Warnings: character death (implied)
Summary: She doesn't regret anything.
Author's Note is at the end of the fic.
You froze in time.
"Let me help you."
"I'm not that helpless."
Cloud doesn't listen to her; he never truly has. Ignoring her protests, the mercenary helps her drink her tea, holding the cup firmly. Tifa can't do this alone anymore; her hands shake too hard for this task.
" – Thank you," the woman says, turning her head right to look at Cloud.
He hasn't changed through all these years, not at all. He looks the same as when she met him in the Slums in Midgar – 50? 60 years ago? Is she really that old? - has the same blank expression and glowing, blue eyes. She doesn't notice pity in these eyes and she's grateful for it. It's bad enough that Marlene watches her with it every time she is here.
Tifa doesn't need pity. She's had a good life. A good life, in which enough had happened that she could split it with many others and still have her own fair share . Yes, she almost can't move now – the woman is too old for it; even mako, which helped her to be such a good warrior, doesn't help now – and she can't remember when the last time was that she fought, yet she still likes her life. There was – is – nothing to regret.
"Cloud," Tifa starts and the man sitting next to her stirs, looking at her with concern, "do you have time?"
"Yes. I will stay for now."
Till I die, Cloud, and don't pretend it isn't the truth. You disappeared for all these years and now you are back. Why? Because your last connection with Nibelheim is dying?
" – You are my friend, Tifa. That's why I am here."
Tifa blinks, realizing she said her thoughts aloud. "...You didn't deny it. Why are you staying with me, I mean." She sighs, not waiting for a reply. "You left us because of me, right? As soon as Marlene and Denzel moved out."
"Teef, I'm – "
"Don't say you are sorry!" she snaps and then starts coughing. Cloud gives her a tissue and helps her to drink more tea, brushing her hair aside. It isn't as long as before; Tifa cut it when she realized that her long, gray hair resembled Sephiroth's too much. "You... you didn't ask me to love you; never apologize for it."
Cloud rubs his face, avoiding her gaze. "Can we talk about something else? Something happy?"
The woman shakes her head, determined to say everything she needs to say. "No, I know you. You are probably thinking that I wasted my life, waiting for you and after... after I leave," it hurts to say this aloud, "you are probably going to change into someone like Vincent." Vincent, who went to sleep next to Lucrecia decades ago, because he couldn't live without her. "I don't regret anything, Cloud. Loving you was the best thing in my life." She covers his hand – his strong, young, tanned hand – with her own, pale and old with visible veins. "Never forget it."
Strife surprises her then; he lies next to her and wraps his arms around her waist, hugging her close. Tifa has tears in her eyes and blinks quickly to make them go away. She stopped crying years ago. "– This reminds me of Yuffie's wedding."
Cloud nods, obviously feeling uncomfortable, and Tifa understand it. She was drunk then – really, really drunk – and the thought that it would be a great night to tell the blond how she felt about him was suddenly very appealing. She went to the guest room that Yuffie gave to Cloud, thinking... Hell, she wasn't thinking at all! Strife let her come into his room, but didn't touch her. Instead, he helped her take off her dress and tucked her into bed; Tifa remembers crying quietly, because it turned out to be like it always was: Cloud helped her, held her the whole night in his arms, touched her, yet not really. Like now. She feels his muscular body against her own weak one, touching her, but not touching her. Never seeing her as a woman, only a friend.
They never talked about that night, pretending it never happened. Two years later Marlene moved to Kalm to be with her father, Denzel found a flat for himself, and Cloud... Cloud left them.
It took Tifa some time to understand that Cloud wasn't ashamed of her; he just wanted her to be happy, but the woman couldn't be. Isn't it ironic? She had always wanted to have a hero to love, and she has one. The one that doesn't love her back. Gaia's champion, loved by everyone, but never loving anyone back, because it is safer this way, because other people will pass away, and he can't.
" – Bury me in Nibelheim. Next to my family, okay?" she pleads in a low voice, thinking about the mass grave in the place where Nibelheim used to be. "Please?"
"As you wish," he whispers back, kissing her forehead. "Sleep, Teef. You are tired."
"You know I probably won't wake up again, right?" Not when she feels the Lifestream running through the Planet and sees the first green bands when she blinks. There is only one more question she needs to ask, she needs to know. " – Have you ever loved anyone, Cloud? And I'm not talking about crushes."
Cloud hugs her closer then, resting his chin on her head and Tifa feels like a small girl again, being comforted by her father after a nightmare. Safe. " – Once. But it didn't turn out well."
Tifa knows that Cloud won't say anything more and she doesn't push him. Instead she presses her lips against his collarbone – something she has always wanted to do – and closes her eyes, finally letting her tears fall down.
" – There was never anything wrong with you, Teef. I just... couldn't."
The woman nods, sobbing – he is so close, so close and still so far away – and lets herself drown in the presence of the Lifestream.
A/N: For everyone who thought this fic would have nicer ending: I'm sorry. Yet, I hope you aren't thinking now that you wasted your time, dear reader.
As Lenine (on LJ) pointed, Tifa is a very practical woman and she doesn't see her waiting for Cloud through her whole life. However, having a hero was her childhood's dream and that dream was everything she was left with after Sephiroth had destroyed Nibelheim and her life. In my opinion Tifa would like to fulfill that dream – it was an innocent, vulnerable thing to protect when everything in her life weren't innocent any more (she became a terrorist after all).
Sure, she probably was dating, but I can't see her being with a man she couldn't love, just because she... what? Shouldn't die without getting marry? Tossing what I think about her aside: Tifa is a honest woman, who knows her own value. She couldn't be with anyone else than Cloud if she still loved him.