It's been a while I know, but If you knew how busy I've been! New home, no new job yet, and not much spare time for writing. Lack of creativity doesn't help either, but well, this has been sitting around unfinished for a while, without a clear finishing point in sight. Hopefully, I have done it justice.
Please review, and it might be worth re-reading parts 1 and 2, they aren't as long as this part. Just to refresh your memories!
(Updated March 2013)
Now I am strong,
you gave me all,
you gave all you had,
and now I am home.
My love, look what you can do,
I am mending, I'll be with you.
Sia- My Love
The room was fairly empty, devoid of any effectual objects which might define it as being inhabited by someone; yet perhaps this feature alone indicated the room belonged to Vincent. Tifa found she was holding her breath, suddenly frightened that she might be discovered encroaching upon another's sacred territory. She'd never been to his room before, whether here on the Highwind, or in an Inn or hostel.
Why had she chosen to disturb his sporadically inhabited space now?
Outside the window, the skies had long darkened. If she chose this moment to gaze out, she wouldn't be able to make out the figure of the man she had left out there, not moments ago; Out of sight, but not out of mind. Sighing heavily, she forgot her strong sense of guilt upon entering Vincent's chamber and seated herself at the edge of the bed, disturbing the neatly made sheets.
What the hell had she been thinking?
Months had passed since Wutai. The materia that had been lost to them had since been reclaimed, and her secret shared only with Vincent, stayed so; filed away within her self along with the rest of her skeletons and shames.
No-one in their group of comrades was aware of the agreed friendship between them, and it was only in times of reflection did she find reason to acknowledge it. The myriad of chaos and definitive events that had taken place since that night in Wutai, the calm before the storm, had robbed her of any sense of togetherness, any notion of hope. A feeling that would never, she feared, be restored. She was surrounded by those she called friends, and yet, she felt more isolated than ever. The world was going to end, and all that they had left to achieve before watching the final sequences of the apocalypse take place was eliminate Sephiroth.
And now, sat in Vincent's cabin aboard the Highwind, that time had at last come. When the day dawned, they would enter the crater.
So what the hell was she doing here, alone?
-6 days ago-
Everything she had feared had been confirmed. This was it. The rocket hadn't worked, much to Cid's fury, and their doom had never seemed as absolute as now. Yet strangely, out wandering in the Red Rock Valley surrounding Cosmo Canyon, Tifa felt calm. The desert wind blasted her with dry heat, her boots and skin ruddied by the red dusts kicked up as she walked. Yuffie had tried to accompany her on her walk, though she had declined, then rebuffed her offer.
She wanted to be alone.
It was most likely a foolhardy idea; The Red Valley was dangerous place to wander, even in groups. She found herself not caring, even laughing at the prospect of danger. What did it matter, she scoffed at Cloud, if she were to die? It would only rob her of a few days of life left, at best. Privately she thought it would even be the preferable way to go. At least she would have been ready for it, in the heat of a fight. She couldn't fathom how she would feel, stood facing her final foe, that which would ultimately end her, and be helpless against it.
The sandy-gravel crunched underfoot as she wandered aimlessly, squinting in the glaring sun. Her skin was tanning, though she had not noticed. Her face had started to freckle across the bridge of her nose, and her cheeks had begun to pink. But she had not noticed. She barely saw her own reflection any more.
She stopped at last, having reached a sort of summit of her climb. Before her stretched the full expanse of the Red Valley, afire in the evening sun; behind her, nestled into the rock face, stood Cosmo Canyon. The locals were going to throw a huge party, to welcome the death of the earth; A strange, oxymoron celebration that she wanted no part in. She couldn't face the masses of people, welcoming the death of the earth, a cleansing of life, so that another world can burst into existence elsewhere. Stars die, and are reborn constantly, Red XIII told her. Why should planets not do the same, he asked her?
…Because it wasn't ready. Death had been summoned out of the skies. Gaia wasn't ready. She wasn't ready, Damn it! Fury making her blood boil, she reached for the nearest rock at her feet and hurled it as far as she could over the ledge and into the valley. She could not track its full trajectory, for her tears blurred her vision, gold light searing onto the back of her retinas.
