A Final Fantasy VII fanfiction
Written by Eliza Moonchild
The sun had finally set over the darkened, emergent town of Edge. Shadows had pulled themselves from their hiding places and cloaked everyone and everything in their depressing colors. Lights suddenly filled the windows of the recently built apartment buildings as if following an inaudible rhythm. Parents, although exhausted from today's work, tucked their children into their cozy beds and prepared for a night of peace and quiet. The elderly did the same as they watched the setting sun from their windows, gazing upon the remains of broken buildings and condemned roads that led to memories of a time when the city was whole. They spoke to no one in particular of a different time in their grand city of Midgar. The time before the Man in the Black Cape. Before the Three Men in Black. Before the attack from DEEPGROUND and that last battle with Omega.
There was barely a hush in Edge as the younger generation emerged from their houses, fresh from their showers. With the clouds of perfume and body sprays, they left their homes; dressed down to their feet in their finest clothes. The work they had to endure was harsh by their standards but payday was always considered a holiday as they rushed home afterwards to get ready for their nighttime outing with friends and lovers. The shades of night began to convert into deeper hues as the street lamps clicked on, lighting the streets that led to the few established night clubs and bars in the city. Among the crowd of bustling young couples and single people looking for a good time, there was the nightshift crowd. They moved against the tide, wading through the noise of the hustle and bustle, feeling slight contempt for the freedom the swarm was allow to feel as they made their way to a long and arduous night.
The crowd made a steady stream, passing in front of the doors of the Seventh Heaven bar. The lights from inside gleamed through the clean windows, casting a lovely shade upon one side of the passing people. People made a passing glance towards the establishment, their eyes asking the question their minds already knew the answer to. The Seventh Heaven was closed for the night. The sign in the front door window had confirmed it as the big red letters spelled out, "Sorry. We are closed." The people of Edge were used to this particular bar being open until dusk. But, recently, the owner had decided to close the bar early.
On this particular night, three customers remained in the Seventh Heaven. They all sat at the bar, two together with the last one sitting at the other end. One man sitting at the bar was in his early years, but those years were brimmed with hardship according to the lines engraved in his face. His clothes were dirty from his daily toil at the construction sites and he looked like a man who spent most of his evenings under the dull lights of a saloon.
His friend, sitting on the stool next to him, looked much younger but was evidently older in age. His clothes were dirty as well, but his overall appearance seemed superior to his waif of a friend.
"I can't believe she kicked me out," mumbled the young man with the lines in his face. He threw back the liquor in his shot glass as if trying to swallow his bitterness in one gulp. He had been working on the same emerald colored bottle all evening. It was to the point where he no longer winced when the liquid slid down his gullet and seared the inside of his stomach.
He friend had stopped drinking after the first shot almost two hours ago. Now, as alert and sober as he was, he was growing weary of the role as the supportive friend.
"She always kicks you out," he responded. "Just give her a day, Gard. She'll take you back-!"
"No, she won't!"
The other customer at the end of the bar got up from his stool and put on his jacket. Leaving a tip next to his empty beer glass, he hurriedly left the bar; having had his fill of the emotional young man's blubbering.
"You should've heard what she said to me, Bex." The one named "Gard" poured himself another shot and gulped it down. "It was horrible. I've never heard her say those things before." He choked back a sob. "It's over. We're done."
Bex heaved a great sigh.
"You can stay over at my place tonight, bud. Sleep off the shots."
"She'll have changed the locks by then," Gard cried, sullenly. The heavy scent of alcohol snaked from his lips, surrounding him in a cloud of inebriation. "She hates me. She hates me! I screwed up big time! I wouldn't blame her if she packed all my stuff and put it on the front doorstep!"
He buried his shaggy head in his soiled arms and sobbed.
"Jesus, will you get a hold of yourself, Gard?" Bex shook the young man's shoulder. "Tifa's going to kick us out and ban us for life-!"
Just then, a slender and gentle hand slid the bill from behind the bar.
"I wouldn't ban you two for showing a little emotion," came a soft and sympathetic voice. "Besides, you're the only ones here."
Bex turned his gaze from the pricey bill to the stunning sienna colored eyes of the infamous Tifa Lockhart.
"Oh, okay." He blushed as he took the bill from her. "Thanks, Tifa."
"Gard," she gently called out while taking the liquor bottle from his grip. "It's closing time. You have to go home now."
"I got this." Bex dropped the amount of the bill on the hard surface of the bar. "Yo, Gard! Let's go, man. They're closing the bar."
Gard was motionless.
Bex tried again, giving his shoulder a hard shake.
"Come on, man! We have to go. You can stay at my house tonight."
Again, there no answer except for the slight sound of intoxicated snoring that crept from under Gard's folded arms. With a disconcerted groan, Bex looked apologetically at the barkeeper.
"Sorry, Tifa. I think he really did a number on himself this time." He slung one of Gard's floppy, lifeless arms across his shoulder. "Hopefully, this won't happen next week."
"It's alright if it does," she reassured him with a malleable smile.
Bex looked at her and chuckled, amazed at how warm and accommodating she could be.
"I hope Cloud sees how great you are," he said while balancing his cataleptic friend on his sturdy shoulders.
