Disclaimer: I own nothing. If I did, Square Enix would've made many more sequels to FFVII and FFIX. Just saying.
A/N: I normally write for Yuffentine, but I've been wanting to write CloTi for sooooooo long that I just had to try. Cloud is so hard to keep in character, not that Vincent's any easier, but he's so vague and ambiguous and depressing. Ugh. And Tifa is far too understanding, but we love her anyways—her and Cloud are going to make beautiful babies one day. You'll see.
Side Note: This takes place during Advent Children in the scenes following Cloud going unconscious in Aeris's church after finding Tifa and being moved (offscreen) by Reno and Rude back to Seventh Heaven. The dialogue up until a certain point is taken directly from the English dub. (George Newbern, you are gorgeous!)
By Miranda Panda-chan
"Do you love me?...Sorry. Weird question."
"Don't be. It's my problem."
"Why can't it be ours?"
Cloud didn't answer.
-The Case of Tifa, On the Way to a Smile
He'd shot up when he remembered, vaguely what had happened before his black out in the church. Tifa had been injured, Marlene, and his materia were gone, and judging by the lack of his presence, Denzel was probably missing too. It occurred to him that perhaps Denzel had just up and left as he glanced over to Tifa's still form lying on the bed across from his. However, he seriously doubted it.
The kid had geostigma and a crush on Marlene—he had no reason to leave.
Although, that particular train of thought had never stopped Cloud before, so why he thought it would stop Denzel…well, he'd never know.
"Ya know, you're pretty heavy," the voice sent him on guard, bracing himself for attack. Reno and Rude were precarious allies to say the least.
"Weren't there some kids living with you?" Rude asked, the seriousness in is expression never leaving even though his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. Cloud couldn't help but wonder if he could actually see with those on in the darkened room.
"'Cause they ain't here," He'd known that when he'd woken up. He might not have been the brightest, but even could deduce that from the lack of them in the room with Tifa. The Turks glanced at one another, reading his silence as apathy.
"You don't care?" He looked at Rude carefully, wanting to defend himself, but knowing that nothing he said could change what it appeared to be.
"I just…," he started, knowing he should say something. He did care, really. He just had some…issues to sort out. Things like guilt, forgiveness, and possibly some denial were rolling around in his head, and he supposed he might've handled things better, but he hadn't. That was the bottom line, and he didn't know how to fix it. Didn't even know if it could be fixed.
And so he simply stared at one of the many reasons he was in such emotional turmoil. It mildly worried him that she still hadn't woken up yet. Tifa was the center of many things, and he wasn't quite sure what he'd do if she removed from his life, even though he'd forcibly removed himself from hers. The knowledge that she was alive and breathing somewhere was enough to satisfy him—the frequent phone calls helped, too. Not that he answered them.
Reno sighed, shaking his head, the silence getting to him as well as his impatience with the blonde hero.
"You're a real handful," the obnoxious red-head stated, turning on his heel and exiting the room, an obvious air of irritation about him. Rude, cool as ever, followed silently, nodding briefly to the indecisive ex-SOLDIER before slamming the door shut.
Cloud looked out the window, thinking that perhaps he should leave—there was something going on and he didn't have all the answers. He walked quietly to the door, his hand hovering over the door knob.
No, he knew Tifa, and even as well as Tifa knew him it was doubtful that even she was tolerant of his anti-social and reclusive behavior. Not to mention, there was still a twinge of worry for his childhood friend. Seeing her lying still, pain drawing across her face even in unconsciousness—it sent him back to a time and place he never wanted to return too. A time when he'd been just as unable to help and save her as he was now, and a place where she should never have been hurt in the first place, and still she'd survived. He wasn't quite sure why he was so concerned now, since, apparently, nothing had changed. He was still weak, and she was still strong, and he would ever be trying to repay her and always failing miserably at it.
And so began the downward spiral of his thoughts, as well as his pacing. He went back and forth, walking from the window to the bed to Tifa's bed to the door where he'd almost open it and leave, but then stopped, thinking to himself that he needed to make sure she was alright, and so he'd walk back to the window. It wasn't until his twentieth round that a thought suddenly occurred to him.
