Author/Artist: OCValkyrie (a.k.a. Valk or ObsessiveCompulsiveValkyrie)
Warnings: Mild language; Major(?) OOC-ness…
Word Count: 3751
Prompt: boy!Tifa/girl!Cloud: AU - Tifa is the SOLDIER
A/N: Okay, so the prompt said Tifa was the SOLDIER, but since Cloud never really was a SOLDIER, I kinda had to substitute with the storyline. I’m assuming the prompt just meant that boy!Tifa is the one in Cloud’s canon position… I tried, okay? Oh, God… This is weird for me to even write… Waaayyy out of my happy little comfort zone… And, for obvious reasons, I changed Tifa’s name. Cloud could get away as a girl’s name, but Tifa for a boy? Not so much.
A/N v.2: I know, I know… I’m a day late. I’m really starting this prompt thing off on the right foot, huh? And I know I got the canon sequence off here, but the prompt said ‘AU,’ so I figure that meant I could use poetic license…
“Hey, Tiff, you okay?”
Tiff looked up at the raven-haired man and sighed, playing with his standard-issue infantryman helmet. “Yeah, Zack, I’m fine.”
Zack grinned. “Great! So, tell me about Nibelheim? Any cute girls?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you seeing that girl from the slums?”
“Well, yeah, but I meant for you.”
Tiff felt the heat rise on his cheeks and pulled awkwardly at the green scarf around his neck. “Um, well…”
“Yeeeaaahhh…? Well, what?”
“Um, there’s this one girl…”
“And…? What about her?”
Tiff glanced over at General Sephiroth briefly, who looked incredibly bored and like he really didn’t want to be there. “Uh, Zack…? Are you sure this is the place to talk about girls?”
“Why not? It’s not like ol’ Seph is crooked or anything. He’ll enjoy it.”
The silver-haired man gave a sigh but didn’t comment. Tiff looked around warily, nervous under the watching eye of his childhood hero. He grunted at the piece of shaggy hair constantly falling in his eyes and shoved the shoulder-length lock back behind his ear while continuing to fidget with his helmet. “Well, uh, this girl, she’s…”
Zack leaned closer in his spot on the floor of the truck. “Yeah…? What about her?”
“W-well… She… She’s gorgeous…”
He sat back against the wall. “Ohh… So that’s it. You got a girl back home. That’s why you never took an interest in the girls around Midgar.”
“No, Zack, It’s not like that… She and I… We’re not…”
“Huh. You have a crush?”
Tiff ducked his face down inside his scarf to hide his undoubtedly red cheeks. “U-um…”
Zack grinned and choked back a laugh. “Aw, man… Tiff, that’s cute. You’re still young enough that unrequited love is adorable.” He walked over and shifted his hand through the younger teen’s shoulder-length dark hair.
He leaned back, away from his best friend-slash-mentor’s incoming hand. “Zack, stop it…”
The truck screeched to a halt and while Tiff was sitting and only slid a little, Zack fell straight to the floor with a thud. Sephiroth wobbled slightly from where he leaned against the wall of the truck, completely unfazed. The driver turned around in his seat and called to the three men in the back, “We’ve arrived, Sir!”
Swallowing the vomit threatening to rise up his throat, Tiff jammed his helmet onto his head and fastened the strap.
Tiff followed Zack, Sephiroth, and another infantryman, Fillmore, up to the town, looking around the mountainous terrain through the visor of his helmet. He took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh country air after two years of breathing the Midgar smog. The gate came into view and he stopped short at the sight of the young girl waiting beneath the sign.
Zack walked straight up and extended a hand to the teenage girl dressed in a cute, albeit revealing, cowgirl outfit. He shook her hand with a grin while introducing himself. “Heya! I’m Zack Fair, SOLDIER First Class and this here is my partner, the Great Hero Sephiroth!”
She smiled timidly and, after glancing briefly at Sephiroth, shook Zack’s hand. “I’m Cloud… I’ll be your guide into the mountains.”
