It was a typical Tuesday night. Or so it seemed. Tifa cleaned one last glass before putting it in the cupboard. Most of the customers at 7th Heaven had already trickled out, mumbling they had to go home for unexplainable reasons. This was the life that Tifa Lockhart was used to. But tonight...tonight something felt different. It felt as if something were missing.
Was it Cloud? No, of course not. Cloud didn't get home until late on a Tuesday night. For some reason, this day of the week was his busiest when it came to deliveries. He wouldn't be home for several more hours.
Still, there was an eerie feeling that haunted Tifa's heart. She almost called Cloud just so she could hear his stoic response that everything was alright. But she didn't want to appear weak in front of him; he had already seen her vulnerable before, and she hated that so much. Tifa Lockhart had learned to be very independent, whether she wanted to live that way or not.
Six months ago, a little while before Kadaj and his gang terrorized the city, Cloud had almost never come home. And he had never answered his phone, either. It was during that period that Tifa had started losing faith in her childhood friend. He clearly didn't care for her, so she needed to stop dying inside because of his lack of consideration. She tried moving on, and though she would never admit it to anyone, she never completely lost her feelings for Cloud. However, she was afraid to make a move. What if he ran away again? He had been better in the last few months, but he could always change. Tifa knew this transformation in him couldn't last forever.
For a long time now, Tifa had put the kids to bed herself. Denzel was a new addition to the family, but he and she were so close now it was as if Tifa had given birth to him herself. He had her fearless spirit and determination, while other times he had Cloud's seriousness and apathy. Tifa scoffed softly; Cloud wasn't even around and yet he still had such a great effect on that child.
Tifa set down her towel and stopped working all together, a thought suddenly entering her mind: she hadn't seen the kids in a while. Sure, she had put them to bed an hour ago, but normally at least one of them came down asking her to read them an extra bed-time story. Maybe I should go check on them...
With an aching heart, Tifa did just that. She walked straight up the stairs then made the first right to Marlene's room.
Everything was fine.
Then she walked two more steps down the hall and looked into Denzel's room.
Everything was not fine.
The bed was empty! Tifa rushed into the room, heart suddenly racing. There were no signs of struggle; other than the vacant bed everything was fine. Except for the window being open. The window is open?! Tifa practically tripped over her own feet trying to get there, to see what was going on. It wasn't forced open; Denzel had opened it from the inside.
He had left on his own. He had run away.
Tifa shakily reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. She dialed a number she knew by heart and spoke as calmly as she could. "Barret, can you come to my home? I need you."
Only five minutes later, Barret came in through the bar entrance. By that time most of the customers had left, and those who had been in when Barret entered quickly left. The man may have had a kind heart, but to those drunkards he just looked like he would kill them all off right away if they even looked at him wrong.
"Teef? What's wrong?"
"Denzel is gone," Tifa stated weakly. "I don't know when it happened exactly, but I'm going out to look for him. Can you stay here and watch the bar?"
"Why do you need somebody to watch the bar? Aint it already closed down...?"
Tifa sighed. "I really called you because if Marlene finds out Denzel is gone, you'll be the only one who can comfort her." It was then that Barret understood.
"Go. But take your coat; it's nippy out."
Tifa smiled faintly and stood on her toes to give Barret a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you."
However, Barret wanted more than that. He gently pulled her into a hug and spoke quietly into her ear. "Be safe; there are lots of goons out at night."
Tifa nodded faintly and broke free of him. She grabbed her jacket off the coat hanger and turned around to Barret. "I'll be back soon," she promised before walking out the door.
A rush of cold air immediately greeted her, the cool October breeze making her realize just what Barret had been talking about. Worry over took her as she started running randomly toward the exit of the market place; Denzel hadn't grabbed a coat, so he could have hypothermia by the time she found him. IF she found him. Tifa ran as quickly as she could, turning toward Midgar. There was only one place Denzel would run away to without telling anyone: The ruins of Sector 7.