"I'm not ready…" She whispered, shoulders jarring with her ragged inhalations. Throwing herself down into the dust, she thrust her face into her knees and hid away from the sunlight behind her hair. It was too beautiful to look at, and it reminded her of everything she stood to leave behind.
What good was love, honour, and friendship, if was all to be erased from memory, from all known existence?
"I thought I might find you out here."
She whirled around suddenly to view her pursuer. No longer protected by the shield of her hair, the sun's intruding glare and her tear-filled eyes serving to impede her vision. Still, that voice could only belong to one.
"What do you want." She muttered, abandoning her hunched position, choosing instead to go on staring into the sun.
"So we aren't friends today, I see." His boots scuffed the earth, scraping in the gravel as he kicked somewhat distractedly at the ground at her side.
"Vincent…." Her apology caught in her throat.
"It's alright." From the corner of her eye she could tell he had chosen to leave his cape back at the canyon. The lack of a glint of gold also told her he had also neglected his gauntlet, tonight. Significant, somewhat, seeing as the last time had been Wutai.
Something inside her seemed to shift, the tears suddenly pouring fourth, and she was powerless to stop them. The last time she had felt like this, her town stood in ashes at her feet, her home a smouldering pile of rubble.
"I can't… I ca-n't…" She tried to tell him that she couldn't help it, that she didn't meant to cry like this, though all excuses were lost to her as cool fingers find hers.
"It's alright." He repeated, this time softly, stepping only a little closer. "You don't have to justify how you feel."
She clutched tightly at his hand, apparently willingly given, as if it would somehow save her from drowning in her own grief and confusion. "I… Vin-cen-t…" She could barely articulate anything between her sobs, and her throat was starting to burn, denying her the air she so desperately needed.
She was hyperventilating.
Before she knew it, she was being pulled against his chest, his arms locked around her small frame, holding her tightly, instructing her to breathe. A simple order, and yet her body didn't seem to want to comply at once. Only his soothing words and the steady rise and fall of his chest against her body worked to calm her.
Her breathing normal again, her tears blasted dry upon her pinking cheeks, she stood still, her face turned into his chest. "I'm not ready…" She told him softly, curling into his hold. "I can't do this… I'm not… I'm not strong enough."
"Listen to me, Tifa," His strong hands gripping tightly at her shoulders, he pulled back to stare openly into her face. "You are the strongest woman I've ever had the pleasure to know. Without you… we wouldn't have made it this far." She scoffed, but his stare sobered her. "I wouldn't have made it, for one. Many times I've wanted to turn back, once Hojo was killed. I had no purpose; I had no reason to go on anymore."
"But you didn't leave…" She half-smiled, reaching to tuck stray hair behind her ears.
"No, I didn't; because there was you. You were always so strong, no matter what, and I knew I couldn't quit. I didn't give up for you, so don't give up for me. You are going to face this." She stared at him hard for a few moments, not daring to believe she could see a glimmer in those usually hard ruby eyes.
With his cloak gone, she found herself appreciating his features all over again; his strong jaw, high cheekbones and that sensitive, full mouth, bottom lip sucked in as he fretted, brows pulled together slightly. Smiling gently, she reached up tentatively to smooth out his frown, trailing her fingertips down the side of his face to his mouth. Vincent Valentine was a complicated yet beautiful man; a complex patchwork of metal, raven hair and pale skin. Not to mention those ruby eyes which she noticed seemed to shift colours from time to time. Right now, they were amber, shot through with golden hues.
He was right, she knew. She couldn't give up. She couldn't let the others down, not after everything. She couldn't let Cloud down, either. He needed her, and she him. Wiping her eyes finally with a brave smile, she stepped out of his arms and dusted herself down.
"We should head back. The party… We will be expected."
He nodded and stepped away and out of their embrace, his stature then suddenly a little awkward.
"I will… I will follow you down in a moment. Please, go ahead."