“Great! Can we just stop by the inn and drop our stuff off first?”
“Of course… The inn is over there…” She pointed off to her right towards the two-story building.
“Thanks! Be back in a few! Come on, guys! Let’s go check in!”
Tiff absently noted them walking away but kept his eyes on the blonde girl. Her eyes were as blue as he could remember and her hair was just as unruly. Her bangs spiked up in every direction and her long braid ran down her back beneath the cowboy hat resting at her shoulders. Her pale skin and petite features only accentuated her youthful beauty and all Tiff could do was swallow his spit as his crush stood before him in the flesh.
He shook his head and followed after Zack, heading up to the inn to settle down. Pushing the door open, he found Zack waiting for him on the main level. His mentor grinned openly. “Heya! What took you so long?”
Tiff sighed, thankful Zack hadn’t used his name in front of the innkeeper, Old Man MacOlson. He shook his head and replied, “Nothing, Zack. I was just, uh, examining the scenery.”
His friend raised an eyebrow at him knowingly. “Uh,huh. What did you think of the local merchandise?”
“Z-Zack!” He grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him upstairs. “Zack, that’s not even funny!”
He let out a laugh. “I thought it was. So was that cute little blonde girl your crush?”
Tiff fisted his hands in Zack’s turtleneck shirt and shoved him against the wall. “Her name’s Cloudia!”
He grinned wider while slowly prying the younger teen’s hands off of him. “I know. I never forget a name. I was just testing you. I’m gonna go let her know that we’ll be heading towards the reactor tomorrow instead of today. Go see your dad.”
He watched as Zack walked back down the stairs. Damn it… I hate how he corners me like that…
Tiff walked out of the inn and slipped through the familiar town in the moonlight. He moved up behind the well and climbed up the mismatched boards to get up to the top. Moving around the well itself, he sat down on the planking and hung his feet off the side. He leaned back and balanced on his palms, letting the smile cross his face as he remembered the promise he’d made two years ago. It was a silly childish fantasy, but he really hoped he could fulfill the pretty girl next door’s image of him.
A scuffle on the wood behind him forced him to turn and he felt his eyes widen when the petite girl moved into sight. She froze when she spotted the Shin-Ra infantryman sitting there and quickly stammered an apology, “I-I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to disturb you…”
He raised his hands in defense. “No, wait! Don’t go! I just-! The peaceful night… I just wanted to come out and enjoy it…”
“Mm. Yeah… I come out here every night… This place is special to me.”
Tiff cleared his throat awkwardly, not daring to believe she was referring to their promise. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves and spoke, “So, uh… Cloudia…?”
She looked up and cocked her head in silent question, blue eyes wide with curiosity as he spoke her full name. “How do you…?”
He realized he was still wearing his helmet and reached up to take it off, shaking his shoulder-length brown hair out. He blinked his crimson eyes to adjust to the lack of a visor and gave a sheepish grin. “Remember me, Cloudia? It’s me, Tiff. Tiff Lockhart?”
A small smile slipped onto her face. “Tiff… It’s been awhile.”
He reached up to scratch the back of his head. “Yeah… I know I promised I’d be a First Class SOLDIER when I came back, but I’m working on it! Zack, there, is teaching me all about using a sword and what it’s like in SOLDIER… I should be able to join before next summer! I know I promised, but this is work, you know? I didn’t really have a-”
She smiled softly and slowly reached out to touch his shoulder, stopping him mid-sentence. “Tiff, it’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m just happy you’re safe.”
Tiff looked up and blinked. “Y-you mean it…?”
She smiled a little wider. “Well, where would I be if my hero didn’t come back to see me?”
“U-um… I… I don’t know…” he stammered, fumbling for something intelligent to say.
She moved over and sat down beside him and gripped the edge of the wood. Without looking at him, her hand slowly inched closer to his. “Tiff…?”
He looked up at her. “Huh…?”
