A/N: This is a collaboration between myself, MirrorShine and my good friend RedFriaga. This is our first story we've written between ourselves and we've both planned it out so one week I'll write a chapter the next time it'll be Red.

This is an AU before anyone asks any dumb questions and it is based on the fact that the Nibelheim incident never happened and Cloud did make it into Soldier. So yes Zack will be in it...

Anyways we hope you like this first chapter, it's basically explaining Tifa's predicament.


Chapter One:

Outwards and Onwards

The crisp paper was still rolled up in her hands, disbelief still set in her mind. She glanced at the newspaper once more before tossing it to the side onto the coffee table set in the middle of the lounge. Tifa Lockheart turned to her father who strolled out of the kitchen, two mugs of tea in both of his hands, he past the first to his daughter before settling himself down in the leather bound chair that he had claimed his own. The twenty year old watched her father with amusement as he lent forward to grasp the thrown paper and bring it to himself.

She wanted nothing more than to see his facial expression as soon as his eyes landed on the front page. Mr Lockheart turned to his daughter and watched as she scrutinized his face with her dark eyes. "Tifa?" He muttered, beginning to feel unnerved by his normally pleasant daughter's stare. She hummed in reply, still watching his every movement. "Do you mind?" He asked, shaking the paper in his hand as if to send her in the other direction.

Tifa sighed and turned on her heel and headed out of the lounge, she paused once more hoping to at least see his reaction, only for him to start from the back of the paper instead of the front. She grumbled to herself and caught his attention before leaving her father to peace.

Earlier that day, she'd walked though the cold morning air to try an escape her home, albeit for ten minutes. She'd never felt so trapped in her own hometown more than anything and wanted nothing more for someone to open the cage and let her fly free. But as everyday went by and she contemplated her plans further, her future felt like it was slipping through her fingers. Was she doomed to forever be Nibelheim's local tour guide? The idea of taking tourists up through the mountains along the safest routes and away from the mako reactor had once been incredibly appealing back when she finished school. But now that reality had struck, it was rare if any tourists came by.

In the end it was either continue with this dead end 'job' and live with her father long enough until she actually has some gil to afford her own home in Nibelheim or, leave this backwater village and head to the city, like the Gold Saucer or Midgar.

And today's news had opened the door to that plan further. To leave Nibelheim and go to Midgar and then create her own life and not live in her father, the mayor of Nibelheim's shadow.

She was standing outside in the porch, the wooden door closed firmly behind her. Tifa wrapped her arms across her chest and shuddered against the cold. The sun was higher in the sky, but it offered no warmth. She stared at the street and there was nothing, no cars being sent her way with travellers with hopes of climbing Mt Nibel. She waved at the young woman who crossed the road walking her dog and offered a smile. She felt childish in saying this place was just so boring.

The door of the house next door opened and she turned to face Mrs Strife who was carefully placing two empty milk bottles outside. "Good morning Mrs Strife." Tifa called, waving at the blonde haired woman. The older woman turned to see who spoke and offered Tifa a heart filled smile.

Tifa always felt sorry for the woman. She was seen as an outcast in this village, but she had the strength to remain in the village and not allow people to bully her out. To live completely alone must hurt sometimes, Tifa figured. But at the moment she'd give anything for it. "Have you seen the news?" Mrs Strife asked a beaming smile spread across her face. The brunette nodded enthusiastically and stepped towards the woman and leant on the fence to face her.

"It's great news." Tifa replied and watched as the woman's eyes clouded over and noted the pride in her face. "You must be very proud of him." Tifa added.

Mrs Strife snapped out of her daydream and turned to face her neighbour. "Yes I am." She answered, pulling her shawl closer round her shoulders. "I think I'm going to go back inside now, nice to see you Tifa."

The brunette watched the older woman disappear inside and heard the door shut with a click. Tifa had gone walking that morning and stopped at the little shop in Nibelheim when she was sure she'd been met with a face she recognised. She paid for the paper and brought it home instantly.

To see the shy young boy who used to live next door to hers face plastered across the leading newspaper and many others had sent shivers of surprise down her spine. Yet he was no longer that sixteen year old who had told no one else besides her and his mother of course that he was leaving for Midgar to become a Soldier. He was a young man now, his long blond hair that had been bound had been cut but his unruly golden spikes still remained. She stared at his eerie glow of his once azure eyes and his pale face and wondered if he still was the same person when he left.