Supposing he was offering her the return journey to collect herself, she did not question him; instead, she bid him goodbye, before turning her back on the sun and on him, her boots thudding rhythmically as she began her quickened, downhill journey towards the Canyon.
She had just begun to worry when Vincent arrived back in the village an hour after sundown, as silent and impassive as ever.
The festival was going better than she had thought it would. The wine was flowing, the music loud, and she even found herself dancing for a while, in the arms of Cid or Barrett, somewhat inexpertly. Yet she had seen little of Cloud or Vincent. Both were no doubt pre-occupied with their respective broodings, and what with her emotions to worry about as well, she felt disinclined to seek them out.
Lying in the shared den room that night, listening to the symphony of snoring provided by Cid and Barrett, she wondered if he too, lay awake. Finally, she drifted off into a fitful slumber, all the while with the recollection of cool, strong fingers, laced with hers.
-3 Days ago-
Today was the day that they were all given the chance to turn back. When the words had left Cloud's mouth, she had almost wanted to punch him. Perhaps it was a little too late to be giving them the option to leave; they had already given so much to their cause, it was a surprise that any of them had anything left to give.
She glanced around at their group, at the Avalanche they had become. Cloud stood facing away from them, staring out of the glass and over the rolling pastures that surrounded the spot where the Highwind was temporarily docked. Cid was smoking as usual, leaning against a console next to Barrett, who was glaring at Cloud's turned back. Red XIII, seemingly unconcerned, sat washing himself before Vincent, who stood tall and impassive in the background. Yuffie was nursing her travel sickness, and Tifa sensed that her attention wasn't quite fully on the speech they had been subjected to. God only knows what Cait was thinking.
They were all there, following Cloud to the end; and yet she didn't discount that he still doubted himself. Perhaps she should be asking him if he was ready to see it through, because from where she was stood, he didn't look like a man who was ready. He looked like a man who was ready to accept the end.
That wasn't her Cloud! That wasn't the man she followed, to the very ends of the earth, literally!
"Cloud, we are all with you to the end." She found herself saying, stepping closer to him. "There's really no need to ask."
He looks at her, cerulean eyes deeper than oceans penetrating her very being. She suppresses a shiver. "Please… I need to know… Is everything going to be alright? I need to hear you say it…" She was staring at her folded hands, worrying the leather straps of her fighting gloves.
"Tifa." He cupped her chin, lifting her face to look at him. "Everything is going to be alright."
She heard a few mumbles of discontent, before one set of footfalls carried away from the bridge.
-0 Days ago-
The night was still, a watery sunset crowning the horizon to the west, the Highwind a silhouette against the darkening backdrop of sky. A gentle breeze plucked at errant strands of her hair, and they drifted about her face in a most ethereal manner, catching on the moisture of her lips. Her eyes, amber like candlelight through whiskey bottles, stared unfocussed into the distance. Though she did not stand alone, for a moment she could have been the only woman left on earth.
"So this is it."
Cloud shattered the silence and she almost winced, arms crossed defensively across her upper body. Now that she thought about it, the breeze did hold a certain chill to it. She wished she'd thought to bring a coat or something. Oddly, her mind snapped to Vincent's cloak.
"It would seem that way."
She had asked to spend some time with him before the end, achingly aware of Vincent also remaining behind on the Highwind after they had taken everyone else home to their families. Cloud had asked if Vincent would like to go anywhere. The gunman had simply shook his head and turned away. He had no family to visit either. But he had to understand her reasons for wanting to be with Cloud. She didn't really see the need to be apologetic about it anymore.
Though as the hours shifted by, after near enough spelling it out to him… still, there was the crossed arms, the blank stare, and the uneasiness.
Cloud did not love her.
He cared, sure. But it felt like something close to betrayal after all this time she had been waiting to tell him. He loved her as a friend, nothing more. But it hurt that she had to draw that conclusion for herself.