“Um, well… Thanks for writing so much… Even if your letters were short, I was really happy you took the time to tell me…”
Tiff fought back the approaching blush and reached out slightly, covering her slender fingers with his gloved ones. “I… didn’t think you really cared… You never sent a reply…”
Cloudia giggled softly and shifted her hand to hold his. “That’s because you never left a return address.”
He averted his gaze and mentally slapped his forehead at his stupidity. “Um… Sorry about that… I never even noticed…!”
She shifted a little. “That’s okay. You’re here now, right?”
He swallowed his spit and worked up the courage, slowly scooting closer to her. “Cloudia…?”
“I go by Cloud now.”
She gave a soft smile. “It’s okay.”
He looked down at their linked hands and cracked a small smile, thinking back to his dreams of winning over the young girl’s heart. His hold tightened slightly to squeeze her hand before he raised his eyes back to her bright blue ones. “So…”
“Um, well, what have you been doing?”
She started to swing her feet back and forth. “A little of this and that. I’ve been stopping by to keep your father company while you were gone. Oh, and a man named Zangan came into town about a year or so back and-”
He stared at her blankly. “Zangan? As in, Master Zangan? The world-famous martial arts master?”
She nodded. “Mm-hm. He came into town awhile back and he said I had a talent. I didn’t really even do anything, but he said he wanted to make me his pupil. What could I say but ‘yes’?”
Tiff turned to look back at the town. “Wow… Master Zangan’s student…? I’m really happy for you.”
“Thanks. Master Zangan’s in town… I’ll introduce you tomorrow.”
“R-really?! You’d introduce me to the Master Zangan…?”
She giggled. “Sure. I’d be happy to, Tiff.”
“Thanks…” He looked around for a moment before reaching in his pocket with his free hand and pulling a small object from inside. “I got you something. I mean, it’s not much, but I thought you might like it.”
“Tiff… You didn’t have to…”
“I was happy to… Here.” He held his hand closer and she held hers under his to catch it. His fingers opened and the small silver item fell into her open palm.
She shifted her hand to look at it better and gasped at the small, heart-shaped locket attached to the chain. “Tiff…! It’s beautiful…”
He felt a smile of pride spread across his face. “Open it.”
“Huh?” She opened the heart to find a picture of the two of them as small children, from before her mother had forbidden her to see him. They sat side-by-side, happily posing for the picture during a village harvest festival when they were six. “Tiff… Thank you… I’ll always wear it.” She lifted her long hair and turned slightly away from him. “Can you…?”
“Can you help me put it on?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Of course.” He reached over and took it from her, moving to slip one side of the chain on either side of her neck. He fastened the clasp and moved back as she let her hair fall again and turned to face him, gently fingering the locket. “Tiff…?”
“How… How long are you in town?”
He swallowed his spit. “Um, however long the inspection takes… Probably no more than a week…”
She looked down at the toes of her cowboy boots. “I see…”
“Why do you ask…? I mean, we’ve never really been friends…”
“Well… I just… I… missed you, Tiff…”
He willed for his jaw to work and ground his teeth together—a terrible habit he’d never been able to break—before slowly leaning closer to her. The light dusting of pink on her cheeks didn’t escape his attention as he softly touched his lips to the corner of her mouth. He pulled back slowly and blinked, wishing she’d open her eyes so he could see what sort of emotions were swirling in those deep oceans of blue.
She finally did and, slowly turning her eyes up to look in his, just seemed to realize she’d been leaning towards him as well. Her face flushed a deeper red and she started to turn away, but Tiff caught hold of her chin and slowly brought her face back to his.
He leaned closer again and covered her mouth with his, a little unsure of how to kiss. His hand shifted from her chin to slide back and rest on her shoulder to tip her a little closer. A blank void overcame his mind as he slid a little closer to her.
It was she who finally broke it off, pulling back and gasping for air. He looked at her, shifting his hand on her shoulder to move up and brush through her hair. Her eyes averted elsewhere, contemplating what just happened.
