Disclaimer: All characters and titles belong to Square Enix's "Final Fantasy VII". I own nothing.
Setting: Post ACC, Pre-DOC. CloTi.
"Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed"
-- Alexander Pope
-. Wait For It .-
Chapter I: What to Expect
It wasn't exactly a scene from a fairy tale.
It wasn't original or clever or even remotely romantic.
But, honestly, despite the embarrassingly many times she had fantasized about this moment, she hadn't anticipated anything more. Not really.
For he was a man of simple, quiet tastes. Well, simple non-mechanized tastes at least. So the method he chose, the lack of words, the determined stance, was in no way surprising. Disappointment with his approach wasn't an issue.
It was exactly as she had always envisioned, always hopefully expected.
The hand that held her wrist was uncharacteristically quivering as the other spread out her fingers and deposited the object, the symbol, into her waiting palm.
Direct. Sweetly nervous. Heart-breakingly sincere.
Upon further inspection, she noted that the ring as well had been taken directly from her childhood fantasy of this moment. A fragile gold band with an impractically large, heart-shaped diamond. Deliciously sparkly.
A little girl's dream.
A fantasy made real.
From behind thick lashes, her dark eyes rose to meet his. Her expression…a mixture of confused and awe-struck.
He almost sighed at the reaction. Almost.
Isn't it obvious, Tifa?
Don't make me say it…
The silent question lingered in the air for tense seconds, until her stabbing stare, gradually narrowing, forced him to at the very least nod. As extra confirmation, he delicately re-folded her fingers around the object and pushed the closed fist, covered by his own gloved hands, toward her chest. In case there was any doubt that it was hers to keep. Forever.
Soon enough, her lungs were filled with a sudden intake of air, eyes widened and instantly glistening. He watched, breath held, as her tense expression gradually melted into one of those effortless, comforting smiles. A smile that never failed to put him at ease and lift his heart with the knowledge that, for once, he did something right.
That was the proper reaction. He had been waiting. It had been expected. For Tifa had been wanting this, coaxing this, for as long as he could remember.
And just like that, it was done. His hands released hers and fell to his sides, a small smile of quiet contentment playing on his lips as well. It was, surprisingly, as easy as Barett had said it would be.
The patrons of the crowded bar let loose their jubilant applause then, causing both of them to jump slightly in shock. In his panic he had almost forgotten they were there. Friends, family and what seemed like the entire city of Edge, were already celebrating the coupling they had been waiting for, for years. Glasses were clinked, congratulations were yelled, shrieks of elation exploded from one specific ninja, shattering ear drums, and two pairs of tiny hands high fived from where they sat at the bar - the front row seats that had been reserved especially for them; his soon-to-be-official children.
They were the proof that he and Tifa belonged together. He saw it now more clearly than ever, reflected in their bright, cheerful eyes, both bouncing on their stools with unrestrained excitement.
It had been obvious all along, hadn't it?
Later tonight, as they counted the bar cash and planned his delivery route as always, he would discuss with Tifa the details he had already been pondering for weeks. About moving to a larger, cleaner building where the kids could have separate rooms and maybe a play area. About the re-submission of the adoption papers, as joint custodians this time. About having Marlene as maid of honor and Denzel as best man, thinking they'd greatly enjoy the "responsibility" and prestige of the roles. About-
The one word, the first thing she had actually said since deciphering his proposal, was but a mere whisper. And yet still, his enhanced hearing and still fragile heart picked it up as loudly and effectively as though it had been screamed through a megaphone.
As his eyes returned to face her from surveying the crowd on the other side of the bar, the first thing he noticed was her sudden and extreme change of expression. Gone was the soft, content smile. Lips were now parted and straight-lined, brows knitted together. Not confused and awe-struck but, almost…angry.
Tifa wanted this. She wanted this more than anything. They had all told him. She had frequently showed him. He wasn't that emotionally half-witted after all. Every night, every waking moment spent in his presence since the defeat of the remnants, she had been silently begging for him to make it official.
To make them a real family.
The second thing he noticed was her hand. No longer clasped to her chest, it was now hovering above the knife she had been using to chop mint leaves before his interruption. The ring, the object he had spent many frustrating hours accepting his comrades' suggestions for, was now discarded, half buried in a pile of herb stems; the glimmer of the diamond struggling to shine through the overwhelming thicket.
Her fingers flexed from above it, as if debating snatching it back up from the chopping block, saving his pride and her fantasy from a gruesome, awkward death.
But no. It was a mistake.
"No! I-I can't!" she repeated more loudly and resolutely this time, as if having heard his thoughts of uncertainty. Her eyes were firm and dry, mouth set. Sure and strong, absolutely and wholly determined.
Cloud didn't understand.
The bar patrons were starting to notice now, especially those close enough to hear her rather blunt exclamations. Voices, one by one, became silent as they decoded the anxious stances of what they had thought were a happy couple-to-be.
All too soon, there was silence. Silence so thick it was suffocating.
Cloud stood there, motionless except for the glowing blue eyes that spun back and forth from the tossed piece of jewelry, to the children, to their friends, to her face. Silently begging her, begging anyone, to explain what was happening.
Not now. Not here. Not in front of them. Please.
With shaking hands, Tifa pushed her long dark hair behind her ears, feigning a brief grin for the benefit of the concerned-looking children sitting at the bar. "We'll talk about this later, kay?" she mumbled towards him through tight lips, while removing the drawer of dirty dishes with much more vehemence than usual.
That specific bin was usually left to the end of the night, or after the dinner rush if it slowed down enough, both Cloud and the children knew that very well. But it was the only excuse she could presently fathom for getting out of that room as quickly as possible. For getting away from him.
The uncomfortable murmurs of surprise and bewilderment had already begun when she was not two steps from the kitchen door. In another, quickened step, she could still not avoid the fragments of hushed conversation that reached her ears.
Something about insane.
Something about wasting chances.
And something about poor bastard and broken.
There was no need to point it out. She knew. God…did she know what she just did to him.
Even in the quiet solace of her kitchen, the lingering voices forcefully drowned by a faucet turned to full pressure, Tifa could feel the weight of her verdict threatening to bury her alive. While rinsing her hands of the tingling remnants of the mint and his touch, she watched, patiently and dejectedly, as the water and her dreams swirled the basin, lingering as long as possible.
But the unstable water could only flow freely, avoiding the abyss, for so long before everything, inevitably, went down the drain.
They had been doing so well.
Why did he have to ruin everything…?
Author's Note: Sorry fans of my other stories, but I just needed to add some CloTi to my resume. On the bright side, this one is planned to be short, less than ten chapters depending on reviews, and most of it is already written. Thanks for your support.