"Oh, he does." She punched her other hand. "I make sure he does."
Bex laughed, gripping Gard's waist as he turned away from the bar.
"Thanks for the drinks, Tifa," he said as she walked out from behind the counter and walked him to the door.
"It was my pleasure." She opened the door. "Tell Gard I hope everything works out for him."
"And be careful walking home. You don't want to drop him."
"I won't." He shifted Gard, tightening his grip around his waist and arm.
"And good night," she finished softly.
She tilted her head slightly to the left, the same way she always did when she bid a customer goodnight. She relaxed her shoulders, allowing her shapely frame to lean forward in a provocative manner. He looked once more at the gorgeous bartender, engraving her image into his brain before dragging his comatose friend back to his place four blocks away.
"Good night, Tifa."
As he headed out the door and down the front steps, he shifted his friend for better leverage and stopped.
"Oh! Uh… I just wanted to tell you something."
"Yes?" Her hooped earrings glistened under the florescent lights of the street, adding to the exquisiteness of her facial structure.
"I'm not a religious man," Bex said. "But, I'll be sure to light a candle and say a prayer for your missing friend."
Tifa's smiling faded, instantly. She lowered her eyes to the darkened floor of the front porch. But, it was only a brief moment of weakness for her smile quickly returned and her eyes sparkled in the nighttime.
"Thank you," she nodded at his simple act of kindness. "That's very thoughtful of you."
"Sure, it's no big deal." He cleared his throat, hoping he made some sort of impression on her. "Well, see you later."
And with that, Bex turned and walked into the dark; homeward bound with his plastered friend on his shoulder.
Tifa locked the front door, giving the handle a hard jerk to make sure it was secured for the night. Once she was positive it was locked, she leaned against the door and released a tired sigh. It had been a very long day for everyone, especially for her. Not only did her establishment receive an endless supply of hungry customers for the entire day, but her cell phone did not ring once.
When will they find him, she asked herself sorrowfully as she clutched the phone clipped to her hip. How much longer will it be?
She was beginning to lose track of the days. It had been three weeks since that fateful battle and all that remained of that day was the empty shell of Omega floating among the heavens; a taunting reminder of their missing comrade. People in the street have grown so accustomed to the ghostly figure that they no longer paid any attention to it, going about their business as if peace was a familiar commodity.
But, to AVALANCHE, the fight was not yet won.
Vincent Valentine was still missing.
Over these past few weeks, Barrett Wallace and Cloud Strife scoured the earth while Cid Highwind took to the skies. As frustrating as it was to find neither hint nor claw of their friend, it was even more frustrating to sit at home and wait for an answer. For three weeks, the occupants of Seventh Heaven waited. They waited silently and quietly like weathered rocks on the frothy shores of the western ocean. They would do their daily routines wearing masks of gaiety while their true expressions were wrought with worry and despair.
Meanwhile, the people of Edge had already given him up for dead. In the cloistered circles of the tavern from open to close, customers spoke of how impossible it was to survive a battle as fierce as that. They whispered of how an attack as devastating as the one he had dealt would turn a man into dust. They spoke in hushed volumes of how brave he was to sacrifice his life for the planet.
Tifa would listen to their conversations and fight back the tears. To these people, he was just another fallen hero; a name to be immortalized in history books. But to Tifa and to the rest of AVALANCHE, he was more than a battle companion; he was a member of the family. To all of them, he was out there somewhere; alive and well and waiting to be rescued.
Just hang on, Vincent. Tifa squeezed the cell phone one more time. Wherever you are, we're coming for you.
"The dishes are done, Miss Lockhart."
A timid voice came forward, almost startling Tifa. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she had forgotten about closing the bar. She looked at the woman she had hired one month ago and took a deep shaky breath.
"I also dried them off and put them away... Miss Lockhart, are you okay?"
Tifa realized she was still leaning against the front door, the wearisome fatigue breaking through her cheerful veneer. Straightening herself up and wiping the dark circles from her eyes, she smiled.
"I'm okay, Janelle." She approached the slightly stocky young woman and patted her shoulder. "It's just been a long day."
Janelle, who was petite despite her build, stared at her supervisor. Her large hazel eyes were child-like with innocence yet dull like a veteran soldier's. Even though Tifa was putting on a brave face for her staff and customers, Janelle knew of the trials she was going through. She had heard the news that the notorious Vincent Valentine had gone missing and the rumors that he was possibly dead.
Janelle, being as cautious as she was, took Tifa's word as truth and nodded.
"Okay," she said. "Did you want me to clean up the bar tonight? Or did you want me to bus the tables?"
"Neither." Tifa checked the clock on the wall and then her wristwatch. "Your shift ended five minutes ago. You can go home." As she said this, her shoulders slumped and her back ached as the thought of completing the nighttime chores alone entered her mind. "Thanks for all your help, Janelle. I'll see you tomorrow!"
But, Janelle did not move. Instead, she stayed where she stood and wrung her hands nervously.
"A-actually," she stammered, her mousy nature surfacing. "I... I would feel better if I could help you finish up."
Tifa looked at her, finding it difficult to turn down such a generous offer.
