Helping Hands

[03.02.00] » by Mint Baby

Author's Note: It's short. Sweet. And will tick off all you Aeris fans who wanted her to get the guy. Sorry. J I like Aeris. Really, I do. I guess her and Cloud would have made a cute couple. But Tifa seemed to be the 'odd man out', similar to Terra in my previous fanfic 'Terra' (go figure). I have a tendency of feeling sorry for them and try to give them a better ending. One of the main reasons I wanted these two to get together was because of the fact that Tifa stood by him as a true friend would. She loved him enough to put her life on the line for him many times. I guess I figured she deserved something. And what about Cloud? Here he goes away to Midgar to prove that he's a somebody to Tifa and then all this crap happens making it impossible for the two of them to get together. (As you can see, I'm anxious for FFVIII to come to America so that I can have an honest to goodness love story/RPG) I attempted to keep the characters true to form and I hope I did well, considering I've played the game about a zillion times I'd say I have no excuse for anything else. Enjoy!


Tifa peeked into the house before stepping the rest of the way in. "Elmira? You home?"

Elmira came down the stairs and gave Tifa a sad smile. "Hello, Tifa. How are you today?"

"I'm..." Tifa rubbed her shoe against the back of her leg and stared down at the floor as she clasped her hands behind her back. "Well, I'm looking for Cloud." She glanced at Aeris' 'mother' out of the corner of her eye. "You seen him?"

"He didn't stop by here, no." Elmira busied herself at the stove with the teapot. "He's probably at the church again."

Tifa's shoulders sagged as she nodded and her hands dropped to her sides. "Yeah. I kinda figured that."

Elmira was silent for several moments before she turned with a haunted expression. "Give him time, dear. Aeris had a talent for working her way into a person's soul."

Tifa nodded again and turned for the door. "I know."

Tifa closed the door behind her with a sigh, her eyes narrowed against the bright afternoon sunshine of Midgar. It had been only a few weeks since Meteor, Holy, and the Lifestream had fought over the future of the planet. That future looked pretty bright. "For the planet, anyway," she mumbled.

People from the slums had begun leaving Midgar to begin farms, ranches, and vast forests in order to help nurture the planet back to health. After all, how else could they repay a planet that had saved the entire human race from a madman? Mako Reactors all over had been shut down, Materia had been gathered from around the world and returned to the Lifestream, and everyone had decided to treat the planet with a little more respect. Barret had done a lot to set the wheels in motion, in fact, and Nanaki, fondly known as Red, had brought the knowledge of his grandfather to all that were willing to listen. While Vincent and Yuffie had disappeared as abruptly as they had joined, Cid was holed up somewhere near Rocket Town designing new farming techniques that would use machinery to help the planet instead of damage it. Everyone seemed to be doing his or her part.

Except Cloud.

Tifa shook her head and headed in the direction of the old church outside Sector 5 where Aeris had grown her flowers. She knew that Cloud had been a vital role in the saving of the planet, so in a way he had done more than his share. It was just that he had changed so much since the final confrontation with Sephiroth. Oh, he would help Red increase environmental awareness, and he was all too willing to lend a hand when Barret needed help starting another farming community, but his heart was never truly there.

Cloud had always seemed to be somewhere else.

Tifa kicked a rock and pulled at the hem of her skirt. So, where is he and how do I get him here? That was the million-gil question. Every time she saw Cloud, which wasn't often, he seemed to avoid her. He'd say a brief hello and make sure she was okay, but then he would leave Nibelheim with a long look behind him at the well. A look that often puzzled her. Maybe it was the type of expression. Maybe it was the way his hands were balled into fists when he looked at it.

"Maybe I'm paranoid."

Tifa grimaced as she paused outside the church. She looked up at it with a deep breath. Aeris, I always got the feeling that you and Cloud had no problems talking about stuff. Deep stuff. How come I can never do that? You were so honest. I always flub it by chickening out just before I'm gonna confess all. Although, when we were in the Lifestream together... Tifa shook her head and quietly opened the door.

