls me into a quick hug like he did yesterday after coming home from work. I like the fact that he's not afraid to be near me anymore, because for Cloud, someone who is naturally withdrawn from people, simple physical contact like that means so much more.
"How was your day?" he asks unexpectedly.
I flinch slightly at the sudden sound, though his voice isn't loud, and look up to meet his eyes. They're bright blue, even in the dim light coming from the lamp in the corner of the room, and they're so much kinder now that they're free from all of the pain and guilt that used to linger in them not so long ago; more like the eyes of the little boy I grew up next door to in Nibelheim. A small, gentle smile is gracing his lips, and I can't help but smile in return. I know he's not asking just to be polite; he genuinely cares.
"It was fine," I answer, and then exhale deeply with an afterthought. "Really busy. Yuffie didn't show up to help me today, and it was crazy."
"Remind me to throw her out next time she comes over," he says, chuckling quietly and turning his attention back to the television screen.
I smile again, glad that he's regained the sarcasm that was missing while he was so distant.
Something is off with him tonight though, even if he is acting fairly normal. His arm feels tense around me, and he's uncharacteristically chewing on his lower lip. His eyes don't seem to be focused the images flashing across the screen either, and I begin to wonder if he's anxious about something; he's at least thinking really hard about whatever it is. I'm slightly worried that he's not saying anything about it to me, but I figure that if it's really important, he'll tell me eventually. Maybe it's just stress from work.
I settle back against his side, trying my best to return to my reading and not to be too concerned by it, but I can't seem to keep my attention on the words written across the page. He's fidgeting, tapping his fingers against the couch cushion rhythmically, and his increasing anxiousness is starting to wear off on me. It's unlike him to be jittery like this; something must really be wrong.
I'm about to question him about it when he abruptly pulls away from me; removing his arm from around my shoulders and straightening up on the couch. I sit up too, setting my book aside and staring at him as I try to make sense of the strange expression on his face. It's a mixture of hesitance, determination, and something else that I can't place. 'Desire' is the word that flashes through my mind, but I know that can't be right. I've never seen him look at me like this, and it's actually a little unnerving.
"Cloud, what-" I start to ask, but that's as far as I get.
My speech gets cut off, and it takes me a moment to actually realize why. His mouth is the reason, because his lips are crushed against mine.
Every nerve in my body freezes with shock at the realization. My heart skips a beat, and then picks up in overdrive, thumping wildly against my ribs. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion, so a million thoughts are able to fly through my mind in the span of a mere half a second. The biggest part of my mind, however, is struggling with the only thing I know for a fact: Cloud Strife is kissing me.
My eyelids flutter closed as the feelings hit me all at once. I vaguely register his hand coming up to cup my cheek, but my focus is on the burning, tingling sensation that is radiating out from where his mouth is molded against mine. His lips are soft and warm, moving against my own in a slow, gentle way that causes my stomach to tremble. Every time in inhale all I can smell is that wonderful scent of him, and my whole body feels as if it's on fire; the tingling from my lips now spreading to every inch of my skin.
I'm completely still for a moment, just trying to process that this is actually happening, and then my body starts reacting to him on its own. My lips begin moving with his, despite the fact that they're trembling slightly with nervousness. I reach out to him instinctively, my hands sliding up his stomach and then his chest, and my fingers tracing the outlines of the firm muscles underneath his shirt. He shudders slightly beneath my touch, his mouth moving more eagerly against mine, causing my lips to part slightly in a gasp.
My hands end up around the back of his neck, and my fingers thread though the soft spikes of his hair in an attempt to pull him closer to me, as if that was even possible. He's leaning over me and my whole body, at least from the waist up, is completely pressed against his now. A low, muffled moan escapes his throat suddenly and I gasp again; my mind and body both entirely lost to this incredible feeling.
Suddenly his lips separate from mine, but only the slightest amount, and the husky sound of his voice reaches my ears.
"I love you, Tifa," he whispers, his lips brushing against my mouth with each word.
My eyes fly open in shock, because somehow I'm more surprised by his words than by his actions. I don't even have time to gasp, because his lips are pressed against mine again; coaxing a small, needy sound from the back of my throat that I didn't even know I could make. I give up on trying to figure out what this all means, because right now I can't focus on anything but him; his smell, his taste and how incredible it feels to be kissing him. It's overwhelming in the most pleasurable way.
Cloud pulls back from me a moment later, leaving both of us gasping for breath. My mind clicks back on when his lips are no longer connected to mine, and I separate myself from him as his hand falls away from my face and he sits up to give me some space. I force myself to look up at him and again, he's wearing an expression that I've never seen on him before. His cheeks are flushed, and if the heat that I feel on my face is any indication, I'd guess that mine are too. His lips are slightly swollen, a darker shade of pink than they usually are, and his eyes are incredibly wide, staring at me as he breathes heavily. He looks almost scared, vulnerable, and he's watching me, no doubt, for my reaction to what just happened.