Why had she been there? Of all places to be…what had-? He stopped. He didn't know, but he would when she woke up. Midgar was no place for anyone, especially not someone as bright as Tifa. Mulling over it, he began the circle once more.
In the span of time it took for her to open her eyes from the time he'd woken up, he'd almost left at least fifty times: each time, the curiosity and worry getting the better of him enough to lead him back to the window.
When her eyes shot open at last, relief flooded him. She was fine, he'd known it from the beginning, all she needed was rest, but the fact that was awake was solid proof, evidence he needed to really believe. She looked at him strangely, looking around the room with frantic eyes as confusion finally settled on her pale face. She'd realized the kids were missing. Thankfully, he was one step ahead of her—knowing she would go in to full blown panic in less than a second once it had dawned on her.
"Reno and Rude are out looking," he said, turning from the window, the sun had gone down not too long ago, and the darkness provided the calm he needed to have this conversation. His pacing, however, didn't stop—no, now he felt as if he had to escape. The idea that he was trapped into having this conversation causing him frustration, and the urge to run was overwhelming him, and now that she was awake he had no idea on how to broach the subject he'd been mulling over for the past several hours. He had no idea how to broach any subject, period, now that she was conscious.
"You have geostigma, don't you?" He stiffened, pulling his arm a little closer to his body. He had hoped to keep that minor detail a secret, preferring to suffer on his own as atonement for past sins. His silence, though used for an ambiguous response on his part, was taken as affirmation, "You're gonna give up and die, is that it?" He stayed silent, playing dumb, hoping she'd drop it, and knowing she wouldn't. He didn't expect her to give in so easily, but it would've been nice for a change on this particular subject, "So it is…" the anguished tone in her voice was not lost on him, neither was the mild resentment.
"There's no cure," he said simply, feeling the need to justify his cowardly actions. The anger that sparked within wine red eyes unnerved him despite his pride, and he looked at the sparkling floor.
"Yea, but that's not stopping Denzel is it?" she asked, looking at him with shining eyes, hoping to win him over, "Don't run, let's fight it together. We can help each other, I know we can!" He'd learned over the years that she had learned to interpret correctly most of his silent answers, and so he remained quiet. She couldn't help him, he wasn't worthy of her help even if she could, "...I guess that only works for real families," she said finally, looking at the quilt beneath her, suddenly ashamed of her idealism. She must've sounded so foolish to him, and yet-.
"Tifa, I'm not fit to help anyone—not my family, not my friends, nobody," he had set down, his head hanging forward while he supported himself with his elbows on his knees. She stared at him for a moment, seemingly pondering his statement before she spoke again.
"Dilly dally, shilly shally." He looked at her like she'd gone mad—she was speaking gibberish and what the hell was that supposed to mean anyway? She repeated herself when he didn't give her a response, emphasizing each word, trying to convey a message that he just wasn't grasping.
"I think she wants you to move on, man." Reno's voice startled them both, neither had the Turks enter—he'd have to fix that, being caught with guard down was not okay.
"Did you find them?" Tifa asked a little desperately, almost jumping from off the bed. He knew she hoped that he would ignore the obvious pain that flared at the sudden movements. Loz's weapon had done quite a bit more damage than she'd realized, electrical currents through muscle tissue wasn't going to heal in a couple of hours.
"No, only a witness." Reno stood, glancing at Rude to continue. They'd searched the entire friggin' town from top to bottom. Not only were all the kids gone, it seemed very few were truly concerned about it. Less mouths to feed, less disease, less crime, etc. Reno hadn't realized just how dark the world had become since the explosion of Shinra. "Kadaj's gang took the kids," Reno further explained, elaborating. Tracking down that piece of information had taken forever, and they'd had to pay up for it, too. However, he'd always had a soft spot for Tifa, even back when he worked for Shinra, and she was an active member of AVANLANCHE. This was payment for all those times he and his organization had made her life just a little bit harder, as well as for the times he, mostly Reno, though, had tried to kill her and her friends. She seemed to have forgiven them already, but she was just too nice to not help.
