xxx xx, 0009
She held her love’s hand, feeling the strength in his grip flowing into her. His kind blue eyes gazed at her beneath strong, dark brows, a boyish aplomb in their depths. The lone lock of hair that fell before his face swayed in the gentle wind, and she raised a hand to brush it away, only for it to fall back in place.
“Ready?” he asked with a jerk of his chin.
She nodded, facing in front, head held high. By his side? “Always.”
So together they walked. Through the hill of summer lilies, through the fair sky of spring, through the gentle, melodious ebb and flow of life, and towards the wintery forest in which the fallen angel ensconced himself.
October 31st, 0010
It was coming onto two months since Cloud had left, and two weeks since he’d stop answering his phone. The children were getting antsy about his absence, Denzel especially, and she was running out of reassurances to console both them and herself.
For the first few weeks, he’d picked up the phone, never once letting her calls go into voicemail. That had been her one relief, because it meant he wasn’t pushing her away.
He’d been few of words as usual, though, and the phone calls never really lasted for long. She didn’t dare call him too much, afraid he’d find her annoying and stop answering at all. She did try to find out more about his…quest, but he was evasive and didn’t elaborate much, just that he was headed for the Forgotten Capital, convinced Sephiroth was back and plotting.
The last time they talked, she’d attempted to persuade him to come home. He hadn’t found anything in the Forgotten Capital anyway, and if Sephiroth really was back, she and their friends could help. Of course, always trying to do everything by himself, Cloud had dismissed her suggestion.
The next night when she called his phone again, it’d rung twice before the line was terminated. And now his phone was offline.
Tifa couldn’t help but fear she’d somehow offended him into silence.
He hadn’t sounded mad, but with his voice a permanent moody drawl, who could tell, really? And if he wasn’t ignoring her calls on purpose, if his PHS really was flat, then what had happened to him? Was he hurt? Incapacitated somewhere in a coma? Or, Gaia, dead?
Tifa had contacted all their friends, hoping that they had at least seen him around, but no one knew any better. Barret said he would kick Cloud’s behind if he saw the blond, Yuffie promised to steal all of his materia so he’d have no choice but to return, and Cid swore to have Shera drug Cloud’s tea and drop him off at her door.
They were all trying to cheer her up, and though the lighthearted jokes had pleasantly tugged at her lips at the moment of cracking, in the end she still had no idea where Cloud might be.
Vincent and Nanaki, on the other hand, expressed their sympathy and said they would inform her if Cloud came by. Vincent had also asked if she thought Sephiroth was back. She only gave a wry shake of her head and, realizing Vincent couldn’t see her, said no. Sephiroth and his god complex would have burnt down a town or two already. So no, she didn’t think the monster was back, but…she could.
If the peaceful life was too humdrum for Cloud, and if believing that a great evil was threatening the Planet again could give him a purpose in life, then she’d believe together with him. She’d stand by his side and believe the heck out of it.
She wanted to be out there chasing after him. She’d do it on foot if she must, but she wouldn’t rest until Cloud turned up safe and sound.
But alas she was stuck pacing the premise of her home. Denzel and Marlene needed her. They needed a constant parental figure in their lives, and clearly Cloud wasn’t going to be that figure.
It was times like this that she wished Shelke was still around. The young girl had disappeared ever since Shalua passed away, and Tifa could only tell herself Shelke was okay. Because between the children and the bar, and now Cloud, she couldn’t afford to worry about another person.
“Tifa, truly, we can spare some personnel to keep looking.” Reeve insisted, sitting at the bar swirling his drink thoughtfully.
But Tifa couldn’t let him use any more of WRO’s limited resources. The world had suffered crisis after crisis, and it needed all the help they could give.
She shook her head and kept her gaze strictly on the glass she was polishing. “No, Reeve. I’m sure Cloud just lost his PHS fighting a monster or something. He’s strong. He’ll be okay. This isn’t the first time it’s happened.” She was trying to convince herself, more than anyone, of those facts.
“Refill please!” A customer came up to them with empty beer mugs and crumpled notes of gil, slurring his words a little. His high cheekbones made the drunken blush all the more prominent.
She excused herself for a moment to take the mugs from the man with a smile, thankful for the interruption. In all truth, she was of two minds. The ambiguity of Cloud’s welfare was eating her alive, but the thought that a report might come back with the worst absolute terrified her into idleness.
When she returned, Reeve’s sigh was audible over the noisy bar as he scratched his bearded jaw. “One team,” he bargained. “I’m worried about him, too.”
“He’s a grown man, Reeve.” A grown man that still had an imaginary friend. Okay, so maybe Tifa was bitter. But he’d lied. He’d promised to stay in touch. “Cloud can take care of himself. I just forgot…how he is. He was picking up at first, so I just thought— I guess he found it too much trouble after all, and I overreacted.”