"Oh, Janelle. That's awfully generous of you but... you should get yourself home and rest up. It's been a busy day for you, too."
Janelle's eyes were dull to begin with, but somehow, they got duller as Tifa mentioned going home. Shaking her head, the bashful employee refused to hear such talk.
"There's no one waiting for me at home," she stated bleakly. "I want to help."
"But, I can't pay you for overtime," Tifa explained, her voice dragging from exhaustion. "If you stay, I'll be putting the whole business in jeopardy."
"Can... can a friend help another friend in her time of need?"
Tifa had to smile at Janelle's quiet intelligence. There were frequent times when her timidity was easily mistaken for idiocy. But, when she found the courage to open her mouth and speak, she proved to be quite an asset to the Seventh Heaven team.
Tifa sighed and nodded.
"A friend certainly can help another friend in their time of need," she acknowledged.
"Okay." Without saying another word on the subject, Janelle walked to the back room and fetched a broom and damp rag.
Tifa looked over the disarray of leftover dishes, water rings on table surfaces, spilt liquor from dripping bottles and the dirt on the floor. One of the downsides to closing the bar early was changing the schedule and arranging time to start the cleanup process. But, due to her personal issues and the temporary hour changes, it was difficult to clean around the constant surge of customers.
"Did I ever tell you how thankful I am that I hired you," Tifa asked happily while collecting the dirty dishes.
"Yes, Miss Lockhart," Janelle responded, focusing on her sweeping. "Almost every day."
Thanks to Janelle's quick thinking, the task would be completed much sooner than anticipated.
The very last shot glass was wiped down and placed on a neatly stacked pyramid in the middle of the countertop. The last of the dirty dishes were washing in the dishwashing machine, the chairs were positioned upside down on the tabletops and the floors sparkled under the dimmed lights. Smiling to herself, she noticed Janelle wiping her forehead with the back of her hand with the broom at her side.
"Janelle, this place looks great!"
"It was no trouble, Miss Lockhart." She lifted the broom and started for the back room. "Was there anything else you needed help with?"
"No, you've done so much already. Thank you."
Janelle headed to the back room with Tifa following behind her. Once the broom and the other cleaning supplies were returned to their designated spots, Tifa helped Janelle into her jacket and slipped her purse onto her shoulder.
"I can't express how grateful I am," Tifa began, escorting her to the backdoor that led through the garage. "I still feel bad about not being able to pay for your time-!"
"I wanted to help," Janelle reassured her, buttoning up her raggedy coat. "I know... I know what you're going through."
Tifa could see Janelle's attitude wilt and partook in her sadness. Very carefully, like taking an injured bird into her arms, she wrapped one arm around Janelle's shoulders and gently squeezed her.
"Thank you for being so understanding," Tifa said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes, Miss Lockhart-!"
The deep growl of a motorcycle engine suddenly turning down the alleyway cut her sentence short. The putter carried all the way to the back room where the two women stood as the garage door opened, amplifying the sound of the motor and shaking the ground beneath their feet. As if the noise from the muffler was Tifa's elixir, the weariness drained from her eyes.
"Oh," Janelle exclaimed. "Sounds like Mister Strife is back."
Arching her toes in anticipation, Tifa grinned.
"That trip to Junon was certainly a long one," she said cheerfully.
Suddenly, the engine was silenced; a dragon slain by the turn of a key. Cumbersome footsteps, the owner tired from a long day of deliveries, thumped against the concrete floor as they closed in on the door. Unable to wait for him to unlock the door, Tifa opened it; making instantaneous eye contact with the smoldering cerulean eyes of her lover. The thick scent of exhaust fumes carried the flaxen headed young man like a dream drifting on the summer winds. Feeling the intoxicating effects of the smile that appeared on his dusty face, Tifa's body felt like a flame in the breeze.
"Cloud! Welcome back-!"
Before she could finish, he curved one gloved hand around her hour glass shaped waist and pulled her into a passionate kiss that turned the back room into an oven. A slight moan was the only response she could muster as pressed her against his petrol scented body. Once his lips released her with a luscious smack, he looked into her glazed eyes and gave them a wink.
"Let's go upstairs," he suggested, running his finger along the flawless curve of her jawbone. "Let's get naked and let's make love until we both blackout."
"Uh, Cloud?" Tifa's voice trembled from the sweltering heat rising within her body. "Janelle's still here."
Cloud's pupils shrank in horror as he heard the sound of shuffling feet coming from behind the door. He spun around, finding Janelle trying to sneak out through the back door without being noticed. Cloud's face turned bright red with embarrassment.
"Shit! I'm sorry, Janelle!"
"No no no no no! It's okay." She was still trying to ease her way out of the door like a mouse sneaking past a sleeping cat. "I-I-I was just on m-my way home. Good night, Miss Lockhart. Good night, Mister Strife."
All of this was spoken within seconds as she rushed out the door without making eye contact and closed the door behind her.
Cloud stood silently, watching the door in hopes that Janelle would come back so that he could apologize properly.
"Shit," he said again, rubbing the back of his neck. "She's so damn quiet! I had no idea she was back here."