A few weeks ago, Denzel had told Tifa about an experience he had when he had his geostigma. He had a flashback of watching Shin-Ra news and the headline was "AVALANCHE attacks Sector 7." At the time, Tifa had calmly explained that it was a lie, which it was. President Shinra had ordered the plate to fall and that it did, destroying the entire area. And, concerning Denzel, it killed his parents and left him without a home.
Denzel wanted to visit the ruins and plant some flowers at that time, so Denzel, Marlene, and Tifa all headed out to mourn the loss of their friends and family. Tifa had thought that would be the last of their problems concerning Denzel's loss, but she was wrong now, considering he had run away. He had to have gone to this place. If he wasn't there, Tifa had no clue where he would be.
Distracted by her many thoughts, Tifa focused back on reality as she approached a torn apart playground. It was the closest thing to the Sector 7 ruins that still stood. However, it was just barely standing. The debris and metal from the wreckage was still spread all over the ground. Nobody had any desire to fix a playground when life was so desolate and hopeless.
Even in the dark of night, Tifa could see something huddled up right by the metal wall. A small, trembling figure. "Denzel?"
The figure turned around, confirming Tifa's suspicions. She breathed a sigh of relief as she quickly walked over, careful not to trip over anything. "What're you doing out here Denzel? You scared me half to death!" Tifa cried, kneeling down by the child and wrapping him in an embrace before he could respond. Her soft tears trickled down her cheeks and Denzel's quiet sniffles echoed through the silent place.
"I-I'm sorry," Denzel said through his tears. "I...had a dream, about my mother, and she was calling me here. I-I thought if I came here, I would see her again. But everything is the way it always has been." The boy gripped Tifa's coat tightly in his hand, trembling heavily in Tifa's arms. Tifa didn't know if it was from sadness or the cold, so she assumed it was both.
"Denzel..." Tifa released the boy from her embrace and he did the same, though it was clear he didn't want to. "Here, take my coat, it's freezing out," she said while unzipping it and draping it around the boy's shoulders. "It's time we get you home. When we get there, I'll make you a cup of hot chocolate and we can sort things out...okay?"
A sliver of hope appeared in Denzel's eyes as the child nodded. Tifa smiled faintly, ruffling his hair lightly. He was letting her take care of him, thank goodness. In this sense, he was not like Cloud. Cloud never let anyone take care of him when he was feeling down; he always fled. At least Denzel had that much sense in him.
Tifa wordlessly grabbed Denzel's hand as she stood, knees sore from kneeling on the ground. "Let's go home, where we belong," Tifa said for no reason in particular. She just wanted Denzel to feel reassured by her voice even if she had nothing to say. The two started walking, but they didn't even make it past the playground when it started to rain on them. Tifa gasped softly at the freezing cold water droplets. She used her free hand to put up the hood of her jacket on Denzel while the boy put his arms through the sleeves and fumbled with the zipper. Once Tifa was sure her adopted son was as warm as could be, they hurried home.
Twenty-five minutes later, the two rushed into the bar, finally escaping the downpour that plagued them all the way home. Tifa, drenched by the freezing cold liquid, shut the door behind them with a breath of relief. Finally they were in the warmth of their own home again. A sigh escaped her lips without thought as she leaned back against the door, her body trembling because of the cold.
"Tifa?" Denzel questioned, the boy with big round eyes standing in front of her now. He still had on her coat, so he was dry and warm. Tifa felt a faint warmth in her heart, so glad that Barret had told her to take her coat. Even if she hadn't worn it all that long, at least Denzel was okay.
"Denzel, why don't you go upstairs and put on your warmest clothes? Then I'll make you some hot chocolate." The boy nodded in response before scurrying up to his room to follow Tifa's gentle command.
The black-haired woman looked down at her feet, seeing a puddle of water forming at her feet. She shivered again, wrapping her arms tightly across her chest. So, so cold...but if she walked across the entire bar, she would get everything wet. And if she didn't she would remain cold.
Tifa jumped at the voice, her eyes wandering upward. Barret was standing in front of her, concern written all over his features. As soon as he saw the look in her eyes, he mumbled something about getting a towel and headed towards the bathroom. The girl shut her eyes, feeling cold and exhausted. She waited silently for Barret and the towel, having the appearance of being patient but nearly ready to scream out at her friend because she was so cold.
