"Princess". That was the nickname her father used to call her when she was still a child, partly due to the fact that she loved wearing dresses with balloon skirts but primarily because he doted on his daughter. Tifa Lockhart stifled a sob as she stood in front of her father's gravestone, the only one that bore a name because the mayor was the only one whose body was identifiable, since he was stabbed by Sephiroth, unlike the other victims of Nibelheim who burned to their death.
"But you see, dad, I didn't grow up to be a princess," Tifa whispered. She shuddered as she remembered the events that transpired before the Reunion. When Rufus Shinra had asked her and friends what they had wanted as their reward for saving the Planet, the only thing that Tifa had asked for was to be told the location of where the people of Nibelheim were buried, knowing that the only way she would be able to make peace with her father would be to visit his grave. However, as she stood in front of the stone that marked her father's grave, she realized that she didn't know what to say. In fact, there was a part of her that was ashamed of standing in front of her father's grave, given all that she had done following the Nibelheim incident.
She had been anything but a princess. Zangan did the best he could to patch her up, but he eventually had to flee when he heard that Shinra soldiers were looking for anyone and everyone who escaped from Nibelheim when it burned to the ground. Hoping against hope that the Shinra would not harm a child, he had left her in a hospital, trusting that the staff would take pity on Tifa. Unfortunately, his trust was misplaced. The hospital staff only waited for Tifa to wake up before they threw her out on the streets, which is why the mayor's daughter found herself begging for food, stealing for scraps, and hiding in alleys just to keep her protected from the elements.
Her frequent forays in the dark alleys almost led to disaster. A middle-aged woman with a kindly face offered a piece of bread to the orphaned girl, saying that she would be given more if she followed her. By then, Tifa had not had anything to eat for several days, and she gratefully followed the woman, believing that she would finally be able to fill her belly and sleep on a dry spot after a long while. However, like her master, the trust she put on the woman was misplaced, as she turned out to be a pimp looking for young girls to sell to the highest bidder. It was only sheer luck that the shady bar that she was brought to on her first night was the spot Barret Wallace frequented, and she was promptly rescued.
At first, Tifa was scared of the man with the machine gun in place of an arm, and she kept to her corner in Barret's apartment, frightened that she had escaped from a captor only to be trapped and made into a prisoner once again. However, she soon realized that Barret's gruff exterior belied a kind heart, and they soon developed a friendship. However, his kindness certainly did not extend to anyone remotely connected to Shinra. Eventually, Tifa discovered that he was a member of AVALANCHE. Far from being frightened that her only friend in the slums was a member of a terrorist group, she became excited after finding out this fact, and she all but begged Barret to let her join.
Initially, Barret was adamant in refusing to let her join the group. "Tifa, I love you like a sister, so I'm tellin' you this honestly. Don't even think about getting into $%&* AVALANCHE! I don' wanna have you look back at this day and realize that you're givin' more than just your commitment to this!"
"You're in there," Tifa pointed out, trying to keep her voice patient.
"I'm different!" Barret all but yelled. "My hands are already stained! But you… You're diff'rnt. You're a princess. Tifa. You shouldn't be in AVALANCHE. Hell, you shouldn't be in these damn slums." Barret took a deep breath then. "I can' let you join AVALANCHE. It'd be like throwin' Marlene in the middle of a battlefield. You don' know what I have to do for AVALANCHE, and I don' want you doin' the same things. You're still a child, damnit!"
That word again. The brunette gritted her teeth at hearing the now-reviled pet name. "But don't you understand?" Tifa persisted. "I'm not a child anymore. Shinra made sure of that." She clenched her fists. "I can fight. I got trained. It might not be the kind of fighting that you're used to, but hand-to-hand combat can get me to places that your guns won't."