"I know." Tifa shared his mortification, her face turning into the same shade of red as his own.
"Damn. You think she'll quit?"
"I hope not!" After everything she had done for Tifa that night, she would have paid a ludicrous ransom to keep Janelle on her team. "But if she tries to, she's getting a raise!"
Cloud looked upon his woman and permitted a small laugh to burst through his lips. Before Tifa could ask him what it was that he found so hilarious, he took her by the hand and pulled her into a loving embrace. Nuzzling his dusty nose against her neck, he took in the refreshing scent of her flesh and sighed.
"God, I missed you so much today."
She could not help but blush again. Quivering from the sensation of his hot breath on her skin, she wrapped her arms around him and gave his tense body a tight squeeze.
"I missed you, too," she cooed at him, resting her head against his chest.
Then, there was silence. The couple stood in the poorly lit back room, the stimulating feeling of being trapped in a small room stirring their primal desires. Feeling the pressure of Tifa's ample breasts pushing against him, Cloud could feel all the blood in his body rushing to one familiar spot. At the same time, Tifa was becoming drunk with passion as she felt his strong hands tearing at her back and his lips sampling the taste of her collarbone.
"Oh, Cloud." She moaned into his ear, wishing the strap of her bra would undo itself. "This day has been... so awful."
"I know." He nibbled on her earlobe. "My day was pretty shitty, too."
"Do you... want to go upstairs?"
Cloud did not skip a beat. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. Tifa squealed with delight.
"What are you doing," she laughed. "Put me down, you brute!"
"I will, once we're upstairs in our room." He kicked open the door that led out into the bar.
"Hey!" She slapped his back in protest. "That's MY door you're damaging!"
Cloud paid very little attention to her complaint for he had other things on his mind. As he marched through the bar with his woman still slung over his shoulder like fresh kill, he began to envision what was about to happen between them and the bed sheets. With every image racing through his brain, his pace quickened until he was at the foot of the stairs; ready to scale the stairway like a mountaineer.
"Cloud," she called out to him. "Wait!"
It took much of his power to obey her command as he stopped in his tracks.
"Maybe you should put me down," she said. "If Yuffie wakes up, I don't want her to see us fooling around in the hallway."
Keeping her there over his shoulder, Cloud tightened his grip around her legs and groaned loudly.
"Yuffie is not going to wake up," he argued. "And even if she did, it's our place. If I want to carry you to bed this way, that should be our choice. Not hers."
"I know, Cloud. But-!" She began kicking her feet, trying to free herself from his barbaric grasp. "I don't feel comfortable being seen this way!"
"I've done this in front of Denzel plenty of times and it never bothered you before," he continued, struggling to keep her where she was. "Why does it suddenly bother you when it's Yuffie?"
"Because," she grunted, pushing against him. "She's our guest!"
Unable to fight her both verbally and physically any longer, he placed her down. He had learned the hard way throughout his relationship with Tifa that if he ever wanted to get his way, he would have to bend to her demands. And if he wanted to spend the night fulfilling his sexual appetites with his libidinous girlfriend, he would have to respect her wishes. It was either this or spend the night in the guest room again.
Shutting his eyes, Cloud sighed loudly and shrugged.
"Alright, if it makes you happy." He gestured toward the stairs. "But, can we hurry up and get to bed already? I'm about to pop!"
It would seem that the gods were against him that night for as soon as he had said that, a door opened. Footsteps echoed from the top of the stairs and soon, the silhouette of a young woman in her late teens appeared in the darkened hallway like a ghost.
"Hey, guys." The voice that lurked from the shadows was meek and frail. "Sorry if I'm disturbing anything. I couldn't sleep."
Yuffie floated down the stairs, pulling herself from the veiling darkness of the second floor to the revealing lights of the bar. Her eyes, which were once vibrant like polished sapphires, were now dark and lusterless. Her face was set like concrete; grey, cold and bleak. The pajamas she wore sagged on her thin body like an oversized shirt on an iron hanger. Shielding her eyes from the bright lights, she shuffled right past Tifa and Cloud as though they were figments of her own imagination.
"No, you're not disturbing anything," Tifa said gently while turning away from Cloud. "I hope we didn't wake you with our..." She looked at her lover the same way a criminal would look to their accomplice. "Roughhousing."
"Roughhousing, huh?" Yuffie repeated the claim with a dry laugh on her pale lips. "Well, don't mind me, you crazy lovebirds. I'm just going to make myself something to eat."
"That sounds great," Cloud said hastily, snatching Tifa's hand and pointing to the stairs. "Be sure to turn out the lights when you're done."
"Did you need me to cook something for you," Tifa asked, pulling against his grip. "Or maybe reheat some leftovers?"
"No," Yuffie refused, giving the couple a suspicious smile. "I wouldn't want to interrupt your sexual deviances." She opened the kitchen door an inch, just enough to slip her hand through and flick on the light switch. "Besides, Cloud's giving me the death stare."
Tifa glared back at Cloud, barely catching the sight of his menacing snarl.
"What?" His best defense was a shrug. "She's big enough to feed herself! And I'm... 'tired'!" He said the last word out of the corner of his mouth, eyeballing the stairwell that led to a night of bodily fulfillment. "We should really get to bed."