Barret reappeared and before Tifa recognized what happened there was a towel wrapped around her shoulders. Barret's hand was on her shoulder now and his eyes, filled to the rim with worry, were resting on Tifa.
"You need to get changed now," he told her kindly. Tifa met his eyes once again and nodded silently before pulling the towel closer to her. She was heading for the stairs when she saw the door to the storage room open. Cloud came out and immediately stopped where he was, his eyes locked on Tifa. Judging by the look in his eyes, he was completely clueless as to anything that was going on here. He had probably thought Tifa was in bed and so were the kids. If he had been thinking that way, he was very wrong.
Tifa held his gaze for a moment before rushing up the stairs, not wanting to give him an explanation or let him into her heart again. No, she wasn't going to let her emotions get the better of her. Not now; not while Denzel needed her. She hastily entered her room and shut the door behind her before pulling off her wet, sticky clothes. After drying off, she dressed herself in a pair of warm pants, a white long-sleeved shirt and a grey sweatshirt. Then, once she hung her wet clothing in the bathroom, she headed back downstairs. Surprisingly, Denzel was not down there. He's stalling, Tifa realized, heart breaking. She didn't want him to be afraid of her; she loved him so much, and she just wanted to help him through whatever he was struggling with. She wanted to take away his pain and bear it herself.
A figure appeared in the corner of Tifa's eye, making her stiffen. But the person didn't approach her; they simply stood there, staring at her. There were only two people who that could possibly be: Barret or Cloud. Judging by the intensity and awkwardness of the stare, Tifa guessed it was Cloud. She turned her head to the right and saw that her suspicions were correct; it was Cloud that was staring at her. Trying to hide the weakness and exhaustion she felt, she turned to face him, arms folded casually across her chest. In reality, though, she had her arms crossed because she was still ice cold.
"Barret told me Denzel ran away," Cloud stated, breaking through the silence.
Tifa nodded. "He was by the Sector 7 ruins."
Cloud paused. "I knew taking him there a few weeks ago was a bad idea."
"If I hadn't taken him then, then he would have just run away on his own," Tifa said tensely, her body stiffening; taking Denzel there had been her idea in the first place. Cloud wisely fell silent, not continuing that path of the conversation.
"Is he alright?"
"He's home, warm and safe." Tifa left it at that, knowing that Cloud only cared about those simple things. After all, he couldn't love anyone these days. Not really. So there was no point in telling him about the emotional struggles Denzel was going through. For a few awkward moments, both of the adults were silent. "I thought he was coming down right after he got changed. I'd better go check on him." With that, Tifa headed back up the stairs, thankful for an excuse to leave that conversation.
She walked past Marlene's room, careful not to make too much noise. Once she arrived at Denzel's room, she tapped lightly on the door. "Denzel? Can I come in?" After a few moments of silence, Tifa gently pushed the door open. "Denzel?" Tifa's eyes softened at what she saw: Denzel fast asleep in his bed. A weak smile appeared on Tifa's face as she silently shut the door, leaving the boy to his slumber. She was so thankful he was asleep; it was easier to talk with him when he was well-rested. They'd have a conversation about everything tomorrow.
Tifa yawned. Sleep seemed like a very appealing idea to her. Honestly though, she didn't think she could fall asleep when she was so cold. Perhaps a cup of hot chocolate would warm her up. The simple thought of it made warmth enter her heart, so Tifa knew it was a good idea. She quietly made her way down the hall and descended the stairs once again. Cloud was no longer standing where he was before, but now he was sitting at one of the tables.
"Denzel's asleep," Tifa stated softly. Cloud's facial expression changed slightly, showing a bit of tenderness. Tifa, feeling a little started by his show of emotion, headed right into the kitchen and started making her beverage. It was only a matter of minutes before the water was steaming hot and she had finished mixing in the hot chocolate powder. She inhaled and got a whiff of the beverage, making her muscles relax.
