When it rains it pours. That’s how that fucking saying goes but what if it was already pouring? What do you say when it’s been pouring for so long you’re pretty much drowning? And it’s not just you that’s drowning, it’s those around you too. You want to keep their heads above the waterline yet you can’t even help yourself. Those thoughts were plaguing Cloud’s mind that night as he sat with his back against the wall.
Tifa, Barret, Marlene, and himself were staying the night at Elmyra Gainsborough’s home. Not like they had much choice. Aerith had taken Marlene there before being taken away to Shinra and now that they knew Marlene was safe, Barret wasn’t about to leave her. None of them were about to complain, they had just barely made it out of the Sector 7 slums before the plate came down, Shinra ruining their lives all over again.
Despite the peace and quiet the house tucked away in the Sector 5 slums offered, none could find peace to sleep properly that night, except for little Marlene. So much had happened, too much really. How much could one human take, how can— Cloud’s eyes slowly opened feeling a shift in the house that no one but him could sense. He turned his head towards the source, confirming his instincts, and the barely audible creaking of the wood steps told him all he needed to know. He reached out and grabbed his sword and glanced at Marlene and Barret before making his way silently out of the room and house.
He shut the door behind him, eyes taking in the stillness and peace around him. It was a violent contrast to what had happened only a few hours ago. It was almost as though it had been a nightmare and this was reality. Unfortunately, Cloud more than knew that reality easily outdid any nightmare the human mind was capable of conjuring. He took a few steps over to the bridge, and sure enough, Tifa stood amongst the patch of familiar yellow flowers. He made his way over to her, each step heavy and unsure for some reason, it was only Tifa after all. But maybe that was reason enough.
He stopped a few feet away from her; he knew she knew it was him. He was silent for a beat, not all too sure how to break the night’s silence. When the tight feeling had built high enough in his chest, he, at last, broke their silence. “Can’t sleep?”
Tifa didn’t turn to look at him, she still had to gather herself more if she was going to face him. She had to be the composed one, the one that kept things going as smoothly as they could. She couldn’t falter. “No. You too?” ‘Steady, Tifa, steady.’
“I heard footsteps,” he answered in a matter-of-fact tone, though he knew something was amiss even before he heard those footsteps.
Her heart gave an awkward jerk in her chest and she reminded herself again to keep herself steady. She finally answered him after too long of a pause. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I’m a light sleeper. It’s a SOLDIER thing.” He looked away, hoping that just maybe his words could reassure her somehow.
She let a small laugh leave her lips, her chest loosening if only a little. “That flower you gave me the other night. That was from Aerith, wasn’t it?” She finally brought herself to look at Cloud, but she knew too late that it had been a mistake.
The sudden question caught him off guard, he couldn’t help the sound of confusion that he made. He looked away, trying to play it off but mostly so he could keep his own composure. After a second or two, he looked back at her; blue-stained green meeting deep and rich carmine.
Tifa let out another small laugh, another feeble attempt to keep herself together, and broke their gaze. “I knew there was something weird going on. You, buying flowers.” As though in sync, the old childhood friends glanced down at said flowers. “They symbolize reunion, believe it or not. I was curious, so I looked it up. I tried to keep it alive for as long as I could”—she looked down at her feet, no longer able to stand looking at the flowers, her hold slipping quickly—“But now it’s dead and buried.” She tore her gaze away, her hold crumbling and her chest splitting open from the wound too fresh to hold together. Her voice was filled with tears, chocked, and her breathing was hard as she continued speaking, “Like the bar… our home… and everything else.”
Cloud slowly looked back at her as she spoke, his own heart lurching in his chest at the sight of Tifa. She always fought to keep it together, but a person even as strong as she could only take so much. He could tell she was still trying but couldn’t for much longer; her clenched fists were a tell-tale sign.
She didn’t realize or maybe she did when her feet began to carry her forward. She felt her legs get heavier and heavier, her heart broken. She finally stopped when she was right in front of Cloud, head falling forward until it was resting on his shoulder.
A barely audible gasp left his lips feeling Tifa so close to him. He wasn’t sure how to react, his body and mind refused to do anything besides either nothing or having too many racing thoughts that he couldn’t pull one from the scramble. His eyes became downcast, trying to calm himself and also trying to be there for her in his own silent and unsure way.