Cloud was there, sitting in the middle of the flower patch twirling a pale bloom in his fingers. He stared at it long and hard, yet with a distinctly distant expression on his face. Tifa watched him for a long moment. His blue eyes seemed to glow a little less than before, but his blonde hair was still as spiky as ever. The memory of that hair had kept a smile on her face while he'd been away from Nibelheim trying to join SOLDIER.

It was so... so him.

Tifa took in a slow breath and stepped forward. "Hey, Cloud," she whispered.

He looked up from the flower. "Hey."

She came to sit on the broken flooring by the edge of the flowerbed and wrapped her arms around her knees. "It always smells so pretty in here, doesn't it?"

He nodded absently and stared back down at the flower. "Smells like her."


Tears pricked at Tifa's eyes and she tightened the grip around her knees. She didn't know whether she was crying because she missed the friend Aeris had become, or because Cloud looked like he missed her more. Maybe it was because she knew he came here to remind himself of Aeris and their time together. That he'd rather be at the church then at Nibelheim where they grew up. Oh, I don't know, she thought with an inward moan. Maybe I'm just crying because... But she didn't really know. Emotion hadn't ever really been her strong suit. Not since her mom had died.

So, the silence fell like a suffocating blanket and was only broken by the occasional hummingbird whizzing past their heads with a blur of wings and tail. Tifa glanced over at him every once in awhile, but couldn't get her mind to think of anything to say that would cut the tension. She simply wasn't that brave. Cloud suddenly leaned back on an elbow and gently tossed the flower toward Tifa. It landed in her lap and she stared down at it in surprise before picking it up and sending him a puzzled glance.

"You look like you need it."

All Tifa could do was swallow, her throat tightening around any kind of 'thank you'.

One side of Cloud's lips tilted in a brief smile and then he looked away, instinctively plucking another flower. "I came here once... and thought I saw her right over there." He gestured a few steps away and then turned his eyes to the flower. "It was kind of nice. She shouldn't have died... but when I saw her it was like she wasn't really dead. It was like she was saying 'I'm here, just different.' Then she fades and I get to thinking. Why did it have to be her? She never did anything to deserve it. Then again, that was the point. Who would have thought a flower girl would be a threat to the Sephiroth?" Cloud shook his head. "Of course, who would have thought a failed experiment would save the planet?"

His voice was quiet and he moved to lay back in the flowers, his eyes closed.

Words by the hundreds rose and died on Tifa's lips. "Cloud..."

"I know. I know. I escaped the experiment because of Zack and wasn't ever a failure... at least, not really. I just wish things could have been different. That I could be the real me and not a copy. That I could have been the one to keep Sephiroth from getting the Black Materia instead of giving it to him. That I could have been a hero instead of a coward. I wish a lot of things."

"Do you really think you're all those things?"

"You heard Hojo, Tifa."

"I know, but... but you've moved past all that. You stood up to Sephiroth and proved you weren't ever a coward. Then, when we were in the Lifestream... all those memories... I don't care what anyone says. I still believe you aren't a copy. At least, not anymore than any of us trying to be something we're not."

Cloud looked over at her briefly and then stared back down at the flower. "I guess I started to feel sorry for myself. It's easy to do when you're alone."

Tifa nodded and looked down at the flower she clutched in her trembling fingers. "Do you remember the last time you gave me a flower?"


"It was after you and AVALANCHE blew up that first Midgar Reactor. Remember?"

"Oh yeah. I got it from Aeris. Some guy had knocked her down and I went over to help her up..."

Tifa pushed away the hurt that came with the realization that even this memory was coupled with Aeris. She forced herself to go on. "It made me feel so... so like a girl when you gave me that flower."

Cloud propped himself up on his elbows and sent her a funny look. "What?"

"Because I could fight, the guys of AVALANCHE usually forgot that I wasn't 'one of the guys'. When you gave me that flower..." Tifa brushed at a tear and then self-consciously sniffed the flower. "Did I ever tell you this is my favorite?"

Cloud sat up and looked at the pale pink flower in his fingers, then over at her. "No."

"Well, it is."


