"Come on, Cloud!" Tifa's exasperated voice cut through the fever haze like a scalpel across butter. Cloud groaned in pain, holding his throbbing head and trying to hide under the pillows. Why did he have the indignity to catch a cold? Since when did SOLDIERS catch colds anyway? To top it all off, he had to catch some weird sort of Wutai fever. Well, it probably was the time they were slogging through the marsh chasing after Yuffie that did it... he could hear her irritatingly chipper breathing in the corner.
"I'm not taking it." The blond boy grumbled, and immediately felt sorry for it, the words rasping up his throat and irritating the already tender tissue around the back of his vocal cords.
Tifa bit her lip and seemed to smile weakly, still holding the hot tea she had made specially for him. He knew the smell rising out of it very well indeed. It was a old time Nibelheim special medicine, brewed specially for colds and fevers, and given to every sick child by their mother. The bad thing about it was it tasted like the last dregs of the leavings of a coffee grinder, bitter and dark. There was a saying that it was as old as the town, passed down from the very first settlers that founded it. It certainly tasted that way!
"Please?" She pleaded with him, giving a pouty look.
The aroma brought back so many memories, flashing through his thoughts. "No. I'll tough it out."
Now she was grinning widely. "Hmmm..." She set the cup down on the end-table of the room he shared with Cid and Vincent, that look on her face irritating him. "I remember a little boy, a long time ago, that didn't take his medicine, and had to have his tonsils taken out because he got so sick."
"Tifa... no." He was whining now, and he couldn't help it, the pain was horrible. The drink would make it worse, and he knew that it didn't work, anyway. Nothing worked. He remembered the last time he had taken the home made medicine; his mother had worried and fussed over him for days while he was sick. It had been a month before he left for the city to join SOLDIER... a stab of nostalgia and pain shot through his chest, and he started coughing miserably. He'd never wanted to take it again after... only his mother had the special touch that could make it work. Nobody else had that ability, even when he was staying with friends while his mother was on a trip. What was Tifa trying to do?
"Cloud, please, at least take something for it. I feel bad just watching you suffer like this." She pressed a cloth to his head, making him shiver involuntarily. Oh, why did he have to get sick now? When they were so close to catching Sephiroth!
"Let the kid suffer. He'll get over it. It's that goddamned constitution of his." Cid drawled from the corner, for once abstaining from his regular morning cigarette in respect for the patient. Cloud was rather inclined to agree. All he wanted was to be miserable by himself instead of having to deal with the (sometimes) even more painful remedies.
"Poor guy!" Yuffie walked over to stare down over Cloud, her usually loud and brash voice lowered. "Hey, Cloud, if you die, can I have your materia?"
Sighing, he rolled his eyes and nodded.
"All right, you two, out! Barret and Vincent are staying out, why can't you?" Tifa chased them out, only a slight grumbling in response by Yuffie, and went back to sit beside Cloud. "I'm sorry Cloud, I thought it'd help... I remember being sick when I was young, and momma would always give me that medicine. It tasted bad, but it made me feel better knowing I had it, see?" She didn't know why she was talking to him like this, it hurt so much to talk about the past, or think about it... for five years, she had been pushing through the future, focused solely on her goals. Seeing Cloud like this, memories flooded her head. "Everyone wants a little pampering, once in a while, you know? Just let me take care of you."
Cloud just looked at her with a sarcastic glaze.
"Ok... maybe I'll just sit here and talk."
Cloud groaned again.
"Just humor me." She sighed, and took his hand to squeeze it.
"I'm not dying, you know. You don't have to stay."
"I know, but I can still take care of you, can't I?"
"Aren't I supposed to be taking care of you?" Cloud asked, clearing his throat long enough to get that out.
"Well..." Tifa hesitated, then shrugged. "I figured it could go both ways. The promise..."
"I know... I guess so." Cloud twisted his eyebrows in a scrunch and sighed.
Tifa smiled again, and reached for the drink, but Cloud shook his head when she tried to offer it to him.
"How about I tell you a story instead?"
The boy shook his head again.
Silence. Tifa watched the clock on the wall tick by, the silence growing thicker and thicker between them, until she looked back down and sighed. "Cloud," she started, feeling like she was violating some sort of sacred moment by speaking, "do you miss home... ever?"
He opened his eyes and looked at her. The odd thing had been that he'd been thinking the exact same thing. Things that didn't exist anymore, the friends and family that were gone. People that should be there, and weren't. "Sometimes." He admitted, rasping again.
"You know, I remember the spring festival..." Tifa whispered, watching his face. "I remember the time you fell off the well, and broke your arm. Your mother was so worried, and drove you insane by mothering you half to death. Remember?"
"Yeah... it was only a little break." Cloud said, another wave of nostalgia catching him by surprise. He never realized how much he had missed Nibelheim- his mother. Maybe he'd been so busy with survival, he'd just forgotten... "I still can't believe it's all gone... walking in to town and seeing it all still there."
"I know..." Tifa was still angry about that, the people there- no, the imposters, she corrected herself, living the lives that didn't belong to them. "There's nothing we can do about it right now. It makes me so mad."
"Yeah, me too..." Another sigh. "Are we the only ones left, Tifa?" The question was mostly rhetoric, he didn't want the answer. He knew that everyone was dead.
"You know what, Cloud?" Tifa gave a soft, sad smile, kissing him on the cheek. "It doesn't matter. We have each other, and that's all that matters, right?" Her smile fell when he didn't answer right away, then started to feel bad. Did she upset him...?
"...yeah, that's all that matters." Cloud smiled. His eyes fell on the cup still in her hand, and reached for it.
They were silent for the rest of the day. Cloud finished his medicine, even managing to not sputter at the bad taste, and spent the time watching old television shows and ordering room service. With Tifa.
It was true, Cloud thought later that night as he was falling asleep: as long as they had each other, it didn't matter.