Red awoke, greeted by the sight of a plain, white ceiling.
"I hate my life," he grumbled, bitterly. How many new ceilings would he have to wake up to before he was back to normal? How many times would he awake to a ceiling before he could go back to waking up to a nice, comfortable floor?
He forced his self-pity aside and sat up in bed, vaguely noting his aching legs, arms, back, and pretty much everything else. He looked around, taking in the generic hospital room in which he sat. Grey light seeped in from the blinds on the window next to his bed. There was a television clinging to the wall at the middle of the room, and two other beds. One of them was empty and neatly made, but the other …
He ignored his body's screams of protest as he swung his legs over the side, slowly dropping them to the floor and standing. He glanced down, making sure he was wearing trousers, before moving towards Yuffie's bed. He looked down at her, a cut across her cheek barely noticeable in the bleak hospital lighting. Her eyes fluttered slightly in her sleep and her chest rose and fell beneath her sheets in a steady rhythm. A short strand of hair stuck in her eyelashes, jerking awkwardly when her eyes moved beneath her lids. He reached forward, brushing it away, and let out the most miserable sigh he could muster.
He'd heard that human adolescents had a chemical imbalance that made it easy for them to get depressed. He really thought it was starting to get to him. That, or the fact that he'd been turned into an ugly beast.
"You should be in bed, mister!" A strong voice called and he turned to see Tifa standing in the door. He suddenly felt incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious. He liked his human body less and less as time went by, and as much as Tifa tried, she couldn't control her roving eyes.
"Hi," he said, casually trying to move back to his bed where he could hide under a sheet. Tifa hesitated beforegrabbing a chair in the corner and dragging it towards his bed. She took a seat, her eyes ending their journey and focusing in on his own.
"Would you like to talk?" She asked. Red said nothing, scratching at the back of his neck, but fixed his gaze onto hers intently.
"I've missed you, Red. It's good to see you. I've been meaning to visit your grandfather's gravefor a while, but time seems to be running away from me." She sighed, rubbing at her eyes, and Red managed a smile. Maybe she'd forgotten about their staring contests, or maybe she'd given him a free win out of pity. Still …
Red: 1, Tifa: 0
She blinked, her eyes locking on his once more.
"We're glad you two are okay," she said, tilting her head towards Yuffie. Red didn't fall for it and he held her gaze.
"And she is all right, don't worry. I have no idea what you two met between here and Kalm that could beat you around like that. Even in your human form, you're pretty fit," she trailed off as Red tensed, his eyes flicking away from her own for just a brief moment. When he looked back at her, she had a quirked grin on her face and her fingers were drumming against her leg excitedly. Damn.
"You know, when I was your age," she started, "I was so concerned about my weight." Red frowned, cocking a brow at her.
"I'm 43 years old." He said, disdainfully. She grinned.
"You know what I mean. I'm sure you had fun playing grown-up when we first met, but you can't get away with it anymore." She looked over at Yuffie, so carelessly that Red thought she'd given up on their game, but when she winced he knew that she'd merely forgotten for a moment.
2:1, in Red's favour.
She turned back to him, determined.
"All teenagers are insecure about something, whether they know it or not. For me, it was my weight. But the funny thing was that if I look back at old pictures, there was actually nothing wrong with me. I was perfectly fine." She paused, a flash of something alien passing through her eyes, and brought her voice down to a whisper.
"Yuffie sometimes talks to me about … well, I probably shouldn't tell you. But she is very insecure at times, herself." Tifa grimaced, realizing she'd almost broken Yuffie's trust, and Red cocked his head.
"I wouldn't have put Yuffie for being insecure about anything," he said, genuinely surprised. Tifa just sighed and shook her head in response.
"I know we don't talk much, Red. I know that you're much closer to Cloud and Yuffie, but I'm here, too. If you need it."
"Thank you," he mumbled before retreating once more into the shell of his own silence. Tifa bit the inside of her cheek, recognizing a sanctuary when she saw one, but not yet ready to give up.
"If Aeris were here, she'd say 'Wow! If you had to get slapped in a human body, you certainly got a good one! Red's good-looking stuff! Cloud better watch his back!' and you wouldn't feel so bad anymore, right?" She sighed, reaching out and patting his hand. He refrained from looking down, still aware of the game.
"As horrifying as you may find it, you look pretty good to the rest of us. Don't feel so bad." She rose from her seat, smiling at him, and he reached out to stop her.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean …" He started, but she shook her head.
"Aeris had a way of making people feel better." She shrugged, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes, before allowing her face to grow grave. "But Cloud and I haven't been able to find anything. He went back and found the materia that changed you, and we've been having scientists look at it. It's a huge, potent source, but other than that, there's nothing really odd about it."
All the colour drained from his face and he swallowed, breaking away and giving her another point.
"So we don't know how long I'll be like this." He muttered. Tifa grasped the chair nervously.
"Is it really so bad?" Her voice was soft, and Red buried his face in his hands.
"Yes. It is."