She'd been so transfixed with his picture she couldn't remember the story any longer, she was sure it was about saving some people but all she could remember was the cold stare of his eyes that had felt like they could bore through to her soul. It must have been a shock for Mrs Strife to see what her son had become. Tifa was sure she must have known he was now a Soldier First Class, but the rest of the town hadn't.

Tifa hadn't heard from the boy next door in five years, not that she expected to. He'd always been withdrawn and an outcast like his mother and he too didn't seem too fazed by it. But being alone for so long must have taken its toll. But there he was, his photo plastered across newspapers causing a shock for the whole little town, that the local outsider was and is a Soldier First Class and had been hailed a hero back in Midgar.

Now after so long, Tifa wanted nothing more than to travel to Midgar and see what this teenage had become. Maybe Cloud Strife had just opened the door to her cage without realising. He had saved those people's lives and maybe he had just saved hers as well.

She'd told her father the idea of starting her own bar in Nibelheim, so any travellers can stop by with somewhere to stay. But he had laughed and said not only that there was already a tavern in the little town, but the idea of his daughter being a landlady to a bar seemed unfitting. At first Tifa wondered whether her father thought she couldn't handle herself she'd laughed at the thought after all, she was the town's only 'soldier' seeing she had been trained in martial arts. So if there were any monsters that had gotten too cocksure and decided to venture into their small town, she'd quickly send them packing back to where they belonged. Wonder

She'd guessed that was the only time she could break free of the town's hold on her. Some days she'd purposely go strolling up the mountains more dangerous parts in search of monsters where she could pummel her fury out on.

But now, she'd decided she could go to Midgar and start her own bar, if anyone got to frisky she could send them packing as well. It was a perfect plan, take only what she needed, catch the next main coach that was heading that way and set up her own business.

Tifa smiled at the thought and stood up from leaning on the fence. She wanted to throw open the door and rush upstairs and pack her things and wait for the coach to come. If only it was that simple. She mused. Why hadn't she followed Cloud? He knew what he was doing; he must have been planning his moment of escape all his life. Why hadn't he involved her?

Maybe he didn't want her with him?

But five years ago, she'd been comfortable with living in this town for the rest of her life, the idea of travelling never occurred to her. At first she didn't understand why Cloud left, but after speaking to his mother a few years back she had told her he said he had to go, to prove himself to everyone. That he wasn't a scrawny boy who was always up to no good and was a burden to his mother.

Tifa smacked her head and rubbed her temples feeling a headache start to come. She was thinking far too much.

Maybe she should get in touch with Cloud? See if he has a place for her to stay while she started up. Well, she was sure he would have a place for her to stay, seeing the amount of money Soldiers make, especially First Class.

She shook her head, her long brown hair tossing around her. She reached for the band around her wrist and tied the ends together like she always would do. She couldn't do that, Cloud was dense if she remembered but he wasn't stupid enough to realise that all of a sudden she wanted to see him because he'd been in the newspapers.

With the idea brimming furiously in her mind she turned on her heel and stormed inside.

Her father was still sat in his leather bound chair and was currently staring at the front page, he looked up to Tifa his eyebrows furrowed in confusion and then back at the front page. "Did you know he was in Soldier?" He asked quickly, his eyes scanning the right up.

Tifa paused careful in what to say. Twelve years ago her mother had died and it had been a painful blow to both her and her father. Somehow she allowed herself to believe her mother's spirit had passed through the mountains and if she climbed up them she'd see her beloved mother once more. Every time she remembered herself believing that she scolded herself ignoring the fact that she had been eight years old at the time, but her father hadn't been there for her and he was locked up inside of himself as well. Looking back she figured you'll allow yourself to believe anything when a loved one had passed on and you wanted nothing more but to see them one more time.

She'd climbed the mountain with her three closest friends in toe; eventually each one fell back and returned home the idea becoming much more terrifying with every tiny step they took. The thought of being alone hadn't frightened her; she just needed to see her mother and that was all that mattered. Then along a rope bridge she'd missed her footing and she heard Cloud cry her name, she hadn't realised he'd been following but he ran at such speed towards her she didn't think it was possible for a nine year old, but in the end they both fell into the gorge.

Cloud had survived with nothing more than scraped knees, whilst herself suffered from concussion and was in a coma for a week. Her father had held Cloud responsible for the incident and since that day on, her father never had a good word to say about the blond boy. He ordered him to stay away from her and Cloud did.

Tifa had never been overly hurt that Cloud had become distant, she'd never been that close to begin with. But she was the one person in the town who didn't tease him or call him names or say horrible things about his mother. She hoped deep down that Cloud was grateful for that.

That was why Cloud would forever be a tender subject when her father was concerned.