I return his stare for a minute before I finally glance away, my heart still beating much too quickly and my stomach quivering with feelings that I haven't felt in a long time. It's been over two years ago now, since that very first kiss we shared that night under Cid's old airship, The Highwind. It had been a timid, gentle thing back then, far different from the wild, passionate kiss that happened just a few seconds ago. The feelings it creates within me however, are exactly the same.
We've always only been friends, and I never expected that night to change anything. We were both lost then, and we found comfort in each other; nothing more. After this though, I'm not sure what to think about our relationship. Not just the way he kissed me, but what he said. No sweet nothings, just three simple words. Could he have really meant that? I never imagined that Cloud would be the type to confess something like that so bluntly to anyone, but then again, nothing he's been doing tonight has made any sense to me.
"Tifa?" he asks softly.
I automatically look back up at him when the sound of his voice jerks me back into reality, and I catch his eyes for a moment. He looks like a kid that's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar; unsure, afraid, and waiting to get scolded. If I wasn't so freaked out by this situation, I might have even laughed at the abnormal expression on his face. As it is though, all I can think about is getting away from him, because I don't know how to deal with any of this right now.
"I should…I need to…go to bed," I stutter, my thoughts so mixed up that I can barely form coherent words.
I start to get up from the couch, but Cloud suddenly grabs my forearm before I can move away. It's not forceful, but it's enough to cause me to look back at him.
"Tifa, wait," he says quickly.
The earnest look in his eyes convinces me not to leave, and as I settle back into the couch he releases my arm, almost seeming embarrassed that he reached out to stop me like that.
He glances away from me finally, looking ashamed as he stares down at where his hands are folded in his lap. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "That was out of line."
"It's alright," I say, though my voice is barely a whisper. "I'm just…scared, Cloud," I tell him honestly.
He looks back up at me, searching my eyes, and I wonder briefly what he sees there. 'Scared' doesn't even begin to cover the way I'm feeling right now; I'm absolutely terrified. I can tell by the look in his eyes now that he did mean what he said to me before, and I know that depending on my reaction, this one moment could make or break our entire relationship. His kiss and his words have suddenly dredged up feelings inside of me that I've been holding back for a long time, and I want to tell him that I feel the same way, that I've felt that way for years. The fear of getting hurt or losing him glues my mouth shut though, because the very thought of that nearly brings tears to my eyes. I can't lose him now, I need him; our family needs him.
"What are you afraid of?" he asks after studying me for a long, silent moment.
"I don't want to lose you," I say quietly.
To my surprise, Cloud smiles then; an easy, genuine smile that lights up his eyes. "I'm not going anywhere," he promises.
It's then, as I'm watching him smile at me, that I know I don't have to be afraid of our relationship changing. I'm not going to lose his friendship, I'm just gaining so much more. There's a risk that one or even both of us could end up getting hurt because of this, I know that, but after all that we've been through together, I don't think there's anything in the world that could possibly tear us apart now.
A smile forms on my lips even before I give it permission to, but instead of giving him a verbal answer just yet, I lean forward boldly and crawl into his lap so I'm sitting directly in front of him; putting my hands behind his head and bringing him down to rejoin his lips with mine. He responds to me easily, but I pull back only a second later, because I know that even though my actions are probably enough to tell him how I feel, he still needs to hear the words just as much as I did.
"I love you too, Cloud. I always have," I tell him earnestly.
Even though I've been keeping these feelings inside for such a long time, I find that the words pass from my lips easily, and they make my insides tingle with joy. I lean my forehead against his, watching his eyes close as a grin spreads across his lips, which doesn't fade even when I lean in to kiss him another time. It's an easy, natural thing to be with him like this, and it reassures me that the changes this moment tonight has caused are the right ones, because I know this is where I was meant to be.
(A/N) I forgot to warn about the fluff (or sugar, as I like to call it) overload at the end. XD And I think that may have been the most detailed, drawn out kissing scene that I've ever written. O__O I struggled quite a bit with exactly how I wanted to write this, but I'm rather happy with how it turned out. :3 I may end up writing semi-sequels to some of my oneshots, but I won't ever actually be adding on to this story, because it's complete in my eyes. ;)
I hope I got bother of their personalities down well enough that it seemed like a believable way for them to end up together. O.o I debated for a long time on whether or not I was going to have Cloud actually say that he loved her in words, but for some reason whenever I imagine the turning point of their relationship that kicks them into a real couple, I can't get around seeing him blurt that out in some way or another. I think Tifa might need to hear it too, or else she'd be wondering why he was randomly kissing her… Bah, enough of my rambling. :P
No matter how many stories I write I never get tired of hearing from my reviewers, whether it's compliments or constructive criticism, so don't be shy. ;)