"I'm going to go inside… its cold." She drew her arms across her body for emphasis, though she didn't really need to. There was no lie in her words- she was cold from the inside out, frozen solid. Her limbs felt heavy and useless, and her heart dead and empty.
He nodded curtly, still seated rigidly on the same rocky ledge. She sensed he would need a couple of hours with his own thoughts at least. Still, it only twisted the knife.
She dragged her heavy body towards the rope ladder, heaving herself up rung by rung as tears forced their way down her face. Why was this so hard to deal with? She had seen it coming, after all. From the moment she had met Aeris, in the basement of that seedy mansion, in all her ethereal beauty, she had known it. Swathes of ash-coloured waves, emerald eyes that lit up the dark, and features of an angel… She was a fool to think Cloud would choose her instead.
The Highwind was creepy in the dark, shafts of moonlight piercing through the gloom in the corridors to light her way. Her footfalls clanked and echoed on steel walkways, carrying her towards the bridge. Peering out, she could see Cloud's motionless form, sat exactly where she had left him, his sword now lying at his feet, gleaming in the moonlight. Her heavy sigh steamed up the glass before her.
A distant sound permeating the silence made her suddenly remember Vincent. He would still be on the Highwind somewhere, and yet she didn't know if she could face him, afraid of what he might see in her face if she did. He would be able to see the falseness of her smile, the weakness in her façade.
Yet a week ago, she had shown him just that, hadn't she? Crying into his shirt as if she had known him for years, reaching out to touch his face, and wondering for a fraction of a second what it would be like to kiss that sensitive mouth…
She was a god damn fool.
His room was empty, and the ship stood silent. He had probably disembarked at some point in the night, rather than remain here alone; maybe to visit the eerie tomb of the women he once loved. That was a subject they had never discussed, a boundary that she dared not cross.
Just like with another man and another dead woman she knew.
Closing her eyes, bathed in moonlight, she was back on the Wutai plains, charcoal in her hand and all of her attention fixed upon that single flickering lantern and the paper before her… yet his attention had been fixated upon her. She remembered his sketch that he had given her, fixed so that the charcoal would not smudge. She also remembered the sketch she had given him, crumpled up from having used it to hit him with. They had laughed together that night, like friends would.
Stood in his room, void of any affects within sight, she wondered where it was. Her scroll was tucked neatly in her pack, a gift she had come to treasure. Pushing back her unease, she eyed the cabinet by his bedside and after a moment of building her courage, she reached for the drawer handle. He was most likely elsewhere, and would not return until morning.
Unless of course, he didn't plan on coming back at all…
The drawer was empty aside from a couple of spare bullets that rattled rudely as she shoved it shut again. The next she searched proved void also, though perhaps more promising. She found some charcoal pieces and a pencil rolling around inside.
Next, she crossed the room to the desk, seating herself at the creaky chair tentatively. The top drawer held within it what she had been looking for, and much more; The scroll concerned was present, amongst pencils, sketch pads and stacks of drawings, some of which were unfinished or discarded, if the crumples were anything to go by.
Leafing through them carefully, tenderly, she found sketches of landscapes, all of them familiar from their travels. She found scrawls that held no meaning at all, and she discovered more drawings of a figure, always alone, lost in thought, staring into the distance of a variety of backdrops. He had been drawing her for a while, it seemed. One image stalled her particularly; she recognised the backdrop of the forgotten city, where she was stood in defeat over a glimmering lake, all other figures blackened out by vigorous shading. Another depicted her staring into flames, possibly at the Cosmo canyon.
She was so intent studying the intricately drawn depictions of herself and trying to understand what the whole thing meant, to notice the soft footfalls out in the hallway past the wide open door that she had not thought to close.
She almost screamed, jerking up and out of her seat, palm flat over the pile that was evidence of her prying.
He stood in the doorway, wearing no shoes and no shirt, white and ethereal in the moonlight, his metal arm glinting. He was staring at her, his expression blank and frustratingly unreadable. "I… I was just… I thought you weren't here." She babbled aimlessly, unaware that in her haste to wipe away her tears, she had smudged her cheeks with charcoal.
