Cloud's fingers snatched up his keys while those of his other hand picked up an invoice from his desk. He was off to Kalm for a delivery, a place he had always liked. The bike was already packed and loaded, full of fuel, polished down and tuned up for the journey. He'd stop by the town inn as he usually did and have a drink before heading back. He had always liked the warm atmosphere of a country inn, even if he never tried to actively contribute.
He began walking down the stairs and towards the garage. He was leaving early so he'd probably get back earlier than normal. Walking into the bar area he saw Tifa washing up glasses from the busy night before. He gave a gentle nod to say "goodbye" before proceeding to the door to the garage.
"Are you going to make a delivery?" she asked suddenly.
His feet came to a slow halt as he heard the words spoken from behind him. There was something in her tone, the way it sounded so strained and faintly upset under the weight of pretending otherwise. He paused, and something made him lose control of his own words.
She looked up in surprise.
"They cancelled at last minute," he lied.
He continued to look at her as his mind brewed over the pain in her tone that she had failed to completely hide only a few seconds before. He drew closer to her.
"What is it, Cloud?"
He had been staring.
He began to turn away. She manoeuvred herself quickly from behind the bar to catch his arm.
"No more secrets, remember?"
But there was something hesitant in her voice. All he could do was look at her in the same dubious way.
The bar phone rang. They continued to look at each other a moment longer before she broke the eye contact and reached for the receiver. He stepped backwards, came along side the bar and removed his gloves, placing them firmly into his pockets. He then stood rigidly still. He was determined to do something, something he had been putting off for much too long. Her attempted to be hidden, hurting tone had been the final straw.
The phone call ended and Tifa put down the phone. He headed round to the stools in front of the bar and sat down while she followed, pulling herself up onto a stool opposite. Again she asked him, "What is it?"
He began to feel a constricting in his throat. Could he say this now? Should he? Was it even fair? Was this even the right setting for it...? But he swallowed it down, he didn't have time for this any more. He was sick of putting things off.
"Thank you for everything, for always helping me."
"Thank you for letting me," she replied softly and shifted forward in her position. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw her finger tips edge closer to his, even though she didn't seem aware of it.
Look up! Look at her!
He straightened his posture and looked up. He continued:
"Through every fight... with Sephiroth, geostigma, when I wasn't myself and couldn't even remember you completely, you've been the reason I've been able find normality and happiness again, every time."
She was carefully watching him and all the while something was increasing thumping in his chest, an anxiety. The pain hidden in her dark brown eyes wasn't changing.
"After defeating Sephiroth and seeing Holy in the sky with Meteor everything changed. I said I would start over and everything would be fine now that you were with me, but then other things happened and you got hurt because I wasn't around. I've never wanted to see you hurt." He lost himself for a moment as he recalled seeing her motionless in the church. There was a burning in his chest. He looked back up to look into her very alive eyes and nodded. He had to do it now. "And in light of that I think I should tell you that... I love you and I'm just glad you're still in my life."
The clouds drifting in the sky above the bar had shifted, and the light penetrating through the windows increased, illuminating the room with a warm orange glow, exposing the tiny dust particles now twinkling in the sunlight around their heads. Neither of them moved.
She then moved. Her fingers curled away from his and she made to say something but it got hitched in her throat. In a quick moment she had drawn backwards, and her eyes momentarily broke contact with his. Conscious that he was losing her he moved quickly off his stool and brought his hands about her waist to bring her back down to the floor. She landed softly on the hard floor and slowly looked up. His hands were still on her waist.
No, Tifa, I don't mean like friends, I don't mean like life-long companions or simply family. I have to make you understand just once and for all before I lose you altogether.
He held her steadily at her midriff, pressing increasingly with his thumbs as his fears in the moment began to emerge on him; the insistent worry that she'll turn him away, she'll break the contact, or he'll ruin it himself. But there was the strong want to continue that combated everything else. She was insecure, not sure as to what he was doing, how she should act, whether she should say something and all at the same time he continued to stare intensely into her eyes with fierce determination.
No more waiting around.
He eased one hand away from her skin, seeing it shake slightly in his peripheral vision, and placed it caressingly behind her ear, feeling the touch of the strands of her hair. She stopped breathing.
"Cloud?" she scarcely whispered.
He kissed her.
Tentative, scared, unsure, he persevered in his kiss. When he began to feel her kiss back his confidence rose. He kissed harder, taking in every taste, parting both their lips. He felt a weak pulling on his shirt and realised that she was holding on to him, scared it was going to break, the moment, to shatter into thousands of pieces. He pulled her into a tighter embrace, using his whole arms and not just his hands to pin her to him, pressing firmly on her lower back and sides. He tilted his head to kiss her better as their kiss became more deep and passionate. He lost himself in it. He lost himself in her.
They had been blindly caught in each others warmth when the soft sounds of the kiss breaking softly filled the air. They drew back from each other. They looked at each other, and this time with no fear as they drank in the exposed emotions in the vulnerability of both their eyes. Tifa then closed hers and moved forward, embracing him tightly, moving into the strong broadness of his chest.
"I love you too," she muffled into his clothing.
He returned her tight embrace and pressed his jaw delicately next to her ear.
"I know," he returned.
She pressed her face more firmly into his shirt and he found he couldn't stop smiling as he lowered his head further to rest upon her own. Time went by yet neither of them were aware. The world had become an unimportant blur.
Trapped in between his arms and torso Tifa turned her head outwards in a gentle movement to make herself more audible.
"So, when are you going to cancel your delivery to Kalm?"
His smile creased into a grin.
"Am I that easy to read?"
There was a moment's pause.
"Yes," she laughed.
When they finally parted they didn't fully break contact with each other. Her hands remained either side his chest, and he kept his hold either side of her waist. He bent in a little further.
"Can you think of anything that needs doing around the house?" he smiled.
She began to think, pressing less firmly on his chest, taking up her typical thinking pose. Her eyes moved to the bottom right, almost closing, and her eyebrows formed that deep frown that he knew so well. Then her expression suddenly changed, lightened up, and she happily began listing to him the various jobs that needed doing, leading him round the house, pointing and gesturing and attempting to explain exactly what needed fixing or maintaining.
He tried his very best to concentrate. He was nodding his head but found himself unable to fully pay attention to what she was saying. He kept zoning out, watching her familiar mannerisms, watching her smile, her laugh, the sound of her voice, the way she flicked her hair unconsciously as she tried to show him too many things at once, how she would occasionally touch his forearm to indicate he had to move out of the way, how her hands would occasionally brush his own... and all the other little things that made him light up inside.
She's... finally mine.
He was just going to feel like an idiot when he'd have to ask her to explain it all again later.