"I'll be fine," Yuffie waved at them, stepping into the kitchen. "I'll just grab one of my snacks and head on back to bed."
She disappeared from their view, leaving the kitchen door swinging in its hinges like a swaying reminder of her presence. Cloud looked at Tifa who stared at the door apprehensively, her sangria eyes widening with thoughts of paranoia. Tenderly squeezing her hand, he pulled her towards the stairs again.
"You heard her," he said, trying to comfort her. "She'll be fine. She's just going to get some snacks and then go back to bed. No need to worry."
"She's going to make a mess," Tifa responded, turning her head back to the kitchen. "She buried her snacks in the back of the cupboards and Janelle spent all night cleaning up the kitchen."
When she said this, Cloud already knew that the fiery passion that combusted between them in the back room was gone; smothered from the moment the young ninja walked down those stairs and vanished into the kitchen. Over the years, he came to understand that the kitchen was the center of Tifa's business and the most important room of the entire building. It was the place where delicious masterpieces were crafted and lovingly prepared. It could very easily be said that her fame not only came from the victory of Northern Crater, but from the kitchen as well.
So, instead of trying to persuade her into joining him in bed, Cloud released her.
"You should go and check on her," he said. "There's no telling what kind of mayhem she'll do to your kitchen."
"Well, I'm also worried about her," Tifa said, sensing the sadness in his voice. "She hasn't been eating as much as she should and she's been losing sleep, too."
"Yeah, she's beginning to look like a twig."
"It's because of this whole thing," she said forlornly, a deep frown carved into her soft white face. "With Vincent missing and no phone call from Cid or Barrett, it's been a little tense around here."
He took her into his arms and hugged her, resting his chin on top of her russet colored head. Everything that Tifa said was true. The team of AVALANCHE was becoming more anxious with every day that Vincent remained unfound. Yuffie was the one who seemed to be taking the situation the hardest lately. Over the course of three weeks, her boisterous laughter and her jolly smile faded into a worn facade. The weeks had created a crack in her positive nature, the hope of finding him alive bleeding out day by agonizing day.
"Make sure she eats something before going back to bed," Cloud said as Tifa gave him an indebted smile. "And don't let her cry by herself. She's been doing that a lot too."
"I'll take good care of her." Giving a small yet potent peck on the lips, she pulled herself out of his embrace and walked into the kitchen.
He stood alone in the bar. It had been a very long day and instead of ending it in the arms of his beloved, he found himself fighting off the aches of exhaustion. There would be no love making tonight. He would probably fall asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. A groan of frustration filled the bar as he ruffled his hair and climbed up the stairs.
"What do you feel like eating," Tifa asked, leaning against the kitchen island. "There's that chicken casserole from dinnertime. That was pretty popular with the customers."
"No thanks." Yuffie hoisted herself up onto the countertop and opened the cupboard. "I think I'm just going to grab something quick and call it a night."
"How about a sandwich?" She watched Yuffie pull out the spices and cooking oils, scraping her hand across the top shelf in search of a certain item. "We got that ham and turkey in the fridge. I'll even slice you up that chocolate cheesecake we were saving for tomorrow!"
"No, it's okay." Yuffie skipped an inch to the left and opened another cupboard, removing the numerous plastic containers of syrup. "I don't feel like eating much."
"It's just that..." She slowly approached the younger woman, edgily watching her disorganize the inventory. "I haven't seen you eat anything all day. I'm beginning to worry about you."
"Well, don't be." She spat out a quick curse and jumped down from the counter. "Have you seen my box of crackers? They're in a pink box with bright green Wutainese text."
Yuffie groaned and walked past her, leaving the items from the cupboard where she had left them; disarrayed and forgotten. Next, came the refrigerator, which she opened with a hearty yank. Cleaving her way through the chilled leftovers and food, she took the gallon of milk that blocked her view and placed it on the floor. Then, she took the plastic containers that contained Cloud's lunch and dinner and stacked them next to the milk.
It was around this time that Tifa began regretting that house rule she made about keeping food in the upstairs bedrooms. The kitchen was beginning to look cluttered with several misplaced items gradually clogging up the countertops and linoleum floor.
"I think one of your employees found my snack and gave it to the customers again," Yuffie sighed loudly, continuing to remove packaged food from the fridge. "I can't find it anywhere."
"I'll find out tomorrow morning if they did," Tifa said. "So, how about I make you that sandwich instead?"
"I already said 'no'," Yuffie scowled. "I'm not that hungry, okay?"
Tifa nodded silently, knowing that the response stemmed from weariness and not anger. She returned to the kitchen island and rested her elbows on the clean surface; clasping her hands together in silent concern. Without speaking, she watched as Yuffie almost cleaned out the entire fridge and had placed the contents on the floor.
This went on for a few minutes without either one speaking to the other until Yuffie stopped abruptly and leaned against the cold metal shelves, burying her face in her hands. As quick and silent as a swooping hawk, Tifa kneeled down beside her and rubbed her bony shoulders lovingly.
"Come on, Yuffie," she coaxed her gently. "That snack wasn't going to fill you up anyway. Let me heat you up something delicious-!"
