Empty Promises (and Other Things to be Bitter About)
"Um, Tifa? I was just thinking I'd… go out for a while. I'll be back in about… oh, two hours or so. Is that okay?"
The younger of the two regarded her with lidded eyes, resting comfortably on one of the two beds.
Aerith had tried so hard to keep any connotations from her earlier statements, tried to keep it casual.
But when she had spent the past hour working on her hair and brushed invisible dirt off of her dress at every interval, she really shouldn't have bothered.
Her actions made it clear: What she really wanted to know was – can I go out… with him?
Tifa smiled tightly and tried to keep the strain out of her voice. If she wants me to pretend that this is an innocent outing by herself, then so be it. "It's fine. It's not like I have any say in what you do, right?"
It's not like I can just stake a claim on him. If you want to take him out, it's your right.
Aerith smiled sadly at the thinly veiled meaning before turning to leave, boots scuffling across the wooden floor. The door shut behind her with a soft click.
Automated thunder roared overhead, helped along by an eerie melody.
Tifa sighed and brought her knees up to her chest, using her arms as a cushion to lay her head on them. I used to think that Cloud and I being together was a foregone conclusion. Even after he left to join SOLDIER, I still thought…
"If you do well, will I see you in the papers?"
"I dunno. Maybe."
Maybe. She hated that word. "Let's make a promise."
"Um, if you become famous—" If you became famous, I'd see how you're doing through the papers, so I wouldn't worry as much, she thought, "—and I'm ever in a bind… you come save me."
Not the reaction she'd been hoping for. She pouted and shoved him. "Come on, promise me~!"
He blushed lightly and looked away. "…Okay."
Up above, the stars twinkled.
Clearly, I've been too naïve.
Always… from the beginning, she'd been saying one thing, and meaning another. Pussyfooting around the subject. She'd known she couldn't ask, please don't leave me. She'd thought she'd at least be able to say, please don't forget me.
But no. That night, she hadn't been able to go anywhere near the former subject, and had only subtly implied the latter.
And if his attitude the night she'd confronted him about it said anything…
"What about our promise?"
"I didn't become famous. I can't keep… our promise."
…he'd taken it at face value.
That stung. She'd thought they were on the same wavelength; assumed that he knew exactly what she'd been too much of a chicken to say and was swearing his fealty.
Tifa chewed angrily on her thumbnail, willing the thoughts away.
Come on. Tomorrow's the big day. I've gotta be focused on the matter at hand, not off moping. If Sephiroth really is at the Temple of the Ancients, then I can't afford to be at less than a hundred percent.
A particularly loud rumble of thunder caused her to flinch. She glared at the ceiling.
There was a timid knock on the door.
The brunette cleared her throat – "Yeah?" – and glanced at her battle gloves, sitting on the bedside table – just in case.
But she still allowed herself to hope. Maybe, just maybe, it was Cloud… Maybe he'd turned Aerith away, or wasn't in when she came by, or…
Or maybe it wasn't him.
A small, female face poked through the partially opened door, taking in the interior and contents of the room swiftly.
Satisfied with what she saw, Yuffie stepped in completely. "Where's Aerith?"
Tifa frowned and redirected her gaze out the window. "Not here. Obviously."
The smaller girl scowled at the harsh tone, but soldiered on, "See, it's just… I couldn't sleep. And when I did fall asleep, I woke right back up from a nightmare…"
Why is she telling me this? "I'm sure the atmosphere is to blame on both accounts."
Yuffie rolled her eyes. "Well, duh! But it's just that last time I was having problems, Aerith helped me out, so…"
"But as you can see, she's not here." So why are you?
"Gawd, what's your problem?" Yuffie snapped, crossing her arms.
I'm in a bad mood, that's true. But that doesn't mean I should take it out on her… no matter how much I want to. Tifa sighed and shook her head. "Sorry. I'm just in a bad mood, is all. It's not your fault."
Seeming to accept this, the younger girl gave a small smile. "Is the creepy music getting on your nerves, too?"
The brunette shook her head. "At least the music has a solid, steady beat to it. The thunder is just… random. And loud."
Yuffie took this little bit of friendly leeway as an invitation. Closing the door, she padded over and settled on Aerith's bed, holding her breath to see what the older girl would say in response to this bold act.
About a minute passed before she got too uncomfortable with the silence. "So… I bet I'm not who you were expecting, huh?"