"Where are they?" Cloud asked, they couldn't have gotten too far, could they have? They'd only had less than 24 hours…but, that was assuming they were walking. His heart sank into the pit of his stomach as Rude answered solemnly.
"They're at their base now, the Forgotten City." There was silence, an uneasy one at that. Tifa knew what Cloud was thinking of, knew the turmoil raging within him at the very sound of the place where Aeris had breathed her last.
"Go," he said finally, not looking at any of them, especially not the dark-haired girl sprawled on the bed he stood at the foot of, "…I have to talk to Rufus," to be truthful no more elaboration was needed, he had confidence that Reno would just take his word for it and leave—after all, they had just as much to atone for as he did.
"STOP RUNNING!" Tifa shouted, something inside snapping at the gloom that had settled in his eyes. He looked at her then, wishing he could be somewhere else. He'd left for a reason—his people skills sucked and he'd perfected the art of brooding: running was what he did best, "I know, even if you find the kids you might not be able to help them, maybe something will happen that can never unhappen, that scares you doesn't it? But you need to think about now, really take it in. Look at you, you think you've got it so damn hard! Well you hate being alone, so let people in. Sure you might not answer the phone, but I don't see you throwing it away either." She was right, of course, like she always was. Somehow, she'd made his pre-conceived ideas about how he was going about his atonement for her death seem utterly selfish and immature. That woman sure had a way with words…it wasn't like he was wallow in self-pity. His conscience hadn't been cleaned, though, no matter what voices he heard when he was alone.
"You go, the base is all yours." Reno said, before walking out, Rude following close behind. It was at that point that he grew mildly frustrated with his childhood friend. If she hadn't opened her big mouth, the Turks would've already been headed toward the City of Ancients.
Tifa wondered if her outburst had been in bad taste. She was just so tired of this, so tired of feeling as if she was running an endless race without a winner. She missed him, the old him. She understood, to an extent, why he couldn't accept her death. No matter how she'd felt about her and Cloud, she'd been a good person, a true companion, filled with compassion and love for everything—even if she'd totally been moving in on Tifa's territory, which had upset her on levels she didn't want to think about. There was so much going on here, so much at stake, and she was so damn tired of everything keeping her and her family from getting the happily ever after they more or less deserved (or rather, the children deserved it—she didn't. She was part of the reason so many had died…she'd been the reason Shinra had dropped the plate onto Sector Seven, killing hundreds and fatally wounding many more).
But she'd tried to restart her life. She'd rebuilt Seventh Heaven, renamed by Marlene after the old bar that had once been their hideout and base of operations. She'd picked up the pieces of her shattered life and heart and had worked her ass off trying to live for all the people that no longer could—for all the ones that had died along the way, her fault or not.
So why couldn't Cloud do the same?
"Which is it, a memory or us?" she asked quietly, only mildly fearing the answer before resigning herself to it as he remained silent. His ambiguous silence, meant to be taken as indecision as a raging war of turmoil, of guilt and forgiveness and atonement that he was or was unworthy of ever receiving for all the failures was taken as the confirmation she needed to admit defeat…"I'll go," she said simply, the idea that he wouldn't went unsaid. He resented her all too knowing and right judgment.
"You're injured, you she get some more rest. I'll take Fenrir and get the kids."
"Don't bother, I'm sure Rufus would love a visit," her voice was exasperate and he was feeling more and more patronized with every word out of her mouth. She was halfway down the stairs before the mild anger forced him to follow her.
"Tifa, wait-," he called, not bothering to hide the hard edge to his voice. She turned, hoping to conceal the look of betrayal etched on her features.
"No, Cloud—I'm not waiting. I'm going to do something—those kids need our help and if you need to get answers before getting the ones at stake here that's just fine," there was a fire in her eyes as she began marching once more, gloves in hand. He grabbed her arm, and she stopped, glaring at the floor fiercely with a sheen of unshed tears gathering over her eyes. He let her go quickly as if he'd been burned upon noticing.