"That's not why I'm upset," Yuffie snapped at her, jerking herself out from underneath Tifa's touch.
But, Tifa knew this already. It was not the missing snacks that had gotten Yuffie emotional just now. It was the same reason why Tifa could not look people in the eye when they started asking questions. It was the same reason why Cloud would call the bar every fifteen minutes while delivering packages asking for an update.
"They didn't call," Yuffie said, crouching on the floor with her hands tucked under her arms; the chilly air of the refrigerator misting her bare flesh. "It's been three weeks and they still haven't called."
Tifa inhaled sharply, her chest tightening and her lips pursing together in a subdued frown. She lowered her eyes to the floor and tried to find the right words that could ease the pain of yet another day with no results. But, there was nothing she could do or say except the same things she had been doing for weeks. And they were beginning to lose their potency.
"It'll be alright," she began with a very weak smile, speaking to the back of Yuffie's head. "He's out there somewhere, alive and well. The best thing for us to do right now is not lose hope-!"
"Don't." Tifa stopped in mid-sentence and looked at Yuffie, realizing that the effectiveness of her words had run their course. "Just... don't." She looked at Tifa through tired, black rimmed eyes and shook her head dejectedly. "If he was alive and well, he would've made it back to us by now. Wouldn't he?"
Tifa opened her mouth but no sound came out. The possibility of their ally being dead had been circling around in her mind like a ravenous vulture for days but she did not have the heart to voice it. Now, here was Yuffie, exposing it to the world like a hideous scar that everyone bared. Naturally, Tifa tried to deny it. She tried with all of her remarkable willpower to shove the notion from her brain but it fought back, swamping her mind with awful thoughts.
"We just... have to be strong," Tifa insisted despite her own doubts. "He will come back to us. We just need to be patient-!"
Yuffie stood up and slammed the refrigerator door shut.
"I'm going back to bed," she said in a shaky whisper, turning to the door.
Tifa jumped to her feet and snatched Yuffie by her wrist before she could make a quick exit.
"Yuffie, wait!" Her tone was gentle like a bird's feather but her grip was as cold and hard as an iron shackle. "Please, listen to me. I know you're upset. We all are! But, you need to stop starving yourself-!"
"I'm not starving myself," was Yuffie's argument. "I'm just not hungry."
"You haven't been hungry for a while." She kept her steely grasp around the young woman's wrist. "You need to eat something. Tonight. Right now."
"No!" In a sudden burst of energy, Yuffie lunged for the swinging door; leaning and pulling away from Tifa with no avail. "I'm not hungry! Let me go!"
"Not until you eat something!" Her iron grip tightened around Yuffie's wrist, making her wince. Tifa became furious, not directly at Yuffie but at the fact that her dear friend was slowly wasting away and nothing she was doing was working. "You're not well! Look at yourself!"
"Let me go, Tifa!" She tried to pry off Tifa's bear trap fingers.
"Like HELL I will!" Tifa countered the move with an expert move of her own, keeping Yuffie chained down.
Yuffie tried again with another defense move only to be greeted with another counter move. For several seconds, they were engaged in a minor sparring match as Yuffie tried to escape from Tifa's physically powerful hands.
"Don't you realize what you're doing to yourself," Tifa demanded, holding down Yuffie's wrists. "You're not eating and you're not sleeping! If you keep going on like this, you'll end up killing yourself!"
"I-I don't care," Yuffie suddenly sobbed.
"What do you mean you don't care?" Tifa took her by the shoulders and looked her in the tear filled eye. "How can you think like that? Do you really think dying will do any good? Answer me!"
No answer came from the young woman's quivering lips. The only sound she could make was a feeble yelp before finally crumpling to the floor. At last, the river of tears broke through the dam that was her own stubborn spirit and gushed from the corners of her bloodshot eyes. A heart wrenching cry escaped from her throat, making her thin body shake in uncontrollable gasps and heaves.
Tifa, having realized the things she said out of provocation, fell to Yuffie's side and took her into her arms.
"Oh, Yuffie," she whispered tenderly in her ear, rocking her back and forth in her lap. "I'm so sorry. Please, don't cry. I'm just so worried about you!"
"What if he's dead," Yuffie sobbed in between hiccups. "What if he's...?"
She became quiet, clapping both of her hands over her mouth to muffle her bawling. Once again, Tifa found herself placed in the position to lie about something that she herself was questioning. Squeezing Yuffie's trembling shoulders, Tifa took in a deep breath and shook her head.
"Don't do this to yourself," she found herself saying. "You're not well. Besides, we're doing all we can right now. You'll see. Everything will turn out fine-!"
An unexpected emotion burned in Yuffie's stomach as the words rang in her ears. Searing red anger exploded to the surface like volcanic lava she forcefully pushed Tifa away. Her cheeks were burning red as she jumped to her feet and glared down at Tifa; the light of powerless rage burning brightly in her eyes.
"Will you stop SAYING that!?" Her entire body burned with an anger that had been stored within her tiny body for days. Her fists shook at her sides as she tried to swallow the sobs that filled her throat; the tears in her eyes blurring the image of Tifa rising to her feet. "You don't know if everything's going to 'turn out fine'! You're just spoon feeding me bullshit!"