"…I wasn't expecting anyone."
Yuffie sighed and tucked her legs up against her chest, almost mirroring the brunette's position.
Tifa just continued staring out the window.
The silence was practically visible.
Again, the younger of the two had to break it. "For what happened in Wutai… do you hate me?"
For the first time since she'd looked away, Tifa glanced at her companion. It hadn't been the sort of question she had expected from the girl.
She shook her head slowly. "No."
She smiled, though there was something melancholic about it. "Really. I try not to… hate anyone, anymore."
Yuffie looked up from where she'd been staring at her knees. "Why?"
"Because… people can die at any time. I don't want the last thing I ever said to someone to be 'I hate you'."
"Tifa! Tifa, wake up!"
Opening her eyes slowly, the fifteen year-old tried to ignore the dull pain spreading throughout her body. Instead, she focused on – blue eyes (like his, but not his), black hair (if only it were blonde), and hatehatehate.
"I hate… Shinra, SOLDIER… and you."
Zack's blue eyes (not Cloud's) flashed in hurt.
It would be the last thing she saw from him.
"Tifa?" Soft-spoken and hesitant – something she hadn't expected Yuffie to be.
She gasped as she tasted the metallic tang of blood – she'd been biting at her lip furiously. More frustrating, however, was the faint taste of salt mixed in from the tears she hadn't realized she'd been crying.
She hastily wiped at her eyes, though the damage was already done. "It's nothing."
Taking the hint, Yuffie looked away, chewing at her own lip fretfully. In her pocket was Leviathan, and she rubbed the materia to soothe her nerves. A few calming images of the ocean and the sea dragon's gentle rumbling settled her immensely.
She cleared her throat. "So… tomorrow's the Temple of the Ancients, right?"
Back to staring out the window, Tifa nodded. "Uh huh."
"And… we'll probably end up facing that Sephiroth guy, right?"
"Probably. Where are you going with this, exactly?"
Yuffie sighed. "Well, I just wanted to say… I know that most of you have some personal reason for fighting him. I'm one of the few who doesn't. I mean, the worst he's done to me is kill my people, but that was during war time, so I can't really hold that against him…"
The brunette sighed, as well. "Yuffie. You're getting off track."
The girl in question laughed nervously and scratched the back of her head. "R-right! Well… what I'm trying to say is, even though I don't have a good reason to fight him, I will. Because… I'm part of the team, ya know? So… for the sake of everyone else, I'll fight, too."
For the thieving, mischievous ninja to say such a thing… it really brought Tifa up short. So she stared. She stared unabashedly in pleasant surprise and no small amount of shock.
And Yuffie blushed under the thorough scrutiny. "W-what? I'm allowed to have these kinds of moments, too, you know! It's not like I'm stupid!"
Tifa smiled and shook her head. "No, no you're not. I knew that from the start, you know. No one as tricky as you could truly be stupid. But what you said just now…"
The younger girl huffed and looked away, still uncomfortable with the attention she was receiving. "What about it?"
"More than smart, you've proved yourself to be mature with that statement. And thank you."
"For helping. For putting your life on the life to aid those same people who you robbed not two weeks ago. I guess… thanks for being you."
Again, Yuffie blushed. "You know… I am sorry. About stealing from you, I mean."
Tifa nodded. "I know."
"It's just… it had to be done. I thought… that if I had enough materia I could take Wutai back from Shinra. And there I was traveling with a group that had tons of high-powered materia! I felt guilty about it after I got to know you all… but I still had to do it."
The ninja scowled. "Hey! Are you actually listening or just pretending?"
The brunette thought about saying she was pretending, making light of the situation. She wanted the heavy atmosphere – thunder and music included – to go away.
But she decided the truth was better. "Of course I'm listening. I thought that was what you wanted from me."
That seemed to calm the younger girl significantly. "I don't know; maybe it is. It's what I came here looking for Aerith for."
"You wanted to vent?"
She shrugged. "Basically."
Tifa rolled her eyes. "Well, like I said earlier, she's… out." With Cloud, she mentally added. But don't think about that. "What does she do for you, anyway?"
Yuffie shrugged once more. "I don't know. She just… does. She lets me talk, or talks to me when no one else will, or… you know, she acts like a friend. She is my friend."
"And that's significant?"
