A/N: To my regular readers: This is not a new prompt! I was rearranging and removing some prompts, and when I added them back in earlier, it sent out an email notification that there were new prompts.
I have cut this prompt table down to thirty prompts. I may still write more stories about these characters in the future, but I'll post them separately. Right now, I just feel like I'm forcing myself to write them because I signed up for a large prompt table, and it's not helping my writing at all. So this set of one-shots is going to stop at thirty. :) I'm sorry for the abruptness of this, but I've been contemplating it for a while. And I'm SO sorry for any confusion at the email notifications. This website doesn't give me the option of disabling sending out emails, which is annoying when I was trying to revamp things in the story file.
Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read and review. I can't tell you how encouraging it was and how much I've appreciated it.
It started with a touch of hands.
Tifa didn't realize it for many years. It just seemed such a small thing at the time. She was seven years old, happily skipping rope while her mother worked on weeding the flowers planted in front of their house.
Cloud was outside, sitting in front of his house, holding a muffin in his hand and continually peeking over at her. Every time Tifa looked back at him, he averted his eyes and picked at his muffin. He was always around, Cloud Strife, but he always seemed so far away.
The other kids all said he was a freak, and Tifa's father had said he was an odd kid. "Might be due to not having the influence of a father," he'd said gruffly on more than one occasion.
Tifa just thought he looked lonely. On this morning, his hunched shoulders and the way he was slowly eating his muffin just seemed so sad to her. Acting on impulse, she skipped rope over to him and smiled brightly. "Hi."
Cloud fidgeted and looked down at his lap. His voice was so quiet when he mumbled back, "Hi."
"Do you want to come skip rope with me? It's really fun."
Cloud's blue eyes flashed up to hers in astonishment. Tifa held her jump rope out to him, nodding encouragingly.
Cloud stopped stuttering and now looked confused, as though he was wondering why she would possibly be pleading with him. He nodded slowly and ate the last bite of his muffin, standing and dusting his hands on his pants. He hesitantly took the jump rope that Tifa was dangling in front of his face, staring down at it.
"Go ahead," Tifa urged.
Cloud awkwardly grasped the handles of the jump rope, but it was obvious to Tifa that he had no idea what to do next.
"It's really easy. Well, sometimes it's hard to start, but once you practice it gets better. Here, I'll show you." She readjusted his hands a bit and flipped the rope over his head so it was lying behind him. "Now swing it up and this way…both hands at the same time," she instructed, and clapped when he brought the rope back over his head and successfully leapt over it. "See? Now you just do it over and over again."
It took some work, but Tifa stood at the side and cheered Cloud on as he slowly grasped the magical art of skipping rope.
The image of the happy smile on his face when he handed the jump rope back to her was forever engraved in her memory.
It left off with a touch of lips to his cheek.
Tifa didn't know what made her do it, except that part of her heart seemed to be walking off with Cloud. He was leaving Nibelheim with nothing more than an old, faded rucksack slung over his shoulder. He was going to the goodbyes and tears of his mother, and Tifa didn't want him to leave with just that.
She wondered why she cared so much, when all she had of Cloud were a few memories of times he had let her in, had joined her in her playing. A few memories of small, shy smiles and always, always glances her way. Maybe it was those few memories and those constant glances. Maybe even then a part of her recognized how precious they were. Maybe that was why she had made him promise to be her hero--because part of her recognized that there was so much more to him than the other townsfolk had ever bothered to see.
So she pressed her lips to his cheek as he prepared to depart Nibelheim and smiled a little as his cheeks reddened. She whispered in his ear, "Don't forget me."
Cloud took a few steps forward and then glanced briefly over his shoulder. "I would never forget you."
She barely knew him, this boy who had been her neighbor all her life. So why did she feel so empty at the sight of his back as he disappeared through the gate?
It was found again with a worried hand on his shoulder.
Out of all the people Tifa had expected she might run into at the train station, Cloud was at the bottom of the list. She had thought about what it might be like if she ran into him again, but as the months and years passed, she hadn't really known if she would ever find him.
He was a mess. If his stupor and initial incoherent babbling hadn't been enough, the obvious way he pulled himself out of the strange, dazed state he was in would have told her something was terribly amiss.
It became more obvious the longer she was around him. Tifa would have attributed his changes to their years apart and his time in SOLDIER, but it seemed more than that. She reminded herself that she couldn't really know, could she? She hadn't known him that well. Not really.
Maybe it was instinct that told her it was wrong. Maybe it was some memory. Maybe it was just sheer hope that there was more to the Cloud she remembered than this, than the man that was now in front of her.
Whatever the case, she knew that she would stick by his side and figure it out. She cared far too much not to hold onto him.
It fell apart with his hug.
Cloud stopped her in the hallway before bed one night and pulled her into his arms, surprising her so much that it took her a moment to wrap her arms back around him. It was so very rare for Cloud to just come up to her and initiate touch like this, and Tifa hated that her first reaction was worry. She wanted to ask him what was wrong, but she also didn't want him to think that if he hugged her, she automatically assumed something was wrong.
Maybe she should have asked. Maybe she should have dug deeper and sat down and talked to him, but when he pulled away and disappeared into his office, she let him.
The next morning he was gone, and he didn't come back that day. Or the next, or the next, or the next. There were no phone calls from him, no messages to tell Tifa that he was fine. He was just gone. There was part of her that was sure he would come back. She knew how hard he had been searching for a cure for Denzel, and he had left his medical books marked on the desk. Yet there was a part of her that was terrified he wouldn't.
Why wouldn't he just answer the phone? Didn't he know how much they needed him? How much she needed him? Didn't he know that she would always be there to work things through with him, if he would only let her?
She scrubbed down the bar counter for the third time, even though it was absolutely spotless and shining in the dim ceiling lights. Her mind was filled with memories of jumping ropes and a young boy leaving home, of flashing swords and blood, of smiles and laughter and gentle teasing, of a friend and protector. Of someone she loved with every part of her being and who was missing from her life.
It started with a touch of hands.
Tifa held her arm out toward Cloud as he waded to the side of the pool in the church, dripping wet and that beautiful, small smile still on his face.
Cloud grasped her hand and she helped tug him out of the water. They kept hold of each other even when he was out, eyes locked and searching. She saw it in his eyes, then, that glimmer and peace, recognizing the same smile that had been on his face so very long ago when she had convinced him to skip rope with her.
It was in that moment that she was positive that everything was going to be all right. They had reached a turning point, a new beginning, and suddenly the future seemed more open than it ever had before. She wasn't naïve enough to think they had forever, but she somehow knew that they were going to take every day they were given and they were going to live.