Prompt: For a friend who variously requested (1) Night under the highwind; (2) First time for both Cloud and Tifa; and (3) Use of the phrase: "Death was likely only a sunrise away, but Cloud touched her as though they had all the time in the world."
Betas: The marvelous Sae, the awesome Ashfae, and the incredible Yuenmei. All of whom are probably glad I'll stop pestering them now.
Notes: This has been edited to comply with site content guidelines; most of the sexual content has been removed. The original is much, much longer (~4000 words longer), and far more detailed and emotional. The link to the full version is available on my profile.
Words aren't the only way to tell someone how you feel.
The statement, at once both encouragement and advice, fell like a lodestone into Cloud's fumbling thoughts. She'd seen all of him - his doubts and fears, failures and hopes - while they were together in the lifestream, and it hadn't sent her shying away. Instead, they were closer now than ever before... he was closer to whom and what he'd always wanted than ever before. Would he let it slip away because of his inability to find the right words?
His boots made a shushing noise in the long grass as he stepped closer. "I've always been tongue-tied when it came to you," he admitted, the simple statement encompassing all of his verbal shortcomings. "But this..." reaching out he placed his hand on her shoulder, "what does this tell you?"
At the light but steady weight of his hand, the heat of him warm even through leather and fabric, Tifa released her held breath. Swallowed, as waning hope rekindled. "It says: I'm here." With her. For her.
"And this?" Touch light, he dragged his fingers down the length of her arm to twine with hers.
"That you're glad I'm here." With him. For him.
Smiling slightly, he tugged gently to pull her closer, until her shoulder rested against his chest.
"Really glad," Tifa amended, her voice sounding both nervous and eager. Cloud exhaled a soft laugh, releasing her hand to wrap both arms around her in a loose embrace.
"And this?" he prompted again, whispering the words into her hair.
Turning toward him, she let her arms slide around his waist, her cheek find the hollow of his shoulder. "Stay with me," she answered, closing her eyes as he bent closer, his chin resting on the top of her head. Until morning. Until the end. His hold promised that he'd cherish her and keep her safe for as long as she'd let him, but most emphatically it begged her: "Stay with me."
They stood like that for a long while, merely enjoying the closeness, something each had wanted since before the beginning of their journey across the planet, but which neither had managed to convey to the other. It had never been the right time or place or situation; other people, other concerns, other needs had always gotten in the way.
And even pressed close together, scarcely moving, he spoke to her. He held himself with a leashed tension that told her he wanted still more. The thumb stroking softly, soothingly over the tender skin at the nape of her neck whispered of indecision, the movement slowing as he gathered his resolve. When his hand shifted higher to cradle the back of her head she smiled, fingers tightening in his sweater to still their sudden trembling. "And that," she murmured, turning her face up at his careful urging, "says you're going to kiss me." The last word was breathed against his lips, her mouth open and waiting for the first, cautious press of his.
Cloud kept his touch light, letting her know he wouldn't rush her, that he planned to be sure she was ready and willing each time he took things a bit further. His palm shifted to cup the side of her face, thumb riding her cheek as he gradually increased the contact, until finally, after several heartbeats of teasing, glancing caresses and shared breath, his mouth settled firmly over hers. Although her lips were already slightly parted, he licked softly at them, coaxing her tongue to return the favor before delving inside. When his attentions produced a soft moan he retreated, waiting for her mouth to come in search of his before returning to nip carefully at her full bottom lip, starting the cycle of tease and retreat all over again.
Both were breathing heavily when finally she ducked her head to press her face against the base of his throat, sheltered by arms which had long since crept up to twine around his neck. At some point his hands had shifted to rest at her hips, holding her close enough that she could feel him, hard and ready, through the material of her skirt and his fatigues.
"Enough?" he asked, voice rough, bending his head to murmur the question in her ear. He'd stop if she wanted, but his thumbs rubbed beguiling circles over her hipbones, silently begging her to let him continue.
She shook her head, pressing closer to his solid strength as she gathered herself. The fingers of one hand moved to tease the short, downy hair at the back of his neck, just above his collar; her other fell to his chest, where she traced the lines in the knit of his uniform, feeling his heart beat marginally faster than was its wont. "Not enough," she answered, "just... more than I expected." As a teen she'd read novels where the heroine forgot to breathe when kissed by the hero, but she'd never believed it would happen in real life.
Certainly not in her life, not to her.
"First kiss?" he asked, brushing her hair back from her face, a faint hint of masculine smugness in his tone.
Tifa thought briefly of the eager but sloppy attempt Johnny had once made, the equally inept pecks a few of her more inebriated customers had tried to steal - most of which had failed to land anywhere close to her mouth - and decided that the satisfaction in his voice was deserved.
"First everything," she murmured, turning her cheek into his palm, trusting the sunset shadows to disguise the heat rising in her cheeks.
Cloud stilled. He'd only been teasing: pleased with his ability to make her forget herself, but never actually thinking the words were truth. As he stared at her, eyes wide, her lips curved in a slow, knowing smile.
