Disclaimer: Definitely not mine; always returned to Square Enix after they've been thoroughly traumatized.
A/N: The Dissidia 012 bunnies demanded one more shot at this universe, so who am I to argue? The fact that they took my chocolate supply hostage has nothing to do with it. Honest.
More bits and pieces swiped from spoilers and game play footage posted on the 'net. Since 012 is the prequel to the original Dissidia (now numbered '013'), Squeenix had to get rid of the new cast members.
Set a year or so post-DoC, so Cloud is definitely over being 'emo'.
Warnings: Coarse language, citrus content. Please respect the posted ratings.
Many thanks to Kitsune13/TamLin for her help wrangling these bunnies!
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Dissidia 012: Dissonance
Chapter Four: Reunion
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"Where the hell you been?"
The dark-haired woman blinked slowly, first down at the two tackle-clinging children, then up at the scowling man and young girl standing on the stoop of the 7th Heaven. "I'm… home?" Wrapping her arms around Denzel and Marlene, Tifa let reality sink in. "I'm home."
"Where did you go?" Marlene demanded, while Denzel just held on tighter.
Instead of answering, Tifa asked her own question. "How long was I gone?"
"Almos' three weeks," Barret growled. "Near scared us half to effin' death when we foun' Fenrir in a ditch near the marshlands. Figured a frickin' Midgar Zolom had et ya."
"That long? Oh, my…." Cuddling the children again, she murmured, "I'm so sorry that I worried you."
"Why the hell didn't ya call? We was worried sick!"
"I couldn't – there wasn't any, er, connections between there and here."
"'There'?" Marlene asked, while Denzel kept his face buried in Tifa's shoulder, as if he was afraid she'd disappear if he loosened his rib-cracking embrace.
Shelke pulled out a sleek PHS. "I'll tell Vincent to call off the search… and Elmyra that you've returned unharmed. She was terribly frightened when the two of you vanished into thin air."
Barret glanced up and down the narrow street. "Where's Spiky?"
"Cloud's not here?" Tifa couldn't keep the fear out of her tone.
"He wasn't wi' you?"
"He was, but then he went after… oh, no." All the colour drained out of Tifa's face, and she swayed a little; Denzel immediately steadied her.
Marlene instantly took charge, tugging both of them forward. "Come inside and we'll have tea. Bet you that Cloud is here before the kettle boils!"
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But Cloud didn't arrive in time for tea.
Not that day, and not by the time the rest of their friends gathered at 7th Heaven to hear the story behind the couple's abrupt disappearance while on an afternoon ride to Kalm. The children hung on every word, thinking up new questions during every retelling; Tifa did her best to answer them, but it grew harder with each passing day to disguise the growing anxiety that stole the brightness from her smile and the rest from her nights.
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Two weeks later…
"Jus' like that fool to go up against the Big Bad all on his lonesome," Barret muttered, setting down his empty glass with a little more force than necessary. "Tryin' ta be the fuckin' hero."
"His motivation was to protect Tifa from further danger," Vincent pointed out. "That's very 'Cloud'."
"Even if he didn't remember her." Cid toyed with a cigarette, considered lighting it, then tucked temptation behind his ear. "Kinda shitty o' Cosmos an' Chaos to wipe their memories."
Vincent shrugged, swirling his wine. "I would do the same, if my goal was a gathering of warriors who would fight unencumbered by their pasts."
"Yeah, well… but Cloud helping Sephiroth? That's gonna give our boy nightmares!"
Barret crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the tabletop. "I get th' feelin' that Tifa's not tellin' us the whole story."
Cid smirked. "Like who gave her that hickey?"
Barret's fiery glare could've ignited both Cid's cigarette and his hair. "No, dumbshit – like how a dead woman showed up as her Assist."
"Tifa more than likely does not know," Vincent murmured. "She did say that they existed in a surreal landscape, so anything is possible."