Still he said nothing, flicking his gaze to the ground, then back up to her face. "Vincent, I'm sorry."
He stepped forward at last, and she leant away to allow him to reach past her. He seemed to be examining the pile of drawings as if for the first time, his eyes empty and hollow.
"I drew these after Wutai, and this one after Cosmo Canyon." He picked up the latter sketch, taking it into his hands and crumpling the paper. She flinched at the sound. "I thought if I did, it would get the image of your sadness out of my thoughts." She sucked in her bottom lip, unable to tear her eyes away from his face. "I thought if I watched you tonight, I could be happy knowing you had the love you deserved. And yet… you come here. On the eve of the end of everything, you come here."
His eyes found hers, their bodies not inches apart, frozen in space. His hair looked damp, the tips of the ebony strands dripping moisture. Perhaps he had been in the showers all this time.
"I never told you what that man said to me, that night in Wutai." She withdrew slightly to consider him, wondering what could have brought that back to him, now of all times. "He asked me if we were lovers. When I told him no, he told me I would be a fool not to love a woman as beautiful as you."
She laughed, a gentle blush creeping up her neck.
"I want to explain-" Oh Vincent, I want to explain everything. I hope you would understand what it feels like not to be loved in return.
"Tomorrow we go into the crater. It is your choice; stay, or go."
"There was never really an option not to, was there?" She whispered in reply, unable to move.
Their proximity was dizzying, and yet she could not force herself to move away. In one tender movement, before she could get her words out, he trailed the fingertips of his human hand along her collar bone and shoulder, before gathering up her hair, gently pulling it out of her face.
In one look, she knew. He felt something for her. More than friendship, yes, but exactly what, she couldn't say. She had not gotten that good at reading him. Smiling softly, he rubbed away the grey smudges of charcoal on her cheeks.
"Vincent, I don't understand." Her voice was barely audible, yet she didn't doubt he heard. "I… I don't know what to say."
"Please, say nothing." Her breath hitched in her throat at the cool touch of his fingertips, her inside contorting with confusion and guilt.
"Vincent, what are you doing?"
His wet hair was touching her face as he leant forward, his moth finding hers, his hands, one flesh and one metal, tenderly cupping her jaw. His kiss was hesitant at first, but then her traitorous lips parted, and he pressed their mouths together firmly.
What am I doing, She thought vaguely. Only moments ago she had been outside despairing for her unrequited love and now…
Now his mouth was warm against hers, his touch so gentle. Their lips moistened by fresh tears, and perhaps sensing her conflict, he pulled away slightly. Her palms had somehow flattened themselves against his chest, bracing her body against him. Gazing up at him, his image was blurry and unclear. She noted though, that his eyes were amber and gold.
"Don't…" She whispered, her voice trembling. "Please Vincent… don't. I can't."
"Tifa, I'm…. I'm sorry." He shook his head firmly, the fingertips of his flesh hand increasing their pressure on her shoulder. "I shouldn't have…"
"It's alright," She soothed, finding it easier than she thought possible to slip back into the role of the caring one. "There is truly nothing to forgive." Irises that had shifted back to the shade of deep wine she recognised glinted in the moonlight, boring right through her.
"You don't understand," He shook his head, raven locks tumbling about his face. "I am sorry for hoping that Cloud would at least be honest with you, so that I could… be with you, before the end. Before it's too late."
She swallowed, unsure of whether she should really be feeling angry right about now. Not much point, she told herself. She had long accepted that tomorrow would be their last day on this doomed planet.
"Maybe in another life, we will be together. Just… not this one." She felt tears force their way down her cheeks as she spoke, unable to look directly into his eyes any longer.
She remembered something her mother once told her, about finding love. There were two things that you needed for it to work; Chemistry, and timing. Sadly, there was no time left in which to allow whatever it was between them grow. She mourned the loss of what could have been.
"I understand. It was… too soon for you. Well somewhere, in some time… I will meet you there."
She smiled, worrying a loose thread in her shirt. "Yes. Then perhaps we can… work on being friends, someday."