"Surprised?" she asked, fingers sliding across his nape and earning a shiver in reaction.
"I'm... not sure." It was hard to believe that such a warm, beautiful woman had never had the opportunity to sample the opposite sex. At the same time, as sweet and giving as she was, there was also a shyness to her. He thought about her hesitant, abortive efforts to tell him how she felt during their 'date' at the Gold Saucer, and how she'd been waiting all this time for him to make the first move.
Maybe it wasn't opportunity that had been lacking, but inclination.
Watching the shadows in his eyes shift with his thoughts, Tifa could easily read the switch from amazement to understanding.
"Yes," he answered, fingers still lingering in her hair, "but only because you waited... only because you chose me."
After their promise, none of the other Nibelheim boys had ever seemed... right. Then he'd come to her rescue in the reactor - something she'd believed was only imagined until she saw the truth of it in his memories - and it was hard for anyone else to live up to that, no matter how many times she'd dismissed it as pure fantasy. Dream or not, she trusted the boy in her memory: he made her feel safe and relieved and warm and wanted. It was him for her, or no one.
But, "Don't let it go to your head," she told him, tugging at the shoulder strap over his heart for emphasis. Although his arrogant, untouchable, in-control SOLDIER persona had been incredibly sexy, she preferred the real Cloud: the one that was capable of sharing sweet, awkward, honest moments with her, and whose ego had been reined in to more modest proportions.
"I won't," he promised, even though his mouth was curved in a small half-smile. Rocking forward on her toes she touched her lips to that tell-tale quirk, then sighed when he immediately reciprocated. At length he shifted to ghost kisses over her cheeks, chin, and throat, before resting his forehead against hers. "First everything?" His voice was low and carefully uninflected, not pressuring or coaxing, merely asking.
The way he'd caught both of her hands in his, preventing any further touching on either part, spoke louder: did she want everything - right then, that night - or was there a limit? How far did she want to go, if kisses weren't enough? He'd give her as much as she wanted to take, and take whatever she was willing to give.
"Everything." Her reply was emphatic. Although the anxious knot in her stomach was slowly giving way to a different - far more pleasurable - type of tension, she hadn't forgotten what they would soon be facing. No matter what happened when they went up against Sephiroth, she wanted to go into that fight knowing she hadn't backed away from this. From them, together. She'd wanted it for far too long. Since their failed date. Since she found him in the train station. Since before Nibelheim burned.
Straightening, Cloud stepped backward toward the shadow of the Highwind, their hands still linked, his head tilted in question. "You're certain? There'll be time again, later."
He said it with assurance, and she honestly couldn't tell how much, if any, of his confidence was forced.
Not that it mattered.
Squeezing his hands, she glanced at him through the fall of her hair, biting her lip in an obvious show of consideration before telling him bluntly: "Waiting is overrated."
When he smiled in return, she realized that he never really had before, not in all their time traveling. Oh, he'd sported smirks aplenty, and there was the cute, lopsided tilt that had recently seen use... but this was the first full smile. It wasn't wide or toothy, just... quietly, wholeheartedly, unguardedly happy.
Tifa found herself smiling back automatically. It was that infectious.
"You want to go back to the airship?" He took another backward step in that direction, leading her with him. There were beds of a sort in the crew quarters where they'd been sleeping - narrow cots, but better than nothing - or they could completely revert to their country upbringing and opt for the clean hay in the chocobo stable.
She followed after him a few steps further, until they entered a small hollow where the grass brushed her shins and the breeze was blocked by a rocky outcrop. "Here," she said, tugging him to a stop. "Under the stars, like the night we made our first promise." It was clear, the air mild, and the constellations just starting to appear as the watery orange of sunset faded gradually into the blue of evening twilight.
Blond brows raised high then dipped low, betraying first surprise then consideration. "It probably won't be as comfortable," he warned after a moment.
"Here," she reiterated. To further underline her choice, she dropped his hands and seated herself atop the protruding rock ridge to untie her boots.
"Stop-stop," he protested, laughter and exasperation in the husky tone of his voice as he dropped to a crouch in front of her. "Stubborn," he accused, brushing her fingers aside to undo the laces himself.
He paused for just a second, then shook his head and tugged her right boot off, setting it aside but holding her foot in his hand. The sock was stripped just as efficiently, rolled into a small ball and tucked into the top of her shoe, before he let her heel slide to the ground to rest on cool, slightly damp grass. "Dew," he noted when she wiggled her toes to savor the feeling. "Our clothes will be wet in the morning if we're not careful."
"Don't care," she told him, watching as he repeated the process with her other foot. He was taking care of her, she realized belatedly, even though there was no real need. She'd had wet socks and a damp skirt on more than one occasion - probably would again - but it was sweet of him, just the same. Like the character he'd played at Gold Saucer, going down on one knee to take her hand - a memory that still made her heart flutter despite the silly romanticism of it - or the young Shin-Ra army grunt who'd tried so hard to protect her, back before everything went wrong in Nibelheim. "Cloud," she said, threading her fingers through his hair, "kiss me."