"Tifa, I just…I'm sorry," she bit her lip, fists clenching at her sides.
"For what? You haven't done anything." The implication was not lost on him.
"I know," he said simply, and she looked up eyes wide, "The kids will be fine. I'll bring them home-."
"And you'll stay?" she asked tentatively.
"I-," he didn't want to make a promise he couldn't keep. He didn't want to hurt her anymore than absolutely necessary—anymore than he already had. She nodded, seemingly aware of his indecision.
"One more thing," he began, suddenly feeling desperate for the answer. Red wine eyes stared back at him, a weariness in them that he'd put there. Yet…this was important—he needed to know, "Why were you in Midgar?" he asked, looking at her with an intensity that scared her slightly. She fidgeted, but answered nonetheless.
"Marlene—she wanted to find you. Denzel's been asking for you, too. And-,"
"That's not an answer," he cut her off, taking a step closer as she took one step back, a startled expression widening her eyes as she gazed on him with disbelief.
"Of course it is! Why else would I have-?"
"Marlene wouldn't have gone to Midgar alone. Especially not to wander around Sector 5 slums. You didn't have to take her, and you didn't know that I'd be there," he explained, elaborating his train of thought. He paused, but she still gaped at him, eyes frantically searching for an escape route as he cornered her, "So why were you in that church?" She was back into the wall now, Cloud only a hair's breadth away. She stared at the black knit fabric of his shirt, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath rather than staring into mako-tainted eyes.
"I missed you," she muttered, "I'd figured you'd be there, because…well, I know you. You can't let it go—what better place to runaway too than where it's a constant reminder?" she paused, his silence worrying her. He was still invading her personal space, and he didn't seem to be planning on moving soon until she said whatever he wanted to hear. She wasn't really sure what that was, yet, but she needed to figure out what it was before she said something that she'd regret. Cloud probably already knew it, but she wasn't ready to tell it to him just yet. She wasn't ready to risk the friendship and close bond that she had finally managed to obtain, what she had been trying to accomplish for years, "I haven't heard from you in months, and I couldn't help but wonder if you were injured or worse, or if you were eating properly and getting enough sleep, and I know how much you beat yourself up over things you can't change, and-," a gloved hand lifted her head from beneath her chin, gently tapping it upward so that scarlet met mako blue as his eyes searched her face for something. She could feel his breath on her face, and he still smelled so familiar—something she'd never been able to describe in words but was so inherently Cloud.
"I won't let you down, Tifa," he said quietly, evidently finding in her features whatever he'd been searching for, "Not anymore," she let out a shaky breath, his nearness leaving her in a temporary stupor. Her attachment to the man in front of her, pressing her against a wall in her own bar was entirely unhealthy, and she should've given up on him…
…but she hadn't.
And he loved for that.
He backed up after what seemed like hours, walking toward the door brusquely afraid that he'd start blushing if he'd done anything further than get answers. She'd always been the one for him, always. He had forgotten that fact, forgotten how much she'd truly meant to him as he started taking her for granted and then as something unattainable due to his many failures and general unworthiness.
He would bring back the kids, and then he'd start trying to make amends for the years he'd been an inconsiderate and utter ass to her and the kids. He'd start trying to fix his odd relationship with her, finally, and hopefully they'd figure out exactly what that relationship was.
It was his only hope—to do this right and try to make this work. Tifa deserved so much better, and he didn't quite know why he was bothering, especially with the guilt still weighing heavily on his shoulders. However, he felt just a little lighter with her around, and he was selfish enough to want her in his life despite all that.
And Tifa—she was happy, and feeling ridiculously content despite the peril beginning to form in her life as she watched him rev Fenrir's engine.
With his curiosity sated, he nodded slightly in her direction before taking off to return to the Forgotten City.
A/N: I don't know if I succeeded in doing what I intended to do or not, but I hope it was worth your time anyways. So if it sucked or it didn't: you should tell me in a review! Please?