She carried her mug out into the main area of the bar, cold hands being warmed by the hot cup. Not surprisingly, Cloud hadn't left the area. He was sitting at a table, looking over some paperwork for his delivery service. Tifa didn't understand why he didn't work at his desk. But because of his presence, Tifa felt as if she had to go elsewhere to enjoy her beverage. She turned down the hall and made a left into the living room they had behind the bar. Barret was there, casually watching the television. As soon as he saw her enter the room, he stood to his feet.
"Thank you for coming, Barret," Tifa said, truly grateful for his assistance.
"No problem. Let me know if you ever need anything. Or if spiky out there ever needs his butt kicked."
Tifa smiled. "I will," she promised. Barret gave her a quick hug before walking out, undoubtedly heading for home now. She would have told him to stay the night, but he always refused whenever she asked him. He always seemed to think he was the third wheel, getting between her and Cloud. He couldn't have been more wrong.
Tifa sighed and set herself down on the couch, careful not to spill her piping hot drink. She focused herself on the television while drinking her hot chocolate. Not too long later, she had already finished her hot chocolate. And yet...she was still so, so cold. She pulled a blanket off the back of the couch and covered herself with it. Minutes later, she was fast asleep on the couch, the TV still on.
Tifa groaned, sunlight shining directly onto her eyes. Her eyelids felt too heavy to open, her body weighed down as if somebody were sitting on her. She put a great amount of energy into moving her arm and pulling the blanket over her head. But then an overwhelming heat invaded her head and she threw off the covering completely. The moment the blanket fell to the ground, she wished she had it back. She shivered despite the fact that her body was covered in sweat and her head was burning.
I'm sick, she thought, the facts clear as day now. The sniffling, coughing, sneezing...the heat and the shivering...she must have gotten sick because of being out in the rain last night. As if on cue, Tifa had a fit of sneezing, little sneezes escaping her lips uncontrollably. When it was finally done, she groaned again. I hate being sick...
Tifa rolled onto her side, facing towards the back of the sofa she laid on. The TV was on softly, but that was the least of her concerns at the moment. The only thing she wanted was to get a glass of water to quench this unexplainable thirst she felt. She laid there for a while, imagining different scenarios but never actually performing any of the actions she imagined herself doing. She imagined opening the bar and letting in all the customers who were surely waiting for her to open the 7th Heaven Bar. She imagined getting her blanket back and holding it close to herself. She imagined herself getting water. But none of it was true. The illusions haunted her for a while, not leaving her alone for even a minute.
The sound of her name sounded more real that any of the hallucinations the young woman had heard earlier, but she wasn't ready to believe the voice was real. She needed to see...she needed to see if there was really somebody with her. She gathered her strength and rolled over, eyes opening up. Yes, there was somebody there, but it couldn't have really been him. He wouldn't be there with her. But the concern in his eyes...it looked real enough to her. The man put a hand on her sweaty forehead and Tifa kept her eyes on him the whole time.
"You're burning up, Teef," Cloud said, sounding almost caring. No, surely that was the fever talking. Cloud couldn't care...he hadn't before. Except for when he found her in Aerith's church. But that was different. Or was it? He awkwardly took his hand away and looked at the floor. "I'll get the medicine box," he muttered before leaving her alone.
Tifa shivered again, curling herself into a ball. What was the matter with her? She had truly lost her mind if she thought Cloud was with her. He was always doing something...always away from home. Always away from her. It was all in her head; surely it was all in her head.
Time passed strangely, seemingly both in slow motion and in fast forward. Did those things cancel each other out and make the time lapse normal? Or did they overrule each other somehow? Was one dominant over the other? Tifa pondered these questions in her hazy state, eyes closing in fatigue. The questions were making her even more tired than she already was.
Suddenly Tifa was aware of another presence in the room. She tiredly opened her eyes, Cloud appearing in her vision. It appeared as if he weren't just a figment of her imagination. Even in her foggy state of mind she was touched by the fact that he was really there. He was kneeling in front of her, bright blue eyes staring into her brown orbs.