Silence fell over the two again and Tifa chewed her lip. This isn't going the way I wanted it to. She let out an exasperated breath and glanced at him to catch him watching her with a strange look on his handsome face. Tifa flushed and looked away.

"Why do you come here so much, Cloud?" She had to change the subject.

"I can relax here."

The answer surprised her and she looked over at him. "What do you mean?"

He stood, careful not to trample any of the flowers, and made his way to her side. He sat beside her and gave her the other blossom. "Everyone always looks at me like I'm some kind of god or something. When I come here I can be me."

"Why can't you do that at Nibelheim?" Tifa stared at the two flowers on her lap and took in a slow breath.

"Not ready yet."

Tifa caught his eyes. "Because of your mom dying there?"

He shook his head, his blonde spike bobbing with the movement. "No. I don't know why yet."

"Is that why you come here? You're trying to figure it out?"

He shrugged and leaned back on an elbow, the toe of his boot brushing her leg as he did. "Sorry."

"That's okay."

"I don't know if I'm trying to figure anything out. Maybe."

"So, it's not because you blame yourself for Aeris dying?" Cloud's lips tightened, but he only shrugged. "I remember her saying once that you were her bodyguard," Tifa continued.

"Yeah. That's how it started. That's how we really met. Right here. When I fell..."

Tifa nodded and then laid on her stomach beside him, her ankles crossed in the air as she gently displayed the flowers on the floorboards in front of her. "Did you ever think that when Sephiroth started hurting you she decided to be your bodyguard?" Cloud didn't say a word. "Think about it for a second. You'd been risking your life for her all that time. Then she got the chance to return the favor. I'd say she loved you a lot to go to all that trouble."

Cloud was still quiet and Tifa sent him a quick glance only to catch him watching her. She quickly looked back down at the flowers.

"Tifa, why'd you come all the way here from Nibelheim?"

Tifa shrugged and then rolled over onto her back to stare at the crumbling ceiling of the church, the sunlight filtering through in sparse patches. She put her hands behind her head. "I hadn't seen you for awhile. I guess I wanted to make sure you were okay."


Tifa risked a look at him. He was staring at the flowers she'd arranged on the floorboards. "You okay?"

He nodded and then caught her eyes. "You want to go for a walk or something?"

Cloud stood before she could answer and scooped the two flowers in one hand as he helped her up with the other. Tifa looked at him in surprise for a moment and then dropped her eyes as she straightened her skirt. When she felt a gentle grip take her hand, she met his eyes again.

"You okay with that?"

Tifa could only nod and he smiled as he presented her with the flowers again. She took them and stared down at the pale pink petals for a long moment, neither of them moving from the spot in the sunlight.

"I guess I come here to talk to her."

Tifa looked up. "What?"

Cloud turned to look at the flower patch and his grip tightened on Tifa's. "When I'm here I can figure things out better. It's like she's there, helping me think things through."

"What kind of things?"

"Life. Living." Cloud shrugged. "Love. Things like that."

Love... Tifa cringed. "Oh."

Cloud looked at her and then chuckled as he made a funny face. "What do you say it like that for?"

"Nothing. Never mind." She tried to free her hand from his grasp, but he didn't let go. "Don't worry about it."

"I loved Aeris, Tifa. Did you know that?"

Tifa felt the blood drain from her face, but she concentrated on trying to pull her hand from his. "Everyone knew that."

"Did you know why?"

The pain of the tears she held back made her chest hurt. "Yeah."

"Tell me why."

Tifa stopped struggling to free her hand and looked up at him with a frown. "Because she was pretty. Because she was nice. Because she was a damsel in distress and needed a knight in shining armor."

Cloud was quiet for a long time and then shook his head. "Nope."


"I said no. Those aren't the reasons why. Not even close."

I'm gonna be sick... "Fine. Does it matter?"

Cloud nodded. "She seems to think it does."

"She?" Tifa dropped her eyes, already knowing the answer.

