Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts/Final Fantasy 7.

Metamorphosis of a Heart

they say that…
your first love is always,
the most vulnerable,
the most

Tifa crosses worlds to look for him.

It is a slow-going process, riddled with alleys that lead nowhere, dead-ends, false alarms. But each time, she pulls her gloves a little tighter, breathes a little deeper, and moves on. It is a relentless process.

She runs herself ragged to the voices of people she doesn't know, whispering in the background of how she's chasing after a dream, a starlit wish made by a boy who is now dead, by a boy murdered of his own ambitions. Sometimes, the voices mention a flower girl (long dead, now, too) who took whatever light was left from this boy-turned-man. Sometimes, they'll be cruel, and say that there is nothing left for her. Without a race, without a battle, she has lost, and she is left chasing remnants—shadows.

Sometimes, they'll say she's lost to a silver-haired man with a sword long enough to cut ribbons out of her. She's lost to the darkness and despair, because that is all that is left for her little soldier, her lost, little soldier. She never wins. The voices never speak of victories or glory, just her chasing dreams, chasing inevitability.

But Tifa keeps crossing worlds for him, because the voices are lies.

Aerith (the name trips light on her tongue) took nothing from Cloud. No, she gave, and everyone took. Everyone. And if she ever did take anything from Cloud, it was only what belonged to her—the ghostly memories of a raven-haired SOLDIER with burning blue eyes and an easy laugh. Tifa does not begrudge her that spirit.

Sephiroth is a virus. Sephiroth is the ghost that every person carries once in his or her life; he's only different to her because he is Cloud's ghost. And if she had really lost Cloud, she wouldn't have a person left to chase. If he had really given into the darkness, she thinks he would have vanished in smoke, disappeared, and fallen into some purgatory, never to be found.

Tifa runs because she has a debt to pay.

That promise, so long ago, she despises it now. That silly wish for protection, she looks down on herself for it. She knows it sent him on that meandering path to Zack, Aerith, Sephiroth. She knows it sent him running, caught up in webs beyond him. Her first love, and she stood by idly while he lost bits and pieces of himself.

The boy she loved is no longer there.

The man who turns to look at her briefly has none of his naiveté, his inner beauty of spirit.

Tifa is not daunted. She is not doing this for love. She is doing this because she has to, because she will not stand idly by this time as the darkness takes whatever pieces of him are left. She is doing this to make up for all those times she didn't.

"He just needs someone to surround him with light," she murmurs to Sephiroth when they see each other face-to-face. She can feel his disdain, his urge to push her aside and see after Cloud. He's thinking this is some sort of love confession, some lovesick words from a girl who can't stop chasing after a guy. Maybe Cloud is thinking this way too.

She ignores the nausea that bubbles in her stomach at that thought.

She isn't strong enough to fight Cloud's battles for him. Her fists are useless against Masamune. She thinks the purity of her light and Sephiroth's darkness might just tear this world apart.

So she gives this light to Cloud. All of it. She gives everything good in her to him. She sees him wince, hears Sephiroth's triumphant laugh, can almost—

"See, Cloud? Don't you see? The light hurts you."

Maybe she's too late.

But then she sees the two of them rise above her and leave her behind, sees the way Cloud glows with the remnants of her gift, and thinks maybe she's not too late this time. Maybe there's hope.

Her heart beats once, slowly.

She closes her eyes.

Without light, the darkness takes her easily.

Author's Note: So this will be a series of short drabble/one-shots as each "chapter". Because this is the prologue, the metamorphosis hasn't begun. The idea is that when Tifa gave her light to Cloud, she also gave up the first heart she had-that first love. In a way, the prologue is her death. The rest of this story will detail her revival, the emergence of a new heart. I don't anticipate this to be long. I also took some liberties with the Sephiroth/Cloud/Tifa scene from KH2, just to tweak it to better fit this story's plot. Drop me a word if you've got some thoughts about this you want to share. Thank you!