"I'm not here to talk about that, father." She answered quickly. She saw the flicker of a pleased smile cross his face, before he returned the paper back to the coffee table where Tifa had thrown it earlier. "I've decided now I'm old enough, I need to see the world." She said quickly.

Mr Lockheart laughed. Tifa looked up at him and into his own dark eyes she frowned at him in disbelief that he would laugh at his own daughter's plans. "Trust me Tifa, there is nothing out there." He answered, wiping his smirk off of his face. "This is quite possibly the best place on the planet to be; of course Costa del Sol is not that bad..." He began. Tifa rolled her eyes when he began to digress.

"I want to go to Midgar and see what it's like for myself; I want to start my own life!" She cried quickly, cutting her father mid-sentence.

"Of all the places on this planet, you want to go to Midgar, have you not heard its reputation?" He asked quickly. Tifa saw the seriousness on his face as he watched her.

"Yes." She lied. She hadn't heard of its reputation, it's just a large city that's all; there can't be anything that wrong with it. Everywhere has its own faults.

Mr Lockheart shook his head and relaxed into his chair. "I can't stop you, but as soon as you get there you'll be wishing you listened to me and you'll come crawling back." He muttered matter-of-factly.

To Tifa that was still a 'Yes you can go', she didn't need to hear anything else. She smiled at him and reached forwards bringing him into a tight hug. "What would I do without you?!" She cried happily.

"Exactly." She heard him mutter, returning to his tea and newspaper. Tifa turned and rushed upstairs eagerly wanting to pack what she needed. She was sure her father wasn't guessing that she would leave today, but it wasn't like she going to be gone forever was it? She could come back when she wanted.

She glanced out of the window and paused, facing her window had been Clouds. She could remember waking up in the morning and getting ready for school and he'd be there getting ready too and she'd wave to him and he'd simply smile slightly.

The other girls who lived in Nibelheim liked to make it public knowledge that Cloud Strife had a crush on his next door neighbour. His life must have really been hell here.

She stared at her suitcase, she'd packed what clothes she would need, some bare essentials and that was practically it, she knew she couldn't go round lugging all of her belongings with her. She stared round her room and at the cream walls that she had painted herself, trying to rid of the girlish yellow she had grown up with. She smiled at her half hearted job where she could still see patches if yellow which she had hidden behind her wardrobe and posters or whatever she could find.

"You're going already?" She heard her father say. She turned and he was standing in the doorway.

"The coach leaves at noon." She muttered, looking round for a clock. She knew when it left by heart now and she knew it will take a long time to get there. The coach only came once a week and if she missed it she would have to wait another week and she knew she would die of impatience. Tifa turned once more to her father and he was casting a questioning glare over at her. "You have to let me do this, I can't rely on you all my life, and I need to start my own."

She watched him shrug and she embraced him one final time. "I'll call you when I get there!" She smiled shaking her phone in her hand at him.

With her bag in hand she headed out of the house her father behind her.

"Are you heading out Tifa?" Tifa looked up and was met with Mrs Strife's face again. The woman was standing in her own porch leaning on a pitchfork obviously ready to start gardening again; Tifa guessed it had to be Mrs Strife's favourite pass time seeing she was out in her front garden most days. Tifa nodded to her and turned to see if her father was directly behind her.

"If you see Cloud, ask him to drop by, won't you?" The older woman asked. Tifa frowned in confusion, wondering how the blonde woman could possible know Tifa was heading to Midgar.

"I will." Tifa replied, not wanting to argue the point further. "I'll see you soon." Tifa smiled, looking over her shoulder once more.

The coach lurched forwards and Tifa turned to look out of the window. She waved enthusiastically at her father and somehow the news had spread quickly across the town as she watched her friends' wave back. She knew there would be a few things she'd miss about Nibelheim and she knew tomorrow she might be wishing she hadn't left. But, this was something she knew she had to do.

Her father and friends were soon out of view and she relaxed into the worn chair. She could feel guilt beginning to well up inside of her, for leaving her father alone. She hoped he could cope and she'd ring him every few days and promise each time to come and see him. He'd told her to be careful and she promised that as well.

Tifa stared round the coach, it's main occupants were all sleeping, they too obviously weren't looking forward to the long trip ahead of them. There was a stale smell inside that crawled down her throat and attacked her lungs and she reached up for the window and forced it open.

The air rushed through and played through her hair and she smiled as she sat back down.

She pushed her suitcase to her side making sure it couldn't be stolen if she did fall asleep and returned to watching the countryside pass her by. Wishing she was already in Midgar.