"No, I'm not," Tifa began. "I'm just trying to-!"
"Well, stop trying! I'm so sick and tired of people telling that 'everything's going to turn out fine!' Like I'm some sort of child!"
"I didn't mean to make you feel this way. But, you're not alone in this, Yuffie. I'm just as worried as you are. I know exactly what you're going through-!"
"You have NO idea what I'm going through," she retorted quickly and sharply. "You don't know what it's like to have the man you love-!"
She gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth, cutting the rest of the confession short. Her face, once red from anger, was now red from humiliation. She watched in horror as Tifa's eyes grew large with unintentional discovery.
"You love him," she asked.
It all started to click inside Tifa's mind as she raced through her most recent memories and reviewed each one. If Yuffie's declaration was indeed true, then that meant that her level of stress was deeper and more personal than anyone else's. It definitely explained why she would cry silently in her room every night until she could not find the strength to feed herself the next day.
"I-I... I didn't say anything," Yuffie denied, taking a small step back towards the swinging door. "I'm just tired, that's all. Whatever I said, forget it." She urgently wished that the gods would turn her into mist so that she could float through the air ducts in the ceiling. She turned to the door. "I'm really tired now. I'm going to bed. I'll eat tomorrow, I promise."
"I had no idea you were in love with Vincent," Tifa said compassionately. "I'm sorry."
Yuffie turned to Tifa, her face marked by the river of bitter tears.
"I'm sorry," Tifa repeated. "You're really suffering, aren't you?"
Yuffie bit her bottom lip as fresh tears poured down her cheeks. Just as she was about to throw herself into Tifa's arms, a startling sound sliced through the air like the blade of a knife.
It was Tifa's cell phone.
For a moment, time froze. The two young women stood as still as statues, gawking at each other in disbelief as the ringing continued.
Yuffie's command shattered their motionless states, making Tifa come back to life as she fumbled for her phone. Once she unclipped it, she pressed the talk button and she placed it to her ear.
"Hello?" Tifa's voice was shaky and uncertain, not knowing who it was on the other end and whether they would be bearing good news or bad.
Holding her breath in restless anticipation, Yuffie could hear Cid's gruff voice echoing from the receiver.
Tifa covered the receiver with her hand and nodded at her.
"It's Cid," she whispered breathlessly.
"Did they find him," Yuffie asked as she frantically tugged on Tifa's arm, wild eyed and gasping. "Is Vincent there with him? Please, tell me! I can't wait anymore!"
Tifa nodded, hushing her down before returning to the phone conversation.
"Did you find him," she asked the fated question, gripping the phone nervously with both hands.
Yuffie searched her face for any hint of an emotion, any sign or indication that would tell her the fate of the man she held so close to her aching heart. But then, Tifa's face softened as her eyelids dropped sleepily over her sangria eyes. She sighed an unrevealing exhale, which told Yuffie absolutely nothing, until Tifa produced a smile that sent Yuffie's heart flying into the back of her gullet.
"They found him," she told the fidgeting ninja princess. "He's alive! And he's with Cid right now."
The burden in which Yuffie had been carrying within her for weeks had finally been lifted. She felt as though she were floating in mid-air as the weight of the news brought her back down to the floor. Then, unintentionally, she snatched the phone away from Tifa's hand and shouted into the receiver.
"What the fuck?" Cid's harsh voice barked through the earpiece, nearly blowing out her eardrum. "Is that you, Yuffie? Where the hell did Tifa go?"
"I took the phone. Let me talk to Vincent!" Her palms were beginning to sweat and she grit her teeth, a lead ball forming in her stomach as she repeated the order. "I want to talk to him! Put him on!"
"Put him on the phone NOW!"
"Goddamn! Calm the fuck down, will you? He's right here." There was the sound of stifled conversation as Yuffie could feel a sudden wave of nausea wash over her. For weeks, she had spent the days and nights worrying and doubting, sobbing and praying. Now that she was finally going to be able to hear Vincent's voice, she became speechless.
"Alright, you spoiled little brat," Cid insulted. "Here he is. But, keep the chitchat short! I'm running out of minutes!"
A split second of silence. And then, like a blessing from the gods, a smooth velvety voice chimed through the earpiece.
She felt the tears returning to her eyes but managed to keep them at bay as she struggled to keep her voice straight and casual.
"H-hi, Vincent!" She closed her eyes and felt his downy voice wash over her like sunshine. She wanted to tell him right there on the phone how much she missed hearing his voice, how she dreamt about him every night for weeks and how she would have given anything to see his face one last time.
"For crying out loud," she exclaimed jokingly. "You certainly had us going there for a while, didn't you?" She winced, cursing herself for saying something so relaxed. In no way was her childish tone conveying anything that was truly on her mind or in her heart.
"I'm sorry for my late return," he said sympathetically. "But, I had a few loose ends to attend to."
"Well, you could've called."
"I know. But my phone was destroyed during the battle with Omega."
"Uh, there's this nifty little invention called 'the payphone'."