Tiff hesitantly pulled his hand back before reaching closer to set his palm on the back of her hand. “Cloud…?”
Though Tiff couldn’t deny his own blush, she blushed even brighter and bit her lip. “Tiff… I…”
He felt his heart sink at the imminent denial and moved to stand. “I’m sorry, Cloud… I shouldn’t have…”
She threw him completely by surprise when she suddenly leapt forward and threw her arms around his shoulders. “Don’t go, Tiff!”
He raised his hands to awkwardly settle at the small of her back. “I… I… Cloud…” His arms snaked up to hold her a little closer. “I have to leave, Cloud. But when I come back, I’ll be a SOLDIER. I’ll be a First Class; a hero! I’ll be ready to fulfill our promise…”
The heat of the flames and the smell of smoke stayed with him even as he raced through the mountains. Tiff ran into the reactor and threw his helmet to the floor. He spotted the small frame lying at the base of the stairs in a growing puddle of blood and dashed over to it, dropping to his knees next to the girl. Reaching out, he carefully examined the wound starting at her shoulder and running down her chest.
Finding that as her only injury, he slowly gathered her in his arms and carried her to the side. He heard the sound of something crystal-like clattering to the floor and turned to see a small green orb on the floor. Materia… Zack, that was you, wasn’t it…? After settling her against the large tanks in the room, he walked over and picked it up.
Having no experience with Materia at all, he wondered what kind it was. He knew the basic categories, so he knew it had to be a spell-type from the green color. Hoping it was a healing one, he focused on it and casted a spell on Cloud. He breathed a sigh of relief as her wound started to heal into a thick red scab.
She stirred and looked up at him, giving him the briefest of smiles. “Tiff… You came… You came for me while I was in trouble…”
He pocketed the Materia and reached a hand out to stroke her cheek. “Cloud… Of course I did. I wouldn’t be much of a hero if I didn’t, right? But I… I’m late… You shouldn’t have gotten hurt…! I should’ve been here sooner!”
She gave her head a gentle shake. “It’s okay, Tiff… You came, right? You came and you saved me… Just as you promised…”
A sharp crack came from the top of the stairs and Tiff looked up to Zack come flying out and land on the stairs. His iconic Buster Sword sailed through the air after him and stuck into the metal flooring with a sickening screech. Cloud turned to look, but cringed at her recent wound. Instead, she nodded her head as best she could towards the man and spoke, “Tiff… Go see if he’s alright. I’ll still be here…”
Zack’s strained voice sounded from the stairs, “Tiff… Finish him off… Sephiroth…”
Tiff’s breath caught in his chest as he slowly started to rise, but froze as a small hand touched his. He looked over to Cloud to see the determination set in her youthful face. “Kill him, Tiff. Avenge Mama, your dad, the village… Get revenge, Tiff… I know you can…”
He nodded, slowly shifting his hand to hold hers briefly. He slipped his hand into his pocket and set the Materia in her hand. “Hold on to this. Use it if your wound opens again, okay?”
She blinked her tears back and replied, “Just as long as you come back, Tiff… Promise me, okay?”
“I promise, Cloudia… I have to live through this, remember? I have to be your hero…”
“Mm… You already are, Tiff…”
He stood and made his way over to Zack’s sword and gripped the shaft of the hefty blade. Using all the strength he had, he wrenched it from the floor and paused next to Zack before kneeling down. “Hey, you okay?”
He received a grunt in reply, “Ung… Yeah… I’ll be fine… I just need to rest for now… Be careful, Tiff.”
“You know me, I always am. Thanks, Zack.”
“Good… I’d hate to have you die on me, too.”