"Tifa, fightin' in AVALANCHE isn' the same as fighting with your master in martial arts. You ain't grappling with your enemy, expectin' to be thrown on a mat. You ain't gonna be given a towel once you're done fightin' to wipe off your sweat. No. You will be fightin' for your life, Tifa. Shinra will do everything that it can to wipe off AVALANCHE, and that means that you will end up having to kill 'em before they kill you. Can you do that, Tifa? Can you imagine your hands soaked in blood?"
Tifa didn't just imagine it. She had experienced it. At that moment, she remembered clutching her father's corpse to her, his blood in her hands. Later on, her own blood spilled in her hands when Sephiroth all but cut her in half. "Just watch me," she said, her tone grim.
Eventually, her insistence got through to Barret, and he reluctantly introduced her to the other members of AVALANCHE. In an attempt to keep her from fighting, Barret got her to be assigned to headquarters. As much as Barret's protectiveness touched her, she was irked at how much she was being kept from fighting Shinra. Her hatred for the organization made her want to punish just about anything connected to Shinra. Eventually, she was put on the field, and her first kill involved sneaking up on one of the guards and breaking his neck so that the other members of AVALANCHE could get in. The sound of breaking bone would forever be ingrained in her head, and the next few days saw her waking in cold sweat as she was haunted by the memories of the soldier she killed. Eventually, however, killing became second nature to her, and she no longer even remembered just how many people died in her hands. Worse still was the lack of remorse she felt for each kill, as she believed that at that time, each person she killed would mean limiting Shinra's power bit by bit.
The flood of memories made her ashamed all the more to stand in front of her father's graveyard. She would have loved to say that she did it for him and for the Nibelheim people who died in the fire, but she knew in her heart that there were other less brutal choices available to her, and yet she took the violent route. At that time, she thought her actions were necessary, but now, standing in front of a graveyard of people who died needlessly, she wasn't sure anymore. Saving the world from Meteor might have helped her atone for her sins somewhat, but it wouldn't bring back the lives of the people she herself had killed.
"I'm not a princess, daddy," Tifa whispered. "I own and work in a bar. I killed people. Hell, I even tried to throw down the government. I'm sorry I didn't live up to your dream for me."
"I think he would have been proud of you."
Tifa turned around, startled at the sound of the voice. "Cloud," she exclaimed. "I didn't expect to find you here."
"I followed you," Cloud said, somewhat self-consciously, scratching the back of his head, a tell-tale sign of his nervousness. "You looked upset when you left the hotel. I should have known you would be going here. Why didn't you tell me? We could have gone together."
Tifa shrugged. Truthfully, she didn't want Cloud to go with her, because she hated the thought of him seeing her break down in front of her father's grave.
Cautiously, as though afraid Tifa would bolt any minute, Cloud went to her side and put an arm around her shoulders. "I meant what I said, Tifa. I think he would have been proud of you."
Tifa smiled crookedly up at him. "And how do you know that?"
Cloud gave her a small smile in return. "I knew your father. Looking back, I think one reason why he hated my guts was because he saw himself in me. I was as stubborn as he was, and I… I wanted to protect you as much as he did."
Tifa bent her head to keep the blond man from seeing her reddening cheeks. "But that doesn't excuse what we did," she murmured.
"What we did wasn't good," Cloud admitted. "Hundreds of people died because of us, and there is nothing we could do to bring them back." Momentarily, his arm tightened around her, and Tifa's heart clenched as she remembered once again that one life that was lost that was most precious to them. "But what we did mattered in the end. I don't mean that the end justified the means. I'm just saying that maybe… Maybe what we did to help save the world also matters. Lives might have been lost because of us, but at least we were able to protect the lives of others." It was his turn to shrug. "Besides, we're still alive. We can still use the remaining years we have to atone for what we did."
"I guess so," Tifa whispered. She turned her head to look at the blond man. "Thanks, Cloud," she said softly.
In response, Cloud kissed her forehead gently. "For what it's worth, I still think you're a princess. An ass-kicking one, but still a princess."
Tifa chuckled gently at that, and relaxed in his embrace. "Thanks, Alfred."