"I will look forward to it."
"Goodnight, Vincent." She whispered, standing on her tip toes to kiss him upon his cheek, tenderly cupping his face to steady herself.
"Good bye, Tifa…"
-1 day later-
The fight had been furious, yet somehow- somehow- they had survived—all of them, part of that rag-tag band Avalanche, had defeated the planet's greatest threat. It was only a shame that they could do nothing to prevent meteor in the end.
Miraculously, the Highwind had enough life in her to carry them to Midgar on the main continent, where the ominous shadow of meteor was headed, and where Vincent and rest of the group were intending to wait out the end. Vincent's jaw was set, hidden behind his cape once more.
It felt like some awful joke. Why had they even gone to the trouble of defeating Sephiroth anyway, if this was all that would be left to congratulate their victory?
His metal hand creaked as he balled it into a fist.
If the situation itself had not been so dire, he might have called the view outside of the Highwind's front window beautiful. Midgar was all black steel and flame, smouldering angrily and magnificently on the horizon.
Below, scores of creatures, monsters, chocobos and animals were all running south across the wildlands, all trying to escape meteors glare. When he looked carefully, there were also people, running from the surrounding villages no doubt, thinking that putting distance between themselves and meteor would somehow save them. Some of the monsters were turning on them, and helpless and afraid, they were being torn asunder without a fight.
"Vincent, where are you going?" Tifa's voice stopped him in his tracks. He half turned, reaching beneath the folds of his cloak and unholstering Death Penalty. He raised it to eye level, turning it this way and that, the angry glow of meteor reflecting in the black gunmetal.
"I think we should finish this journey how we started it." He cast a glance around the bridge, taking in the blank faces of his comrades. "Fighting." He answered himself, before turning and running along the metal gangways up to the bridge. He vaulted over the rails, landing with his metal arm braced to the ground, gun arm raised and ready.
Not moments later, another body dropped and landed by his side with a thud. He turned his head to acknowledge them.
"I can't just stand and wait for the end to come for me." Tifa told him, staring ahead and tugging on her fighting gloves for the last time. "I say we go and get it." Her face was illuminated by the red glow of the inferno in the skies, her hair given a fiery halo.
He gave a curt nod, his half-smile hidden behind his cowl. The monsters were thick and approaching fast. He readied his aim.
"I always hated that ship anyway," Yuffie landed at their sides, her shuriken glinting at all four points. "Now let's do this thing!" The young ninja arched back her arm then let her spinning blades fly, signalling the start of their final battle.
"I fuckin' heard that! N' don' think I won't find you in the afterlife or whatever n' beat the shit outta ya, cuz I WILL!" Cid joined the fray, his lancet swirling. His comments were lost amidst the quick fire of Vincent's bullets, and the flurry of Tifa's limbs as she threw herself into the midst of it all, fists and feet making contact and breaking bones with sickening cracks.
Singing blades, flying fists and gun fire was their final song, and they sang it well, tearing through the droves of monsters and advancing toward the doomed shadow of Midgar like moths drawn to a flame.
With only a stagger to disrupt his momentum, Vincent tore out of his body in the form of Chaos, a conduit for all his fury and frustration, not yet fully released. Tifa caught the flash of crimson as his cloak was left behind, a pool of fabric blood marring the wastes. Shutting the image out of her mind for the time being, she focussed her attention on her foes, swinging her weight around and driving forward with her fists, knocking down opponents like flies. Her limbs surged with the energy of her limit break, and she unleashed a flurry of fists upon her opponents, knocking them to the ground with sweeping kicks and somersaults.
Behind the now-advancing group, one last figure dropped to the ground from the Highwind deck, golden hair ruffled by a hot wind. "So it begins." Adjusting his shoulder brace, Cloud readied buster sword, setting off at a sprint towards his teammates, the tip trailing sparks as he ran. As he picked up speed, a line of flame trailed behind his sword point.
SOLDIER had a lot to answer for, but his power had come in useful in the end. His flesh had bled like any other mans in the crater, staining that perfect silver hair crimson.