The other two solemnly contemplated this idea in silence before Barret muttered, "Spiky better get his ass here, an' soon – so's I can kick it to Wutai an' back for puttin' us through this."
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Another two weeks…
Barret sat in the dark, nursing a tumbler of pale amber liquid, waiting for a man that he was beginning to think would never return. Of course, he didn't say this out loud to anyone, least of all Marlene or Denzel, who were doing their best to prop up Tifa.
Tifa, who looked thinner and paler every day, no matter how much she wanly smiled and said she was fine.
Her voice didn't waver any more when she took calls for Strife Delivery Service, explaining calmly that the proprietor was away on business, and that she could make alternate arrangements for their parcel. Most were more than happy to take her up on the offer, and Yuffie was kept busy dashing around the Edge-Junon-Costa del Sol run, while Cid took care of more distant deliveries. Denzel and Marlene pitched in by using their bicycles to cover the surrounding sectors of Edge, but they didn't like to be too far away in case 'something happened'.
Except nothing ever did.
Contemplating the dregs, Barret sighed heavily. "Spiky, we're all waitin' fer ya," he mumbled. "I'm nearly done emptyin' Tifa's cask o' Mideel applejack, an' when it's gone, I ain't got no excuse to keep hangin' 'round." Rolling his shoulders, he continued, "We gotta move on – but you could help by givin' us a sign."
At that precise moment, the front door of the bar burst open and a wild-eyed man hurtled in; Barret's mouth dropped open as Cloud grabbed him by the collar. "Tifa?" the long-lost swordsman practically shouted in his face.
Stunned by Cloud's abrupt reappearance as well as the visceral fear in his normally stoic expression, Barret jerked his thumb over his shoulder and grunted, "Upstairs." Cloud had vaulted across the table and disappeared up the flight before he finished the second syllable. "Nice ta see ya, too," Barret grumbled good-naturedly, ambling over to the bar to pour himself a celebratory toast.
Cloud managed to not take Tifa's bedroom door off its hinges, but only barely. He stopped his headlong rush by gripping the doorframe as he drank in the sight of the young woman. She was uneasily asleep, her sweet features bathed by the shielded light of a single lamp, the collar of his spare sweater framing her pale throat. After a moment's contemplation, he firmly closed the door before ruthlessly jamming it tight with his sword.
Crossing the room, he knelt beside the bed. "Thank you, Cosmos – thank you," he hoarsely whispered, even as he noted the shadows beneath Tifa's eyes and the bedding tangled around her legs. Closing his eyes against the searing memories of the goddess' fiery end, Cloud leaned in and pressed his mouth to Tifa's as he gathered her into his arms.
Her lips moved against his as she was roused from her restless dreaming. Cloud kept kissing her, watching through his lashes as hers first flickered and then slowly fluttered open. She blinked once – and then her eyes opened wide in surprise, her startled cry muted as he deepened the kiss. Tifa flung her arms around him, her fingertips digging into his back, returning the caress with almost painful desperation.
Without breaking either the kiss or their embrace, Cloud climbed onto the bed while Tifa tried to wrap herself around him. When tears trickled through his fingers as he cupped her face, he was startled to realize that they were as much his as hers. Burying his face in Tifa's hair, Cloud tried to regain control while she both laughed and cried, chanting his name over and over as her hands roamed his body. He finally pulled away, but only far enough to unzip her borrowed sleep attire. Pushing the knit aside with trembling fingers, he searched for his mark, only to find her skin unblemished.
Tifa tenderly caressed his damp cheek. "It's been a month," she whispered.
"A month…?" He abruptly collapsed on top of her, his breathing irregular.
"Cloud?" It was her turn to gather him close.
"She saved you, but I couldn't save her," he finally managed to rasp.
Tifa stilled before her fingers sifted soothingly through his hair. "What do you mean?"
