Disclaimer: Clearly I do not own any of the FFVII characters, locations, spells, weapons, or anything else in Gaia that is clearly not mine. They belong to Square Enix. I have made a few tweaks to the canon, but nothing major.
Warning: This one-shot is rated a strong T for mild adult situations, language, and angst. Sorry, no lemon in this one. Thoughts are in italics. Sorry it has taken so long to update, but I'm back!
Timeline and Location: Takes place at the bluff where Zack was gunned down by Shinra's infantry. Is set approximately a year after Dirge of Cerberus.
~*Looking For Angels*~
The air was cold; biting at her cheeks with a sharp fury that even the thick grey scarf she wore around her neck was fruitless in its assigned task. Her leather-gloved hands were hastily shoved into deep, warm, blue jean pockets in a quest to obtain the coveted heat. She sighed against the icy wind, her breath accumulating in a moist mist that fanned out in front of her face, giving the illusion that she was exhaling snow. The feather light flakes fell from the heavens, gathering in shallow lumps at her black boot-clad feet, sinking into the soggy earth below.
She did not know why she had come out here. It was below freezing, a blizzard was soon to blow in from the north, the darkness of dusk was approaching, and it was a long walk back home from this solemn spot. She shifted her weight back and forth from one foot to the other to keep her circulation pumping in all the right places, managing to keep her feet from going numb despite the dampness engulfing her toes from the melting snow against the arches of her feet. The hems of her dark blue jeans were long since soaked, and her deep crimson turtleneck sweater was barely holding the chill at bay. Her long, glossy hair blew about her face, thrashing in the frigid wind, gliding against her cheeks, barely contained by the black wool beanie that encased her head.
She could feel the burning sensation of the frozen air entering her mouth, sliding down her throat, stinging the sensitive tissue of her lungs before forcing its way back out again. She had left the bar a little over an hour ago and slowly made her way to this silent spot on the bluff, overlooking the ruins of Midgar. Now that she was finally here, she did not quite know what to do…
She stared down at the small patch of yellow and white flowers, captivated with the fact that they still had the strength and stamina to maintain their bloom, even in the dead of winter, snow falling all around them, framing them in white lace. She allowed a wry smile to drag across her pale face, stiff from exposure to the elements. She took a few more steps forward toward the patch of flowers, squatting down on the balls of her feet to get a closer look. She silently pulled a gloved hand from her pocket, pulling at the tips to remove the leather from her hands, shoving the coverings into her pant pocket. She tentatively and reverently reached her lithe fingers out to caress the closest flower, her fingertips dancing over the soft, buttery petals. She closed her eyes, breathing another lungful of the cold air.
Exhaling, she allowed her head to fall forward, nose pointing toward the ground below, "I miss you so much, Aerith. I hope you and Zack are doing well," she muttered, "Cloud and I are hanging in there…doing the best we can to hold it together; for ourselves and for the children."
She brushed her now numb fingers over the firm stem of a pure ivory flower, pulling it gently from the ground, careful not to take the root with it. Cupping the beautiful blossom in her hand, she lifted it to her face, burying her nose in the fresh cottony scent of it, "Sometimes on nights when I'm alone in the bar…I turn out all of the lights in my room and just stand outside on my balcony. I lean against the rail, closing my eyes, breathing in the air…Sometimes I can almost hear your voice whispering to me," she whispered lightly.
Suddenly, her voice became softer, and her face dropped slightly, "but I can never really understand what you're saying. I try so hard to decipher the jumble of sounds that I hear, but I can never manage to discern anything coherent or viable…"
She nuzzled the soft petals gently with her nose, soaking in as much of the scent as she could obtain before her senses would eventually go numb from the freeze. The temperature was steadily dropping, and a permanent shiver was beginning to permeate her flesh. She could feel the goose bumps growing on her arms and legs, the fine hairs on the back of her neck beginning to stand on end. The sun was descending slowly over the horizon, painting the sky a deep ginger mixed with watercolors of mauve and cobalt, the dark storm clouds gathering just beyond the city before her.
She could hear the wind whistling sharply around her, the rumbles of motors in the city, and the ambiance of the occasional birds that flew overhead. She clutched the delicate flower as gently as she could manage, now unable to feel its softness upon her fingers, for a painful numbness had set in, her joints now stiff and immobile.
But through the cold, the pain, and the memories, Tifa couldn't miss the heat that approached her, the warm body that crouched down beside her and glanced at the flower in her hands.
He never spoke, but merely dipped his left hand into her palms, scooping the flower from her grasp and taking it gently into his larger, leather-clad hand. He studied it for a moment before gently placing it back into the bed of blooming flowers, removing his gloves from his hands and shoving them haphazardly into the pockets of his worn, faded black jeans.
