Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy 7.

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"I really like Cloud."

"Really?"

"He reminds me a little of my ex-boyfriend."

"What happened to him?"

"He went off on a mission five years ago, and I haven't seen him since."

"Is he … dead?"

"I'm not sure. I thought I felt him enter the Lifestream, but he's not there now. There's been no news of him, so I've moved on."

"…"

"How about you, Tifa? Don't you like Cloud?"

"Cloud and I are childhood friends, nothing more…"

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In Kalm, she had finally gotten the story out of Cloud, what he had been up to since the time he left Nibelheim. Instead of clarifying things however, Cloud had thoroughly confused her with his version of events in Nibelheim. He hadn't been there, but he knew things that only an eyewitness like her would know and even a few more that she didn't. She couldn't really remember much from that night, other than raging fires and Sephiroth, but she had been pretty certain that Cloud hadn't been there.

Cloud. He was such a stranger now. Of course, it had been 7 years since she last saw him and people were bound to change. He was a piece of her past with Nibelheim, her hometown and the only person she knew from that town who was in the world of the living still. He was the only one who remembered the Nibelheim winters, the old water tower, the muggy summer nights. Somehow, that was inexplicably precious to her.

She thought she had liked Cloud, had been sure that Cloud liked her back, a little. But she could see that he loved Aerith. Loved her (how could you not?). Even she loved her. She was so kind, so sweet, so fearless. Especially in matters of the heart. Tifa admired Aerith for her guts. It's was not like Tifa had ever backed down from a fight but for some reason when it came to expressing her feelings to Cloud, she turned and ran every time. Aerith had that inch of courage to really make things clear and even if she didn't, Cloud would have fallen in love with her anyway. She's just that sort of person that you liked to be around with.

She saw how he interacted with Aerith, the girl's smile managing to bring out an answering echo of Cloud's own.

They had split up into two groups, Cloud choosing Aerith and Tifa in his party, and Barret and Red XIII going off on their own to meet them although how they were going to cross the marshes themselves with the Midgar Zolom was a mystery. Tifa supposed that Red XIII could keep up with a chocobo through the marshes. She really couldn't see him riding one behind Barret. In the meantime, they had to catch their own chocobo and with the Chocobo Lure material glinting in her bracelet, they had come across one with its accompanying group of monsters. They were attempting to capture the bird by killing off the monsters before it finished eating the Greens but as Tifa lunged forward to deal her devastating kicks and punches she accidentally brushed against the flank of the chocobo. The bird warked angrily and with lightning speed launched a volley of pecks at Tifa. Tifa could only block the blows with her arms, wincing in pain as the strong beak jabbed at her. She looked up to see the bird sprinting away into the distance just as Cloud finished off the last monster and sighed. "I thought the Chocobo Lure Materia was supposed to make me lucky!" She fumed.

"Are you alright, Teef?" Cloud came over to her. Tifa looked up from her examination of the damage and grimaced. "Bruises mostly. But the stupid bird cracked the "Time" materia. And I was so close to levelling it up too." Cloud leaned forward to assess the damage. Sure enough, there was a crack running through the clear green materia, almost splitting it into two.

"Damn. That must've been a really hard blow. Think we'll have to junk it."

"There's no way we can save it?"

"Nah. Damaged materia can't be fixed. It behaves erratically or not at all and it might even blow up on you." Cloud shrugged. "It's just not worth it."

Tifa contemplated the green sphere in the materia slot of her Mithril Knuckle. It made sense, to get rid of something that was useless. It was useless to hold onto to something just because it hadn't been able to achieve its potential, like giving up on broken dreams. The green crystal was already losing its glow. She shifted her gaze up to Cloud's back as he walked back to Aerith, the last Ancient, and for a moment, felt a little bit of something like despair. She liked Cloud, especially since she had found him at the train station a year ago. She had been confused about his story and her feelings and had opted to wait to try and make sense of them. However, Aerith had appeared with her green eyes, sweet face and gentle, cheerful voice and Cloud seemed sweet on her and she, Tifa, was too late.

Maybe I ought to take up his advice on more than one level; she mused, and abandon her crush on Cloud. Aerith was a nice person and they did look good together. She half wished Cloud hadn't chosen her to be part of his group. She felt like such a third wheel.

She stretched upwards to the sky, straightening out the kinks in her back. Turning around, her call for them to wait up turned into a yell, "Watch out! Behind you!"

Three Mus had snuck up behind Cloud and Aerith and while the little ground rodents didn't usually do much damage, they had a very sneaky attack called L4 Suicide. Aerith had been hit by it during a couple of encounters before and had a very bad reaction to it and was that the fuse snaking out towards Aerith? Cloud and Aerith were just turning around at the sound of her voice and Cloud was already reacting to the threat. Tifa knew that she couldn't cover the distance in time; she'd have to cast a spell, even though she wasn't very good at controlling the spells yet. . .

Tifa's magic flowed to the materia in her gloves as she summoned All-Bolt, putting all her power behind that elementary spell. That surge in power caused the cracked Time materia to glow brightly as well.

The lightning bolt killed all three Mus.

And, with a small pop and a sudden displacement of air, Tifa Lockheart disappeared right before Cloud's and Aerith's horrified eyes.

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A/N : This is something I wrote last year (checks date), June 2008, after playing the original FF7 and CC. Finally, sharing to FF . net.

Hope you enjoy it.