"Open up," he said gently, holding a thermometer in his hand. Tifa silently obeyed, feeling very childish and vulnerable but not really caring. Cloud stuck the thermometer under her tongue, staring at her intently while waiting for the device to beep. When it did, Cloud gently pulled the thermometer out of her mouth and looked at the digital reading. He frowned. "103.4. You must have caught the flu or something."
Tifa blinked twice before responding. "I have to get up and run the bar," she murmured, starting to push herself up. Cloud's gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"You're in no condition to be up and moving around," he stated tenderly. "I can do whatever has to be done with the bar."
"...can wait another day," Cloud finished. "It's alright. You just stay here and rest; I'll take care of everything."
"Cloud..." Tifa protested weakly. She was going to go on and say how a cold had never stopped her from working before, but Cloud leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, absolutely stunning her. Before she could think of a response, he left her alone again.
That must have been an illusion, Tifa thought. There's no way he would have done that in real life! Right...? Even in her haziness she wasn't as sure as she would have liked to have been. Part of her desperately hoped she wasn't delusional while another part of her hoped she was. Strange things happen when you're sick...
Tifa shut her eyes, not having the will to stay awake in a world with so much sickness and suffering. Let me get back to my dream...the one where Cloud is caring for me... Tifa sighed softly, curling into a smaller ball. It was so, so cold, and yet she was still sweating. Reality wasn't a pleasant place to be. She somehow managed to grab the blanket off the floor and cover herself with it before drifting into a half-conscious state.
The news was on in the background, saying something about the terrible weather from the previous night. Heh, as if Tifa didn't already know all about that. Tifa thought she heard laughter; probably from a new TV program. Or from the bar. After all, sometimes her customers got rowdy. But never when she was around, because they knew from experience she could pack a punch.
Tifa shivered, pulling the blanket closer to her. Why me? Why can't things ever go right for me...? she wondered, wallowing in self-pity. I was going to talk to Denzel today, and take him to soccer practice, and take Marlene to the dentist, and make dinner for everyone...
She needed to move. She had so much to do that day; she couldn't just sit around. Tifa started shifting under the blanket, trying to sit herself up. But the moment she was upright she fell back down to her previous position. Moving made her far too dizzy, and if it was that bad sitting, she couldn't imagine how extreme the sensation would be if she were standing. She sighed, burying her head into a pillow. Being sick was the worst experience ever.
Her closed eyes opened halfway when she heard footsteps. Again it was Cloud. Really, how could he keep showing up in her imagination? She wasn't even thinking about him and yet he was still appearing. She didn't understand...
"Time to get you up to bed," he murmured gently, bright blue eyes lightly gazing at the girl on the couch. He didn't even wait for her to respond to his voice. He knelt down part way and slid his arms under her body before picking her up and holding her close to his body. Tifa felt herself melt away at his warmth, her body relaxing into him. She lost the will to fight him and leaned her head against him, forehead against his neck. Cloud tightened his grip on her but it wasn't tight enough to hurt her. Actually, he was being extremely gentle.
Tifa closed her eyes, exhaling a soft breath. She could feel that Cloud was on the move now, so she figured he was taking her upstairs so she could lie in her own bed. But she didn't want that; she wanted to stay in his arms forever. Tifa was startled at her own thoughts. When had she started to allow herself to feel for Cloud like that? What had changed? She shivered, curling up slightly in Cloud's arms. The blond haired man pulled her closer and rested his chin on top of her head.
"Here we are," Cloud stated softly. Tifa opened her eyes partway and looked down, seeing her bed in front of her. How had they gotten there so fast? She didn't want to be set down yet! All that she wanted was to stay in this place where Cloud cared for her so sweetly and loved her and cherished her...
Cloud did hold onto her for a few more moments before leaning down and gently placing her on the bed. Only when he was sure she was alright did he release her completely and pull the blankets up. "I would get you more blankets, but I don't want you to overheat," he told her, pulling up the last cover. Tifa nodded tiredly, having no words to respond with. Cloud's eyes softened as he sat himself down on the edge of the bed and pushed back some of Tifa's hair. "I'm worried about you," he confessed softly.