The wind blew roughly through his honey-colored hair, the gravity defying spikes ruffling sharply with the gust. His deep cerulean eyes hid behind heavy, porcelain lids as they sheltered his emotions from the stock-still woman beside him. He remained silent, not wanting to interrupt the rare quiet that hung over them, blanketing them in a heavy idleness that begged for something…but what, neither knew.
Tifa was the first to break the moment, reaching over and grasping Cloud's warm right hand, lacing her fingers with his own. She felt his body tense slightly at the unexpected contact, but only tightened her grip in the warmth that occupied her frozen digits. He never spoke, but she had never expected him to. He had always been a very private person, even when they were children. He always thought it best to take care of his issues in a very reclusive manner, reaching out for neither physical nor emotional support.
The hardest part, for both of them, had been learning what it meant to forgive, forget, and move forward. Even at that moment, in the snow, the ghosts of the past were showing them what it meant to still remain…to still exist.
Cloud stood slowly, pulling Tifa's body up with his, their hands fused together from the cold, and their bodies heavy with the biting chill and oppressive memory.
Tifa turned to face him, pulling his arm so that he might face her, his expression staring hazily into the distance. Her burgundy eyes took in the contours of his face, the light freckles that faded into the velvety ruddiness of his cheeks, dancing across his perfectly sculpted nose and forehead. She watched his eyes flick uncertainly to meet her own, those azure pools of rich emotion asking a hundred questions at once.
She could tell that he was still hurting – that it pained him every time he traveled up to this memorial – a pain that completely disregarded any cold, warmth, or squall. This pain was a permanent chill that echoed through the deepest corridors of his fiercely beating heart; a heart that had broken too many times to ever be the same as it had during his childhood.
Tifa couldn't ask anything more of him than to be the strong man that he had been. Even when he had run away, and even when he never knew what the right thing was to do, he still managed to pull through and always seemed to take the beating for everyone else. Sure, this had frustrated her to no end when he never answered his phone, or she wanted him to open up to her, only to be rewarded with a rigid hug or a few empty words of self-loathing. But she still loved him, and she still wanted to be there for him every step of the way, just as she had been doing as often as she could. Even when he didn't know how to accept it, or didn't feel that he deserved her companionship or hospitality, she refused to allow him to recede into some rut of self-destruction and solitude.
They were drenched from the snow and shivering slightly, but they would not move for fear of shattering the proximity. Neither whispered pointless words of consolation, cries of anguish, or sighs of frustration. They both knew that everything had been fixed, all the wrongs had been righted, and the homes and families rebuilt. But they both also realized that, as difficult as it was to redesign their lives, it would be oh, so simple for everything to fall apart once again. So they stood; hands entwined, silent, and still…breathing in this rare moment of peace, even if they might be screaming inside.
They held each other's gaze for several moments, until Tifa broke and bowed her head, dark hair shielding her face from view. She squeezed her eyes closed; she did not dare to look at him, because she was so afraid that she would see some emptiness that, she knew in her aching heart, she could not fill. But, beneath it all, she just did not want him to see how empty she, herself truly was.
She had faced death in many a battle, raised two children for nearly three years, and lost her entire family and childhood to a maniacal psychopath, but through all of that she was so afraid that she would never be able to save the man in front of her. She knew that there was nothing she could do to make him see his true value in this world; because this was not her battle to fight…it was his war with himself, his past, and his inner demons that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
She remembered all too well what it was like to live without him; the years he had been gone with SOLDIER, the months he had disappeared with Geo-stigma, and the days that he had vanished following the fight with the remnants, dealing with his broken past and trying to rid himself of the ghosts of it, only succeeding in drawing them perilously closer.
She gasped softly, her thoughts shattering abruptly when she felt his hand lift to tuck a rogue lock of her hair away from her face, her eyes flashing to his in confusion. Before she could read his expression, he moved forward and wrapped his arms around her waist, burying his face in her soft hair. Her bare fingers sunk into the soft material of his black turtleneck, her eyes widening in shock at his uncharacteristic display of affection.
This embrace was more for her than him, a reminder to her that he was not running away anymore, that he was there to stay. She was not ashamed to need him, but she was afraid of losing him. And somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if he returned the feeling…
His voice was low and steady, flowing like liquid through her ears and sending shivers down her spine with the intensity in his tone. She lifted her head to look at him, their eyes dancing across each other's faces as the question hung in the air. Even though he was gone, he was there now, and he was alive.
She tightened her grip on him, her eyes dropping to where her bare hands were flattened against his lean, taut chest, hidden beneath black fabric. And she realized, for the first time that day, that, though still ungloved, they were warm.