Tifa felt Reeve’s large hand place over her knuckles and realized she was clenching her fists. She didn’t trust herself to look up, knowing his dark eyes would be full of concern. If she saw it, she might just break down and rely on him again.
Reeve was too kind. She couldn’t keep on bothering him like this.
She breathed, gathering her bearings, and withdrew her hand as she met his gaze. “Thanks. I’m okay. You should focus on Junon. And!” she held up a finger to stop Reeve from speaking, “If I find out you’re still looking for Cloud, you’ll be answering to me. Got it?”
He frowned, a sort of pout curving his mouth.
“I don’t hear a ‘yes,’ Tuesti.” She laced her tone with mock indignation, folding her arms in front of her chest.
“All right, all right, I’ll call off the search.” Reeve held up his hands, leaning away from the counter. “I’d like these old bones to be intact for retirement.”
Tifa laughed for the first time in two weeks.
Yes, just like this. She had to keep her spirits up and believe Cloud would come back to her. He always did, eventually, and it was her role to welcome him back with a smile. Tifa loved Cloud, and nothing was going to change that. One day, he too would see her in the same light, but until then, she would wait.
Until then, as long as Cloud was okay, it was all that mattered.
November 2nd, 0010
Cloud may be okay, but she was not.
Tifa sat on the bed in Cloud’s room, leaning against the wall and staring blankly at the fragmented sunlight on the dreary grey paint before her. Her knees were bent, upon which she rested her arm, twiddling her cold fingers in idle silence.
She didn’t care to go through the miscellaneous things Cloud had left behind to look for some sort of hint of his whereabouts. She’d exhausted that option on the night he stopped answering the phone. Cloud didn’t keep that many personal effects, anyway. The man could never quite seem to shrug off his minimalistic tendencies from the days of training for SOLDIER. No surprise, really. He wasn’t exactly adept at letting go.
She didn’t want to look at the scrapbook-ish project he had on the wall at her back, with pictures of the places he’d visited on his deliveries and the little notes expressing his enthusiasm for them. It would only remind her just how much his heart wasn’t here with her, make her feel like the villain sometimes for caging him in this dull, boring life, and wonder if she’d pushed him so hard that he went into psychosis just to get away.
Though, it made no difference that she didn’t scrutinize the pictures today. With one glance, she could point out the newer additions to his collection, and perhaps even name the chronological order to some of them.
Tifa had already memorized the whole thing from all the times she’d stared at it in jealousy.
All these places he’d been to, whereas she couldn’t remember the last time she’d wandered on a chocobo’s back. All these photos of towns and nature she recognized, but never got a chance to enjoy for the quest to save the world hadn’t allowed leeway for sightseeing. All these people caught on camera during their daily routines, but not a single picture of her.
Oh the irony that after losing her biggest rival for Cloud’s heart, she was now envying strangers and locations.
So yes, she had been into Cloud’s room when he was out more times than was healthy.
This little habit of retreating to his room had formed long ago, even before his departure. It was her swift respite for the day, when the kids had been sent off to school with their packed lunches and she was left all alone in the vastness of her house.
When Cloud had just left, she was careful not to disturb anything in the room, only stood around, taking in the way his personality had shaped the room, in case he came back to her. Every day that passed was one less thing she bothered putting back before leaving, and roughly two weeks in she had already displaced just about everything in the room.
So here she perched boldly on his bed, tipping her head back to take a deep breath.
Because all the windows were closed, the air was a little bit stuffy, coming onto stale. She kept his room clean without the aid of cleaning products to preserve his lingering scent for as long as she could. It was sad, creepy even, but she was long past caring.
Cloud’s scent was that of warmth and dirt. Simple and musky, mingling with smells from whatever he’d been doing before she happened to catch a whiff.
Sometimes it was tinged with the sharp jab of oil and grease from working on Fenrir. Sometimes it mimicked her own smell when he ran out of shampoo and forgot to buy more, making her pulse thrum nervously. Sometimes it carried that ephemeral sweetness back from a certain dilapidated church that left her with a heavy heart.
But in this room, his scent was purely his alone. And that scent was waning all too quickly.
She was not okay.
“Cloud, you idiot…” she muttered to the empty space. “Come back already.”
Tifa lay down on the bed and buried her face into his pillow, eyes closed, letting thoughts of Cloud fill her mind.
The seconds and minutes, and maybe even hours ticked past.
The phone down in the bar started ringing, and she stirred but chose to ignore it. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now, and usually only telemarketers called her landline. However, after the ringing stopped echoing up the stairwell, it didn’t take long for her PHS to vibrate with a cheery tone that jarred against her disheartening mood.
She cracked her eyes open and peer at the phone, had half a mind to ignore it. too, before she read the name on the screen.
“Oh, hi Reeve…No, I wasn’t. I’m, um—Anyway, what’s up?”
His next words got her bolting up straight, “Can we meet? It’s about Cloud.”