"It's just a cold," Tifa managed to say, trying to get Cloud to stop worrying but at the same time enjoying every minute of it. She never, ever got to see the tender side of him. She had stopped believing it existed, and yet here it was in front of her very eyes.
Cloud smiled faintly. "That doesn't stop me from worrying about you," he murmured, running his hand down Tifa's hair. Tifa got chills at the touch but tried not to show it. Okay, it was official: this was definitely a hallucination. Cloud would never act so tender. However, this was a dream that Tifa didn't want to leave. She may have felt sicker than she knew possible, but having this Cloud here with her was worth it.
Tifa exhaled softly, the breath coming out as a sad sigh. If only this could happen in real life...she shut her eyes, too tired to keep her eyes open. She felt Cloud's hand run over her hair again, multiple times. This was her only awareness of reality as she drifted into a deep state of slumber.
Day transformed into night rather quickly to Tifa. She was only aware of the change when she awoke from her rest and the room was completely dark. But even more than that, Tifa realized something else. There was something here with her, something right in front of her. She groggily brought up a hand and set it against the figure in front of her. Tifa froze when she touched the fabric of an undershirt.
Cloud was asleep in front of her, holding her in a light embrace while he was unconscious.
Tifa pulled her hand away, careful not to awaken Cloud. She started to sweat even more than she already was, fever and all. Cloud had never done something so tender before, but Tifa couldn't believe this was a hallucination. This felt more real than anything she had ever experienced.
The tenderness of the moment, however, was taken away by Tifa's unquenchable thirst. She hadn't had a drink of water in hours, and she was already burning up because of the fever. Water...I need water....
The young woman carefully moved out of Cloud's embrace, being as quiet as she could possibly be. She desperately wanted to stay in his arms, but she needed water more than anything else at that moment. Tifa held her breath as she sat herself up on the side of the bed, Cloud's even breathing still in her ears. Good; she didn't wake him. Not waiting for him to wake up and possibly see she was gone, Tifa stood and tip-toed out of the bedroom.
One of the stairs creaked beneath her feet, stopping her for just a moment. She knew she couldn't help that little bit of noise, but still, she really really didn't want to wake anyone. A cough escaped her lips, then another. And another. Tifa grabbed onto the stair railing, feeling dizzy in her coughing fit. She put her other hand over her mouth, trying to quiet her own outbursts. After a minute or so, the coughing did start to subside. But the fit only made her more thirsty than before. Tifa carefully descended the stairs, careful not to make noise or collapse because of her dizziness.
Made it to the bottom, she thought hazily, a bit of pride rising up inside her heart because she had successfully made it to the bottom of the stairs. That feeling quickly disappeared when the thirst clouded her sense again. Water. She desperately needed water.
Tifa ran a hand against the wall as she made her way over to the bar, nearly tripping over her own two feet in drowsiness. She stumbled to the sink and grabbed the first glass she saw and filled it with water. Then she brought it to her lips and drank the entire glass without taking one break. The liquid in her throat was refreshing to her, waking her from her stupefied state and cooling her down slightly. She gasped in relief, filling the glass again so she wouldn't feel as if she were dehydrated. Once it was filled, she shut off the water and took the glass with her to one of the tables in the bar. She sat herself down heavily, body weak and exhausted because of the illness that had overtaken her.
How can I possibly feel so weak? I've fought so many battles and yet I can hardly move now? I must be so weak... As if to answer her own thoughts, Tifa coughed loudly. She coughed again and again until she reached for her water and gulped it down, the coughs ceasing. Tifa sighed and laid her head in her arms, too tired to move. She wasn't tired mentally, only physically. And to her, that was the worst thing in the world.
The sound of footsteps reverberated through the room, but Tifa didn't notice them until the source was right by her. She tensed slightly, not knowing who was behind her. Maybe if she just sat there with her eyes closed the person would speak so she would know who it was. At least, she hoped that was the case.