The smaller girl lowered her eyes, hugging her knees to herself. "Before… before I left Wutai, I never really had any friends. Other kids avoided me because they were afraid they'd do something I didn't like and I'd use my power as princess to get back at them majorly.
"But… I mean… I was like eight!" She threw up her hands. "I would have wanted to handle any problems myself. That's the same reason that I never told my parents that I was a social outcast. Can you imagine? The princess of Wutai, and yet that very same title made it impossible to make one freaking friend!"
Yuffie was acting angry and frustrated by it, but really, she was biting back tears. And Tifa could see that. "…I'm sorry."
The younger girl wiped furiously at her eyes, shaking her head. "It's fine. I'm used to it."
"No one should have to adjust to such a thing."
"…I was just trying to show why it was so much harder than it should have been to steal that materia from you. Not only was I backstabbing my friends, but you guys were my first friends ever!"
Tifa sighed and reached across to the other bed, placing a comforting hand on the ninja's shoulder. "…I'm glad that you're still with us."
At that, Yuffie stopped holding back. She let herself cry, not sobbing into Tifa's chest by any means, but not shrugging off the placating hands rubbing circles on her shoulders, either.
After she calmed down a few minutes later, the older woman retracted her hands and laid back down on her own bed.
Another long bout of silence overtook the two.
And again, Yuffie broke it. "Hey, Tifa?"
Wine red eyes glanced her way. "Yeah?"
"Well, it's just that I've been thinking. We know Aerith is an Ancient, or a Cetra, or whatever it's called. But didn't Sephiroth say he was one, too? What exactly are they? I mean, are they even human?"
Tifa placed a finger to her lip and thought about it. "Well, I'd say it's a racial thing. I think they're still human, but it's like they're more advanced. Although I don't think Sephiroth really is an Ancient."
"Well, he let Jenova take control. I don't exactly know what Jenova is, for that matter, but if he truly were an Ancient I don't think he ever would've lost it in the first place."
Yuffie licked her lips and postulated, "Maybe Jenova is also an Ancient, and is even stronger than him? Maybe… he's not actually at fault, and is a slave to this alien being—"
The black-haired girl frowned at the interruption. "Huh? Why?"
Tifa rubbed her temple with a hand. "Because… we can't sympathize with him. It's entirely possible that you're right, but regardless of that he's still a threat. And not just to us – to the world. We have to be able to kill him, and I mean more than just physically. No matter what the truth turns out to be, we have to hate him, have to kill him. For the sake of everyone."
Yuffie scowled at that. "Now you're being a hypocrite! You said a while ago that you don't hate anyone!"
"That's not exactly what I said. I said I try not to hate anyone. He's the exception."
"Father… wake up! Please! Wake up…!"
The fifteen year-old girl sobbed over the man's unmoving body. No matter how hard she shook him, how loud she yelled…
He was gone.
And the culprit had left the evidence lying right beside her father in the form of a bloody sword.
"Sephiroth's…?" Realization struck; intense fury gripped her. "Sephiroth did this to you, didn't he? I... I hate him!"
She'd hate him even more when she failed to avenge her father and townspeople; a permanent reminder of this fact would be branded on her in the form of an ugly scar running right down her chest.
He will always be the exception.
Yuffie was clearly uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. "You know, it's really morbid to talk about killing a guy, even one who may – or may not – deserve it. Really morbid. Like seriously."
So Tifa humored her. To be honest, she was sick of the heavy mood, herself. When they left in the morning, she was definitely going to file a complaint against the hotel.
"Aw, I'm sorry Yuffie. Do you need to cry on my shoulder? Need me to tell you the monsters under your bed aren't real?"
Unless they're Sephiroth. He's very much so real. Too real. It's time he becomes just another imaginary creature hiding in little kids' closets.
As expected, Yuffie went red with anger – or at least pretended to. "No! That's Aerith's job."
And the older woman laughed. She laughed loud and carelessly, because – depending on the outcome tomorrow, this may be my last chance to.
"Oh, so that's what she does for you…"
Yuffie huffed, rolling her eyes. But her act was totally blown by the small smile playing across her lips. "Whatever. Shut up. Gawd, I've never met someone who talks this much in my life!"
"Who's the hypocrite now?"
So. Cloud and Aerith were still on a date, they were all still probably going up against a homicidal maniac tomorrow, and the damn hotel was still playing that damn organ music.
But, as the thunder rumbled overhead, Tifa thought that, at least for tonight, things might be okay.