During the entire conversation, Yuffie was mentally kicking herself for acting so carefree. Why was she putting up this farce? What was she afraid of? Why couldn't she come clean right then and there on the phone? She inhaled, feeling the words she had dreamed of saying for weeks rising in her throat. How she wished to set them free, to confess her feelings to him once and for all.
"We are approaching the Midgar ruins, Captain!" A young voice yelled out in the background, interrupting all thought in Yuffie's mind.
"Prepare to land on the outskirts of Edge! And make it snappy, you flunkies!" Cid cursed at his crew members as he gave the coordinates to land the airship at their destination. Yuffie released the breath she had been holding, the words dissipating among the gush of her hot breath.
"You're already here," she asked anxiously.
"Almost," Vincent answered. "We'll be landing in a few minutes. So, I have to hang up -!"
He did not have time to finish as Yuffie tossed the phone back to Tifa and sprinted through the kitchen's back door, letting the door slam behind her. Left to wonder what was said between the two, Tifa placed the phone to her ear.
"Vincent? Are you still there?"
"Tifa? Where's Yuffie?" Vincent's familiar voice was drowned out by all the commotion on the airship.
"She ran outside. Where are you guys?"
"We're almost at Edge. We'll be landing in a few minutes."
She smiled to herself, understanding the reason behind Yuffie's impulsive exit.
"She'll meet you there," she said cheerfully.
The cool air wafted through Yuffie's tussled hair as she ran down the main street that lead to the place where the airship was set to land. People on the street slowed their pace, watching the strange young woman bolting through the street in her pajamas as though she were being hunted. Her naked feet were pounding against the tarmac, trampling over the jagged pebbles that scattered the road. She paid no attention to the gravel that pricked and scratched the soft bottom of her feet because her mind was focused on getting to the landing sight.
Her lungs were beginning to sting as the rapid beating of her heart mixed with the cool nighttime air, her mind scuttling from one frantic thought to another. Her blackened feet knew where to take her as she could hear the gigantic engines of Cid's airship at the entrance of town. Despite the burning in her chest, she quickened her pace towards the thunderous noise that was making all the unaware residents of Edge look towards the star dappled sky.
Yuffie made a sharp turn onto a different road, almost crashing into a crowd of people who were waiting to gain entrance into a nightclub. Pushing her way through the horde, she kept at her pace despite the fact that she knocked many people out of the curvy line. Ignoring the insults and foul language thrown her way, she made her way down the street towards the entrance of Edge.
Just then, a crippling pain tore at her sides; slowing her down to a halt. Her throat was parched from inhaling all the air in unsteady gasps and the numbing sting in her feet throbbed all the way up to her kneecaps. She bent forward, trying to regain her breath. As she was doing so, the familiar sound of metal clanking upon the blacktop echoed from further up the street. She raised her perspiring head, her eyes trying to focus through the darkness that covered the avenue.
A street lamp further up the street revealed a tall man with a raven mane of long, untamed hair that was held back with a burgundy headband. A metal claw hung at his side, its bullion exterior glistening in the dull lighting of the street. His body was clothed in black, which was partly covered with a cloak that was completely in ruins with the tattered ends flowing gently in the soft breeze of the night. The only thing exposed to the elements was his beastly eyes, which blazed brighter than the lamp he appeared under.
Under the same streetlamp came a gruff looking man wearing goggles and a bomber jacket, a newly lit cigarette hanging loosely between his lips. Next , there was a small slender girl with auburn hair that flipped at the ends and bright blue eyes. The trio walked side by side until the caped man stopped abruptly upon seeing Yuffie in the middle of the street, breathing heavily and clutching her sides.
"Yuffie," Vincent called out into the night. "Is that you?"
An energy that had been lying dormant within her body all those long torturous weeks began to rise as she felt scorching hot tears fill her eyes. This time, she did not try to hold them back. Two endless rivers of tears began to pour down her cheeks as she bolted from the spot, running blindly to the man she had mistaken for dead. Her breath became uneven as she sobbed out the name that, at the moment, was the most beautiful name in all of Gaia.
Vincent was unable to finish for she had launched herself into his open arms, knocking him to the ground. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled her face into his chest. He looked at her, surprised by the sudden burst of emotion that she had failed to express several minutes before.
Cid chuckled as smoke swirled from his nostrils. Shelke smiled slightly, finding the sight of Yuffie bawling into Vincent's chest rather amusing yet touching.
"You... you stupid jerk," Yuffie cried, tightening her embrace around his neck. "I thought you were dead! You c-could have c-called! Why didn't you call!?"
Vincent looked back at Cid and Shelke, hoping one of them could provide an explanation. Taking another long, appreciative puff from his nearly finished cigarette, Cid shrugged his brawny shoulders as he scratched his fair-haired head.
"I guess she missed you more than she was letting on," he concluded.
Vincent could feel the young woman's body quavering as her irrepressible sobs caused her to heave and cough. A gentle smile emerged on his soft pale face as he wrapped his good arm around her body and gave her an earnest hug, pressing his cheek against her head.
"I'm so sorry I worried you," he apologized, allowing Yuffie to wipe her tears on his shredded cloak. "But, I promise. I will never leave again."