“They took everything from us. Again.” She clutched onto Cloud, fingers digging into the material of his uniform and the tears flowed freely. The more memories that came up, the harder she cried, her body now wracked with sobs. Jessie, Biggs, her neighbors, her friends, the bar, her home, all their lives, and now even Aerith too. It was too much.
Instinct took over, the conflict between his head and heart over as his arms encircled her. It was a shaky hold at first but then he almost crushed her against him, holding her tight and securely while he let her cry her heart out. He knew he wasn’t good at these sorts of things but every tear and every tremble were breaking his heart. He held her, reassured her, and comforted her. She had lost so much, too much, and he would make sure each one of her sorrows was paid back in full and with interest.
Her voice finally knocked him out of his darker thoughts. “Huh?”
“Cloud, you’re hurting me.” She didn’t want to be unkind but he was squeezing her too tightly and she didn’t know what he was squeezing more; her or her heart.
“Oh!” He moved away from her both quickly and slowly, an awkwardness over-taking him and God did he hate that.
As Tifa wiped her tears away, she wished she hadn’t said anything, she felt so terribly cold without him. She didn’t look at him when she finally gained the courage to speak again, “It’s stupid. I know crying is a waste of time.”
Her words hit him harder than he thought they could. How could she ever think that? She was so tremendously strong and selfless and her tears made her even stronger in his eyes. He watched her continue wiping her tears away. “That’s not true,” he said strongly.
Tifa finally looked up at him, tears still pooled in her carmine eyes, and despite everything, she managed a small and soft smile for Cloud. “Thank you.”
He wanted to say something else but someone once told him that actions spoke louder. He reached up and rubbed a stray tear away, his hand gently resting beneath her chin, and blue-green eyes almost searching her eyes for something.
To say she was surprised at the gesture would have been an understatement, but she also knew Cloud’s true heart. She reached up and lightly touched his wrist. “Really. Thank you, Cloud.”
He nodded and dropped his hand but her hand still remained on his wrist. Without thought of consequence, their hands meandered until they were holding each other’s, gloved palms warm and promising to not let go,
“We should probably head back inside,” Tifa said softly. “There’s so much to be done.”
But neither of them moved.
Cloud felt awkwardness crawl under his skin and his mouth acted before his brain could. “It’s a lot but we’ll get through this. It’ll be easy as peach pie.”
Tifa blinked a couple of times and a smile slowly broke out across her lips. “What?”
“Oh, uh.” He looked away, again, hating how inept he could be at times. “Something I heard Marlene say that made you smile so—” He was cut off by Tifa’s gentle laugh. “What?” Now he was flustered and he hated this feeling even more.
“Cloud, you really can fix about just any problem, can’t you?” She stepped closer to him when her laughs quieted. “You really are losing your hard edge.” She bit her lip seeing him turn away with an unconscious pout. She kissed his cheek with a light peck, heart skipping too many beats at what she had done, and from the wide-eyed look on his face. “Let’s get back.” She stopped when his hand tugged on hers; he wasn’t following her. She looked at him in confusion.
“Tifa.” It was the last thing he managed to utter before pulling her back, hand holding her cheek and lips pressed against her own.
Her eyes widened, did he just… was he…? Her free arm wrapped around the back of his neck, her fingers combing through his soft and spiky blonde hair. How long they stood there, she wasn’t sure. She didn’t need air, Cloud was her breath and relief.
At first, her hesitance had scared him, but when she reciprocated, he felt a relief he didn’t know existed wash over him. His mind melted, he was longer on Gaia. It didn’t really matter, not when Tifa was his world.
When they finally parted, their eyes met and their gaze did not break even when their foreheads touched. Neither wanted to pull away, it meant returning to a reality that would never let them forget.
“So, what you just did, was that also easy as peach pie?” Tifa asked, an amused smile on her face.
Cloud sighed irritably and moved away from her. “You need sleep.”
Tifa grinned and caught up with him as he walked away, her fingers lacing through his. “So do you. Remember your lessons?”
Cloud smirked a little as they went inside the house. “Yeah, I do.”
“Amongst other things?” she teased and then flushed when he pecked her lips unexpectedly.
“Yep,” he smirked. “amongst other things.”