"Aeris." Cloud paused. "The part of me that was living like Zack was the part that was in love with her, Tifa. I mean, Zack and Aeris had been dating before... before he took that last mission. He really cared about her. I could tell when he talked about her. And I think I remember her saying something about me and him being alike. I liked her, sure. Didn't everybody? She was sweet, like you said, and I'd never met anyone quite like her before. Loving her was because I was trying to be him without knowing it. Our memories kinda got tangled, remember?" He paused again and squeezed her hand. "Does this make sense?"

Tifa let her mind absorb the information and then looked up at him with a wary expression. She couldn't make herself say a word for fear of bursting into tears.

"I came to Midgar seven years ago to impress you, Tifa. To make you notice me. Then all that crap with Sephiroth happened and I got a little sidetracked..." He grinned. "Even though I screwed up, you've been great through this whole 'end of the world' thing. A real friend when everyone else had given up on me. You didn't even let the thing between me an' Aeris chase you away. You kept being a friend. Giving me strength and hope when I needed it. Only problem was, I never got a chance to say 'thank-you'."

"Your welcome," she whispered.

Zack and Aeris. Cloud's lost memories. Zack's stories in Cloud's mutilated mind. Tifa frowned and looked away. It couldn't be as easy as that, could it? His feelings for Aeris couldn't be explained away as a residual emotion of Zack's... Could they? Tifa turned away, but the grip on her hand tightened and Cloud pulled her into his arms. Startled, she looked up at him with wide eyes. He'd never done that before.

"I've been in love with you since we were eight years old, Tifa," he said softly. "You and Aeris helped me remember that."


His blue eyes twinkled with his smile and Tifa realized that she had never seen him smile before. He'd always been distant and somber. Never finding joy in the activity around him. Never hearing the laughter that bubbled from the children that now played in the gardens popping up all over Midgar. Cloud had been so much like Sephiroth or Vincent... Tortured to the very core.

"Tifa, why did you come all the way over here from Nibelheim just to make sure I was okay?"

"Because I was worried," she said slowly. "You always had this weird look on your face when you came and went. I thought..." Cloud's smile widened and Tifa felt the butterflies rise up into her throat. "What'd I say?"

"See? You're always thinking about how I am. How I'm feeling. How I'm doing under all the stress. Meteor was about to wipe out the human race and all you could think about was finding me. Then you stayed by my side when you guys found me in Mideel, more vegetable than man."

He chuckled and it sounded very real. "Instead of getting out of there when Cid and the others did, you tried to get me out. Don't you realize that you could have died when you fell into the Lifestream?"

"I couldn't exactly leave you there," she whispered as she watched his smiling lips.

"The others did." He brushed a hair out of her eye and cleared his throat. " Then you helped me put my memories back together, just like a little while ago. You just never give up on me."

Tifa forced herself to catch his gaze. "What are you saying?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me."

Tifa swallowed hard. "Tell you what?" she whispered. Aeris, you were always so much better at this...

Cloud stared down at her for several moments, his gaze traveling from her eyes to her lips several times before he pulled her a little closer. "I think you know that already."

"I..." Her eyes focused on his smiling lips again and her thoughts scattered.

"Yes?" Cloud bent closer. "Say it."

"You first," she whispered.

"Nope. I already did."

Tifa could feel his breath on her lips and he was still smiling. She liked it when he smiled. "Cloud... I... I..."

She threw her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his, forcing herself to act before she lost the nerve. Cloud's arms pulled her closer and then he was pushing her away.

"No," he said in a strange voice. "No, Tifa. You're going to say it. I want to hear it. No more guessing. No more games. I need to hear this."

Tell him!

The voice burst through her brain and she found her lips moving of their own will. "I-I love you, Cloud."

He smiled down at her and then took hold of her hand again, picking the flowers up off the ground that she'd dropped when kissing him. "Thanks, Tifa. I think I've known for awhile, but I really needed to hear it. You know?"

He put one of the flowers in her hair and the other in his. She stared up at him a moment and then laughed, wrapping her arms around him to rest her head on his chest. Cloud kissed her hair and they stood there, surrounded by light and the soft fragrance of Aeris' flowers.

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