Even Gods could bleed.
Vincent's return to his body was only a minor shock to the system compared with the heat; a searing heat that threatened to burn way flesh if he dared venture closer. It seemed that they had come as far as they were physically able, the inferno that was Midgar now long past aid. The city was burning, melting before their eyes like some overgrown candle. It seemed somewhat fitting that he should see Midgar die this way. Yet it did not feel so sweet.
Sweat was running down his limbs from the exertion of the fight. It seemed that they had run out of foes at last, and all of the other members of Avalanche reached a standstill at Vincent's side. His cape had been lost somewhere along the way; it didn't really matter now where it was. He wouldn't need it in the afterlife- If such a thing existed, for him.
He found her stood to his right, her clothing blackened and torn. One shoulder was fully exposed, the fabric having come apart at some point in their battle, giving him a view of her exquisite bone structure. As her chest heaved with heavy breaths, he could track the progress of beads of sweat, sliding over her collar bones, and down and between her breasts.
Tifa Lockheart, the last sight he was going to see- and what a sight she made, even now.
As if she sensed his stare, her gaze snapped to his, silence lingering between them. "You are wounded."
He glanced down; sure enough, a deep cut marked his naked abdomen. No doubt he didn't sense the hot blood, mingled with already hot sweat. "Do you think I should get stitches?"
She laughed then; an awkward, spasmodic burst that she caught in her hand; though when he joined her, she felt it safe to continue. What did it matter if he was wounded? The world was going to end, starting right with the spot they were stood. It was hilarious actually, when he came to think about it.
"If you can't laugh about it now, you never will."
There they went again, laughing. It was all a sick joke. Even Cloud couldn't help but raise a brow at the irony of it all. Cid was choking, probably because of the smoke, and it all seemed so anti-climactic, stood on the edge of destruction with nothing to do but laugh.
"I'm sorry Vincent. We never really had the chance to be friends." She sobered herself, reaching out bruised and bloody hands to take his.
"Tifa. I am your friend, If… you could still be mine?" She gave one slow nod, that beautiful, angelic smile gracing her lips for the first time in a long while. He longed to kiss her, blood and dirt and sweat be damned.
"Tifa…" Cloud wanted to talk to her; Vincent supposed it was either now or never for them. Nodding in return, he let go of her hands, not daring to notice she clutched on tightly, as if resisting. He could let them have these final moments. He'd had his, after all.
"Lucrecia, forgive me." He muttered under his breath, turning his back to the destruction, and facing the plains. He could almost pretend it weren't there, save for the searing at his back.
There is nothing to forgive.
"What's that?" Tifa's shout drew his attention. Eerie green swirling lights, spiralled out of the ground at their feet
Cloud watched idly as strings of the strange lights swirling about him, before beginning a sinusoidal journey upwards, towards the fires. Soon, more burst forth, arching to join their predecessors. Some convalesced, forming brighter, thicker beams. Still, they spiralled ever upward, gaining intensity.
-several days later-
Everything was grey. The fires had long been extinguished, though the ruins still smouldered, sending up plumes of grey smoke into the air, visible for leagues around.
The gunslinger wandered, though not aimlessly. He knew it had to be here somewhere…
There! Trampled, torn, and heavy with the scent of blood and smoke: His cloak.
He picked it up, holding it at arm's length. It would no doubt need cleaning before he could wear it again.
"Oh, you found it." She was standing twenty feet away, her foot resting upon a boulder. She had bought new clothes since her last battle suit had been ruined. Something with more fabric. Most of it was black, too. She joked she was trying to copy his fashion sense.
"Doesn't look good though," He remarked, folding it over his arm. "At least it's not wet." At his words, the clouds rumbled above them. An omen of rain.
She raised a brow. "We'd better get moving." He nodded, following her the short walk back to the vehicle they had borrowed. Some old black pick up, with massive wheels, well suited to this terrain. "How come you wanted to find it so badly anyway?" She asked as she leant forward to insert the keys into the ignition. The truck roared to life in her hands, jerking forwards as she stepped on the accelerator. A little too vigorously, he felt.