His head came up immediately, hands tightening where they rested around her calves. She leaned forward to meet him, sliding off the rock and into his lap when he tugged to bring her closer.
There was no longer anything tentative, slow, or languid about the press of his mouth against hers. Instead, he was hot and hungry. Demanding.
Sprawled in the grass, legs stretched out in front of him, Cloud let his hands find their way to her waist as she settled astride his thighs. The ends of her hair brushed over his fingers with the movement, prompting him to give a soft, impatient sound as he broke away to remove his gloves. With two swift jerks they were gone, tossed aside, and his bare hands were burying themselves deep in the dark chocolate mass, spreading the heavy, silken strands around her shoulders.
Tifa grinned at the almost relieved sounding groan that escaped him, her lips curving slowly beneath his.
"Wanted to do this forever," he murmured, removing the worn fabric tie from the dolphin-tail and tossing it in the general direction of her boots and his gloves.
"It'll get everywhere," she protested mildly, even as he gathered a handful and used it to urge her forward, until her chest rested lightly against his.
"Don't care," he repeated her earlier dismissal. He wanted it. Wanted to feel its softness against his skin, wanted to wrap its weight around his wrist, wanted to get tangled up and bound in its length...
Wanted to see it loose and wild around her when she came, the way he'd imagined far too many times.
Another low sound escaped in response to the mental image, his body arching of its own will into the softness of hers, hands at shoulder and hip to hold her close.
Breath caught at the sensation, routing any lingering hesitation. Each slowly became bolder with their explorations, their affections.
Death was likely only a sunrise away, but Cloud touched her as though they had all the time in the world. Building her excitement, her need, until finally they came together in a burst of all-encompassing pleasure.
Eventually, after their breathing had returned to normal and the sheen of sweat along his spine had long since cooled, Cloud levered himself up on his elbow beside her. Blue eyes alight with a soft, tender glow - one that had nothing to do with mako, and everything to do with emotion - slid over her features, the corner of his mouth turning up in a small, pleased smile. It was a look she'd seen once before, back in Nibelheim, the night she'd made him promise to be her hero. Palm a light weight against his chest, Tifa smiled back even as she shivered, the air suddenly cold without his body sheltering hers.
Of course he noticed. Sitting up he reached to pluck her skirt and panties from the discarded pile of their clothing. Nightfall obscured his features, moonlight silvering his hair white in a gray landscape, but she could still discern the questioning tilt to his head and the teasing edge to his smirk as he offered them to her. Laughing, she snatched them away and began to dress, finding the experience to be strangely more personal, less methodical, with him watching her every move. As she smoothed the leather up around her waist and hips, Clouds fingers came to help work the zipper; when she slipped her arms through the straps on her bra and turned her back, he willingly fastened the tiny hooks. Fully clothed, she perched on the same outcrop she'd used before, finger-combing her hair as she watched him settle the SOLDIER harness and pauldron across his shoulders. Joining her on the rock, he offered her the length of bandage to wrap around his forearm, his low voice appreciative of the care she took in doing so.
It seemed natural, then, for his arm to settle around her shoulders, for her head to find the hollow of his. For his fingers to thread through hers, palm warm against the back of her hand, their gloves the only thing both had set aside to don later. Closing her eyes she relaxed against him, enjoying the languor that filled her after the frantic urgency of their coming together, savoring how safe and peaceful it felt to sit there beside him. Dipping his head he pressed a soft kiss to her temple, lips lingering as if poised to tell her a secret.
"You're my first everything, too," he murmured, the hand at her shoulder toying with her hair. Opening her eyes she looking askance at him, and he cleared his throat, suddenly resembling nothing so much as his younger, shyer self. "First and only," he added.
It took her a moment to realize what he was trying to say. "But-" she began, and then cut herself off, unsure how to phrase her confusion. While certainly no Genesis Rhapsodos, he hadn't seemed uncertain about what to do, either.
He shifted uncomfortably, as if he'd expected her doubt. "I was friends with Zack," he reminded her, "he gave me lots of advice." Which was true as far as it went, if not exactly the whole story. "Lots of advice," he repeated when she continued to stare. Reaching up he rubbed his hand over the back of his head in a familiar gesture of embarrassment. "I just wanted you to know." Caught up in his confession, he didn't notice her eyes going soft and wide.
"Cloud," she whispered, slim fingers sliding along his chin and turning his face to hers, "I believe you."
And then she kissed him.
"I'm sorry I didn't say anything on the gondola," he abruptly announced long moments later, the words soft but blunt and heartfelt.
Laughing, she threw her arms around his neck and held him tight, felt him lean into her, letting her take some of his weight.
"Stay with me," he whispered into her hair, a promise and a plea.
Until the morning. Until the end.
Her answer didn't need words. She would be there, through the night and after.