"I went after Chaos, but…." A brief, rueful laugh. "He made Sephiroth look like a Touch Me." There was a long pause before he choked out, "I was dying, and I prayed to Cosmos. I asked her to protect you." As Tifa's arms tightened around him, he continued, "In exchange, she took me as one of her warriors and we went straight into the next round of the war. Not that I helped much… we lost."
"That's why I arrived home before you," Tifa murmured. "A huge army of manikins surrounded us; just before the second wave attacked, I blacked out… and then I was standing in front of the 7th Heaven."
Cloud rolled to the side, pulling frantically at the blankets and then the sweater's zipper until she was bare to his panicked gaze. Curving his palm around the gentle rounding of her belly that he knew hadn't been there before their impromptu trip to Kalm to share their good news with Elmyra, he held his breath until Tifa said, "We're all right. I saw the doctor the same day I came back," as she laid her hand over his and squeezed. His relieved smile lit up his entire face, and then the expression turned crooked when she tugged on his clothing. "Come to bed."
Shedding his clothes and armour into a heap on the floor while she freed herself from the sweater, Cloud slid under the covers and into Tifa's arms. Shifting until they were thoroughly entwined, skin against skin and heart to heart, they simply held onto each other for a very long time.
"What if Kuja had really hurt you?" he finally whispered around the lump in his throat. "Or the baby?"
"Don't even think about that!" she commanded fiercely. "Please don't – you'll drive yourself crazy if you start worrying about the 'might have beens'. What if I had killed you in that first fight, instead of just giving you a black eye?"
"And a couple of cracked ribs. I wasn't entirely right until you healed me after Lightning kicked my ass."
"See? You protected me from Sephiroth; we both made up for anything that might have happened. Please, Cloud – don't go there. I've tied myself up in enough knots for both of us in the last month."
"I'll try." He began running his fingers through her hair, noting its shorter length, as he finally began to relax. "I'd forgotten how much I liked your short skirts."
"I'd forgotten how obnoxious you were."
"Yes, you… 'Chocobo-boy'."
"What's that supposed to mean, anyways?"
"Don't you remember from when we bred that golden Chocobo?" he grinned. "Something along the lines of 'hey, babe, wanna make some chicks?'"
Tifa giggled. "I think we have that covered." A moment later, she was flat on her back and staring up into bright blue eyes gone dark and smouldering.
"I didn't know why or what I was supposed to be fighting for," Cloud whispered. "I could only hope that Cosmos had made good on her end of the deal – but she died before I could find out."
"Then Chaos will be unleashed?" Tifa gasped.
"No. We defeated him – took all of us, but we did it." His lips brushed hers. "Then I came home to my dearest partner."
"Barret must've been really happy to see you," she deadpanned.
He snorted, then began kissing her with full intent. Tifa let him have his way, incredibly relieved that Cloud was home, in one piece, and with his self-confidence and sense of humour apparently intact. Taking full advantage, he concentrated on the sensitive places that made her breathing hitch and her back arch, slowly moving down her body until he reached the apex of her thighs.
She moaned and squirmed, curling her fingers into the bedding as he used his lips and tongue to wind her higher and higher until she had to clap her hand over her mouth to muffle her cry. Her body was still rippling with waves of pleasure when he slid inside, making her gasp and angle her hips up to meet him. Sighing deeply, Tifa wrapped her arms around Cloud as he set a rapid pace, his breath hot on her skin.
He lost control very quickly, his groan muffled in her shoulder while he shuddered in her embrace. When he could breathe again, several long, tender kisses sealed their reunion before he turned off the light. Tifa snuggled against his chest, truly happy for the first time in weeks, until a stray thought disturbed her contentment. "D'you think we'll ever be called back for another round?" she asked apprehensively.
"One of the guys – Squall – said something about us doing another mission," Cloud replied, yawning.
"What did you say?"
His sleepy smirk was downright mischievous. "'Not interested' – unless you're wearing that hot red miniskirt, of course."
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