Tiff walked the rest of the stairs silently, approaching the back room with the eerie bluish-green glow. He spotted Sephiroth on the opposite side, one hand resting lovingly on the clear glass tank holding some sort of monster. His smooth, oily voice echoed through the large room. “It’s all right, Mother…”
He ran up to the other man as quickly and quietly as he could, pointing the sword straight towards him. The sound of glass cracking followed by a low, shocked grunt from Sephiroth as Zack’s sword impaled his middle flowed into his ears. With ragged breathing, he panted, “Father… Zack… Nibelheim… Cloudia..! What have you done, Sephiroth?! I admired you! I worshipped you! But you… you…”
His fingers curled against the glass as he slowly slumped down a little. “You little bastard…!”
He turned quickly, slashing outward with his legendary Masamune blade, sending Tiff across the room to land on the opposite ledge. The teen clambered to his feet and looked up in disgust as Sephiroth broke the glass on the tank and decapitated the being inside. He held the severed head at his side before turning and leaping through the air towards Tiff.
He held up his sword defensively as Sephiroth flew through the air, touching the floor with a silent echo. He grit his teeth and held his friend’s sword at the ready, bracing himself for the strike he knew would be coming.
He felt his stomach lurch as he went back a few more feet, coming back through the door to the room with Zack and Cloud. Taking a deep breath, he ran forward, shouting, “Sephiroth!”
Sephiroth, still bleeding dangerously at the middle, twisted easily to block his attack and cut him across the thigh as he fell past and back through the doorway. Tiff fell to the floor and struggled to stand, holding one hand over his injured leg and reaching out for the fallen sword with the other.
Blood found its way up his throat as pain shot through his body in quickly moving tendrils. He felt himself come off the floor and looked down to see Sephiroth’s sword pierced through the right side of his chest, just opposite of his heart. Past that, the sickening color of mako swirled beneath him as he realized he was being held over the pit.
His body weakened and he felt about ready to give up when the image of his father, burned and dead, appeared in his mind; Zack laying there bleeding on the stairs; Cloudia surrounded by her own blood. He slowly raised his hands to grab hold of the blade and mumbled, “Give it… back… My home… My life… Give it back!”
He pulled forward on the blade, bringing his feet back to the ledge and catching his footing. Bracing his feet on the floor and still holding the sword, he used the sword as a lever and threw Sephiroth into the wall.
The silver-haired man cast him a look filled with hate before glancing down at the head still in his right hand. He looked back to Tiff and smirked before addressing the head, “Come, Mother… Come with me to the Promised Land…”
He turned and ran off the ledge, leaping down to the mako and Lifestream below. Tiff watched him for a moment before glancing down at the sword still lodged through him. He moved his hands down to grip the part of the blade closer to him and pulled, yanking the thin metal from his torso. He dropped the sword to the ground and stumbled out the door, falling to his knees and slumping down the stairs.
Cloudia sighed and made her way through the filthy streets with a crate of scrap metal in her hands. She sighed and made her way through the slums on her way to the train back to Sector 7. A low moaning filled her ears and she looked around for the source. She pulled a potion from her pocket in the hopes that it would help as she spotted a thin, masculine form slumped over by the stairs of the train platform.
She set her crate down and knelt beside the young man, gently touching his shoulder. “Hey… Are you okay?”
“Uhn…” His head shifted slightly and he turned to look up at her. “Cloudia…?”
Her eyes widened as she looked into the unnaturally purplish-blue eyes of Tiff Lockhart. She looked him over, finally noticing the First Class uniform he wore and the oversized sword he held. Her hand came up to touch his cheek as she spoke to him, “Tiff… You’re a SOLDIER! I never thought I would see you in a place like this… I’m really happy to see you again…”
His unfocused eyes turned to look at her. “Cloudia…” His hand reached up slowly to settle his fingertips over the place where her scar now lay hidden beneath her clothing before moving over to touch the silver locket she wore.
She looked at him with a slight worry in her eyes. “Tiff…? Are you okay…? You look like a mess.” Her fingers trailed over his sword. “And where’s Zack…?”
“Come on… I’ll take you back to my place, okay? We’ll get you all rested up there.”