No one had ever told Tifa that missing Mama would feel so lonely.
She was empty and numb, like nothing was ever gonna be the same again. She didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to drink, didn’t want to think. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be. Mama wasn’t gone, that was impossible. She was supposed to be here for Tifa, watching her grow up till she was big and strong.
It didn’t matter that Tifa was surrounded by her friends; she’d never felt so abandoned before. Slumped on the floor of her room and wearing her nice dress because Mama wanted her little angel to celebrate life and not think too much about death.
But Tifa didn’t feel like celebrating anything anymore. She just wanted to see Mama.
“Cloud’s coming,” Wel said as he peered out the window. It was wrong for it to be sunny outside on a day like this, but the weather didn’t care about Tifa’s feelings. “You think he wants to come in?”
Tifa looked up for a moment and then curled in on herself again. Cloud was the boy next door. Quiet and shy, and he usually kept to himself, but she sometimes saw him hanging around. Maybe he was here to comfort her about Mama like the others.
But she didn’t want to see anyone else right now, she just wanted to see her mom.
She told her friends as much, then wiped her eyes and stood. Staying here wouldn’t help her talk to Mama. Mount Nibel outside of town had all these legends about dead people. If she could cross the mountain, then maybe she’d find Mama. Papa always talked about all the monsters living on the mountain, but Tifa wasn’t scared of them. If crossing the mountain meant seeing Mama again, she would do it.
When she got to the base of Mount Nibel, she took a deep breath. Clouds of smoke covered the sun, and the top of the mountain was covered in mist. There wasn’t any grass on the ground, and she shivered as she stared up at its peaks. Something about the mountain felt alive, and whatever it was called to her.
“…I wonder if there’s anything beyond that mountain?” she said aloud, more to herself than to anyone. But Dan and Meiday were quick to tell her how scary the mountain was and how no one ever passed through it alive.
But Tifa wasn’t looking for living people. She was looking for Mama.
“How ‘bout those that died?” she asked. “Did Mama pass through the mountains?”
She stared up at it again, and the mountain stared back. Something about it was calling to her, beckoning…
Her feet moved forward, but her body didn’t seem connected to the rest of her. She paused when she slipped on a rock. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But then she thought of Mama’s smile, of her laugh, of her warm hugs and bedtime stories. She had to see if Mama was here. She had to.
She turned back one last time to tell her friends, “I’m going!” and then didn’t wait. The mountain was tall, and it would take a while to get to the top. Lots of slippery rocks and winding turns and rickety bridges. It was dark here too, and kind of hard to see, but that didn’t matter. She would find Mama.
“Tifa, wait up!” Dan called, but his voice seemed so far away. The mountain’s voice was louder, clearer. So was Mama’s voice. If she could just reach her, everything would be okay.
She kept going and going until she reached a long bridge. It looked old, but it was the only way across the big chasm that yawned below her. So she took one step forward, then another. There, that was it. With each step she was getting closer and closer to Mama.
All until she took the wrong step. Her foot slipped and the wooden slat beneath her snapped. She cried out and tried to grab the handrail, but it was just out of reach.
For a moment Tifa hoped it would be Mama, but it wasn’t. It was Cloud, and his hand was reaching, reaching for hers, trying to grasp it, trying to keep her from falling. He was clinging to the broken bridge as he tried so hard to reach her, but it wasn’t enough. She went tumbling over the edge, her fingers just barely missing his, and his eyes went wide as he lost his footing too.
It was nice of him to try to help though. The way he’d looked at her, it made her think he really cared. Maybe… Maybe Mama had sent him to help… Maybe she’d see Mama again soon…
Her head hit something, and it all went black.
As the years passed, the memories from that day faded and became a shadowy haze in Tifa’s memories. All she could remember was how badly she’d wanted to see her mother as well as her strange obsession with Mount Nibel. The rest of the details were lost to time, or perhaps whisked away by the coma she’d fallen into for seven days after her tumble down the mountain. It was all Cloud’s fault, her father had told her, and she was not to talk to ruffians like him who went around picking fights with other boys.
But now Cloud was here again and helping Avalanche, and it was only fair she did her part too. This was her cause and these were her friends, and she couldn’t just abandon them in their hour of need. This was what she’d been training for. This was what she’d been preparing for. No more Tifa who couldn’t see her mother again or avenge her father’s death; she would keep the people dear to her safe, keep them from dying in the first place.
As she raced up the steps, she silently prayed that the pillar supporting the plate would hold up long enough for everyone to evacuate. For now she had to focus on finding Cloud and helping him. That was her goal and her mission.
A Shinra helicopter opened fire right as she rounded the corner, shooting the supports for the stairwell. Her feet slipped, and her mind went to that day, that day so long ago when she was on Mount Nibel and lost her footing.
“Cloud!” she cried as she reached for him. The memory came back all at once; perhaps seeing his face make the same expression as before had triggered it. She remembered him reaching for her, reaching, trying to connect, much like he was reaching for her now, doing everything he could to catch her and spare her from falling—
And this time, he did it. This time, his hand grasped hers and pulled her to his side. He’d kept his promise to protect her, and she felt like she could take on all of Shinra right now. Part of it was adrenaline, but there was something else too. Something playful and tender and true that welled up from deep within her heart. She allowed herself a smile but kept the rest of it locked inside.
“What the hell?” Cloud scolded after checking their surroundings, but she knew he wasn’t truly mad at her; no, he was mad that she’d been in danger. Something about her being in danger always made him angry.
“Nice catch,” she said with a playful tilt of her head, trying to lighten the mood a little.
He just looked at her incredulously. “You’re crazy!”
“Just like you,” she told him, a little out of breath. “So suck it up, ‘cause I’m not leaving.”
He swore under his breath but didn’t tell her to leave, and for that she was grateful. Ever since her father had died, ever since Nibelheim had been lost to her forever, she’d felt so alone. Like no one fully understood her or what she’d been through. But then she’d found Cloud again, and everything was a little less lonely with him around.
Whatever had happened to him in the years they’d spent apart, whatever had driven him to try to save her from tumbling down Mount Nibel after she’d lost her mother, she would get to the bottom of it. But that could all come later. For now, it was time to protect the pillar, and with it the people of Sector 7.