This thought, while usually comforting, frightened her greatly and she clung tightly to his chest, snuggling her face into his neck and letting out a ragged breath, her body beginning to tremble with anxiety. She had always known that she was overly attached to this man – this broken and hollow man; but somehow she had never truly realized the gravity of that connection and how utterly lost she was without him there to stabilize her, even if he did not realize he was doing it.
In that moment, she panicked, "Cloud…?" she whispered sharply, her words heavy with anticipation and worry.
She heard a mumbled 'hmm' in reply, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.
Where they could have been frightened her, her mind racing with worry.
"Cloud…" she breathed against his throat, feeling her breath waft back to her, fogging over her chin and lips, as if to reassure her that she was indeed breathing with him.
She felt him undeniably stiffen beneath her touch, her words obviously striking something within him with a force that she had not intended, and she feared his reaction even more.
But, even though her words were vague and open-ended, Cloud knew exactly what she meant. He could feel the fear and longing emanating from the woman in his arms and knew that she needed him now more than ever. He did not really know how to make her feel better, but he wasn't going to stand there and not try. He closed his eyes and let out a haggard breath of his own, pulling back to meet her brandy-colored eyes, swirling with a loneliness and fear that he had never seen there before, "Tifa…I'm here. I'm not going anywhere this time."
As if to prove it to her, he pulled her tight against him in an embrace that she had never experienced before, his forehead sliding against her own, her crocheted hat causing friction between their fleshes, evoking a small sigh from the back of her throat. He rubbed his nose against her own, breathing hot, spicy air across her chin and mouth before whispering against her lips, "This is my home now…"
Before she could respond with joy or with relief, he tightened his grip on her and crushed his lips to hers in a kiss that burned with more hunger than he had felt for anyone or anything else.
He felt her tense beneath him, her mind obviously trying to process the situation, so he slid his left hand to the back of her neck, burying it in her hair and massaging the base of her hairline gently.
It was then that Tifa's lips hesitantly parted to allow him entrance, Cloud accepting her unspoken invitation by shyly probing his tongue into her mouth, tasting sweetness from some fruity drink that she had imbibed before her visit to the site.
Tifa could not believe that he was here, kissing her, in front of his best friend's grave. Many long years had passed while wishing that he would just hold her, and now that he was she was stunned and amazed, wondering what could possibly happen next. He pulled back slowly, his breath heavy against her cheek as he paused for a moment to calm his rapidly beating heart, presently hammering against his chest.
Before he could react, Tifa leaned back in and pressed her lips against his in another impatient kiss, putting years of unrequited desire, yearning, and affection into it.
Cloud gasped in surprise against her mouth, but managed to find his thoughts enough to yield to the kiss just as ardently. His hand still on her neck, he pulled her body firmly against his own, pressing every part of him that he could against her.
The moment was surreal to say the least, two figures, flush against each one another, pouring their hearts and souls out through wordless communication.
When oxygen became urgently essential, it was Tifa who pulled back, her eyes remaining closed, as if afraid to open them; afraid to wake up and realize that she was still alone on this bluff, "Does this mean you're done chasing your ghosts?"
She whispered as she rested her head against his, bringing a hand up to rest on his chest as she closed her eyes and let a single tear fall. She felt his free hand wrap itself around her waist as his other hand tightened on hers. He squeezed her fingers mildly, as he pulled away and gazed into her burgundy eyes.
She watched as the hint of a smile graced his features, his other hand rising to stroke her cheek, "I was done chasing my ghosts over a year ago. I'm looking for angels now…and I think I found the one that was waiting here the whole time."
Tifa, even through the beauty of the moment, could not help but roll her eyes at the comment.
"Wow, Cloud, what a line!" she said, laughter falling from both her lips and eyes.
She watched as a mischievous grin peeled across his face, rearing her fist back and punching him in the chest. They both began to chuckle, pulling apart from their embrace.
Tifa watched as Cloud squatted down, appearing to tie his bootlaces. What she did not expect was the giant fist of snow to come hurtling her way, plastering itself to the side of her face.
Her jaw dropped, eyes wide, as realism set in…then the war began.
Giant balls of snow began to soar in every direction as they tried their best to soak the other as thoroughly as they could.
After a few minutes of rough-and-tumble snowball fighting, Cloud looked out at the horizon once more, a frown slowly growing on his face.
"We should go. The storm will be here soon, and it's a ten minute walk back to the bar."
He reached a hand down and helped Tifa stand, brushing their clothes off as they did.
As they started their minor trek back to 7th Heaven, Tifa could not help but contemplate that everything might turn out okay after all.
That is, if she had anything to say about it…