"I… I don't know. I suppose it's symbolic, in a way."
"I like you better without it," She said softly, voice barely audible over the growl of the engine. They were on the road back to Kalm, and would reach the town where the rest of Avalanche were meeting in under an hours journey.
He wasn't sure why she had volunteered to drive all the way out here, just to look for his tattered cloak. He hadn't had the time alone with her since the Holy event. Perhaps, he was hoping, that was her reasoning.
"I'm not sure that Cid would agree, though."
"Ah. But I'm not Cid, am I?"
"Thank the gods, no."
She chuckled, just as the heavens finally opened, and rain began to lash against the windscreen. "It's… strange, still being here, isn't it?"
He glanced up from his folded hands, a brow raised. "Very. I'm still not really sure what happened."
It had all happened in a blinding glow of white and searing heat. It was all they could do to run from the falling rubble and flaming debris, back to the safety of the Highwind, a mile or so away. Then instead of the end, came a grey watery sky. But it was so much more than that; it was a promise of a new start.
He remembered her words, Maybe in another life, we will be together, and wondered if she really meant it. After all, wasn't this second chance, in effect, another life? He also wondered who would be brave enough to mention the subject first. At least she wasn't avoiding him, or making things awkward for him.
"I guess the planet wasn't ready to die," She commented, leaning forward to try and view the road better. The windscreen wipers were working at full speed, and yet did little to deter the onslaught of rain from obscuring her vision.
"On that note, neither am I. Maybe we should wait out the shower, so you can see where you are going."
"I'd hardly call this a shower—and was that some kind of dig at my driving, Valentine?" She pulled over anyway, somewhere in the middle of nothing. They hadn't yet reached the road, from what he could tell anyway, and Kalm wasn't going to go anywhere. They might as well take their time heading back safely and in once piece.
At least, that was the reason why he was stalling, he kept telling himself.
"Ahhh…" Tifa groaned, resting her forehead on the steering wheel. "It's been one hell of a ride, hasn't it? These past few months I mean. And now here we are, off to Kalm for a reunion, and then… well, off for a well-deserved holiday. It's crazy."
"There's one word you could use to describe it," He chuckled, deep baritone rumbling in his chest. "Will you… do you plan to join Cloud in Midgar in the coming months?" He tried to keep his tone nonchalant.
"I don't know," She picked at her nails consciously. "I suppose I've not really thought about it. Part of me wants to go, but I think… I think it would be best if I left him alone for a while. He needs some time to… come to terms with everything."
"And what will you do instead?" He was staring rather intently, and he couldn't dislodge the lump from his throat.
"I don't have any plans, per se. Did you have any ideas?"
"I assume that's why you were… asking about my plans; you have something in store for me?"
He was blushing, god damn it! Where was his cloak when he needed to hide behind it, for once? "Well, no. I hadn't really thought about it."
"Well you'd better start thinking."
She turned in her seat, the silence punctuated by the drum of heavy raindrops on the roof of the truck. "In a few weeks, I will have no plans to tie me to one place. I have no permanent residence, and no other offers have been made. And besides, I thought you wanted to work on being friends?"
He opened his mouth once and then closed it again, bathing in the glow from her beautiful smile. "I had hoped that… that could be possible."
"Well, it is possible. So get thinking, Valentine, and—oh would you look at that, its stopped raining! Just like that huh?"
He had gotten so used to listening to the rap-rap of the drops against the window that he wondered how he couldn't have noticed it. Then again, there was Tifa, and her glorious offer…
Her offer for that second chance he had been hoping for.
A/N: I've been struggling with an ending for this series/chapter. I wasn't feeling it at time of writing, and went back and made some changes, then ended up writing an extra 2,000 words or so. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading, and haven't been waiting too long for an update! There might be another part to come, I'm not sure yet. Keep an eye on it, and as always, please leave me some feedback!
(Updated March 2013)