"Teef," the person behind her murmured, making Tifa less tense. She would recognize that voice anywhere. It was Cloud. She wanted to respond and tell him that she was alright, but she was too tired to do anything. Her mind was screaming at her for making Cloud worry but her body didn't even respond to the brain's protesting.
"Hey," Cloud said softly, gently setting a hand on Tifa's shoulder. He probably thought she was asleep, considering that he started to gingerly stir her "awake".
"I'm awake," Tifa mumbled incoherently, fever burning, chest aching and head throbbing. Cloud, though he couldn't have possibly understood her, stopped shaking her. He at least saw that she was conscious now. Without warning, he moved his hand completely behind her back and moved beside her, sliding his other arm under her legs. Then, careful not to bang her knees on the bottom of the table, he picked her up and carried her in the direction of the stairs. But instead of taking her back up to bed, he took her back to the living room and sat her upright on the couch.
"I'm gonna go get you some medicine," Cloud stated softly, gently pulling away from Tifa. Without waiting for a response, he left the room and headed toward the bathroom. Tifa sighed softly and let herself fall back into the couch. She hated worrying Cloud like this. The attention was nice, but Tifa didn't want it under these circumstances. After all, anyone could take pity on a sick person and act differently than they normally would. Of course; Cloud didn't really feel anything for her. He couldn't. Or rather, Tifa couldn't let herself love him again. If he let her down one more time, she wouldn't be able to recover from it.
"Here you go," a quiet voice said, bringing Tifa back to reality. She blinked, the fuzzy figure in front of her becoming clear. Cloud was standing there, concern in his eyes and two pills in his hand. Tifa lifted a hand and took the pills away from him, her eyes avoiding his bright blue orbs. She mumbled her thanks before taking both pills without water. "You thirsty?" Cloud asked tenderly?
"I'm fine," Tifa responded softly, heat rising to her face. Was she blushing? Or was her fever just making her head feel hot and heavy? She couldn't tell the difference at that moment.
"You sure? You don't look so good."
"Cloud, why are you doing this?" Tifa spoke her thoughts before she could stop herself.
"Taking care of you? Why wouldn't I?"
"No...I mean...treating me, like this. Like you care for me," Tifa looked away from his eyes, but his hand under her chin turned her head back towards him.
"Because I do care about you," Cloud stated softly. Tifa felt tears start coming to her eyes, but she didn't let them fall just yet.
"But you're acting like, you..."
"Like I love you?" Cloud finished. Tifa nodded. "It's because I do. Tifa, I have for a long time. How could you have not seen the subtle ways that I watch out for you? I stay up late at night because I remember times when drunken men came into the bar and threatened you. I answer your calls now because I'm always afraid something is going to happen to you. I don't know what I'd do without you, Tifa."
Tifa's heart nearly stopped with Cloud's words of kindness. No, surely he couldn't mean it all! But then again, he had been staying up late for the past few months. Tifa had always thought it was just to reflect on his own thoughts, but what he said made sense. And he had been answering his phone more lately....
"I have always loved you, Tifa. Nobody has had a bond like we do. We grew close before I left to become a SOLDIER and even closer when we were chasing Sephiroth and saving the planet. I knew that I loved you, but I didn't know that you loved me." Cloud chuckled, voice sounding a little more excited as he continued. "I didn't know until after Kadaj was gone and Yuffie told me to 'get a clue'. I couldn't believe it, so I questioned her until she straight up told me that you loved me.
Tifa laughed weakly. "That Yuffie...always getting into other people's business."
"Are you mad she did?"
Tifa shook her head. "No, not really. Though I did want to tell you myself."
"So what's stopping you?"
Tifa smiled. "I love you, Cloud."
Cloud smiled back. "I love you too, Tifa. I always have, and I always will. I promise. And this will be a promise that I'll never break." He leaned forward from his crouching positing and gave Tifa a kiss on the forehead.
"I'll always look out for you, Tifa."
"Forever and Always?" Tifa asked softly, hope replacing all doubt she had in her heart.
Cloud smiled and grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"Forever and Always, Tifa. Forever and Always."