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In the Aftermath

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In the wake of Sephiroth’s demise and Meteor’s destruction, the party of eight landed just outside the city of Midgar to such a huge festivity one would only find once in a lifetime. A giant bonfire had been lit, various musicians were playing on a makeshift stage made from the ruins at the city outskirts, and the plethora of people were dancing and singing and laughing. The Meteor that had loomed over their planet, that had threatened to destroy all life, was gone.

His friends had been solemn after witnessing the lifestream coming to life and stopping Meteor’s advance. The face he had seen—just a glimpse of a smile, as if she was trying to say, “I’m here.” Cloud wondered if the others had seen it too.

Cloud was sitting on the ruins of a building, taking a quiet sip of his drink. Everyone had already been swept away by the revelry. He could see Barret and Cid roaring with laughter and shouts and friendly curses with the other men, mugs of beer on each of their hands. Vincent was even there, sipping quietly, with not much of an expression on his face. The others had probably taken him by force, and Cloud had to wonder how he had managed to get out of it. Red XIII and Cait Sith had been caught by the children, who ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the tricks they showed them. If Cloud could have a say in it, he would say that this party was for them. His friends deserved this, more than anyone, after everything they had gone through.

As Cloud took another sip of his drink, his feet tapping into the rhythm of the music, his attention was caught by the two figures entering his vision—Tifa and Yuffie, having completed a full circle around the fire and still dancing in unison with everyone else. The young ninja had pulled Tifa away to join the dance just as Tifa had been about to sit beside him with her own mug. Not that he was feeling left out or anything, but Tifa’s mug was still left untouched beside him.

So, Cloud found himself watching them. A part of him wondered whether it was some folk dance everyone knew, or just something the people had started on their own that somehow spread far and wide. A simple step-step-step followed by a twirl and a clap-clap-clap. It fell into the beat and rhythm of the drums and flutes and violins.

But that wasn’t what caught his attention. What caught his attention was her face—the smiles and grins and laughter. That utmost joy and great relief that he hadn’t seen for a long time. No more frowns, no more wrinkled foreheads, no more pursed lips nor fisted hands. Gone were the anguish and agony. Gone were the frustrations and hopelessness. And for a moment, Cloud forgot how to breath, because he was back in Nibelheim all those years ago, sitting by the window of his room as he waited for a glimpse of the girl next door, peeking over hedges or bushes to see her laughing with her friends, and all he had wanted was to go up there and say, “Can I play with you?”

“Hey!”

A clap to his back brought him out of his reverie. The force behind it was so strong that Cloud almost fell off his seat, his drink splashing all over.

“Ah…” Cloud scowled at his now wet hand and damp shirt.

Cloud glared at the older guy, but Barret only took his seat beside him without showing the least bit remorse. His mug was still full. Or was it already his second—third—drink?

“You’re not going to dance?” he asked in his deep baritone voice.

Cloud’s reply was a soft noncommittal grunt, as he adjusted his seat on the stone slab, putting some distance between him and the big, burly man.

“Why not?” Barret asked, taking a big gulp from his mug. “If anyone deserves this, it’s you.”

Cloud didn’t reply. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to join. A part of him wanted to. But there should have been nine to enjoy this festivity, but only eight came back alive, and no matter what Cloud did, his mind would go back to the loss of a friend and a comrade and he felt like he shouldn’t join them in this celebration.

In Cloud’s silence, Barret clicked his tongue in irritation. “God, you’re such a pain!” he said, and without preamble, he snatched Cloud’s mug away and pushed him to his feet.

It was so sudden that Cloud stumbled forward, almost losing his footing. He whipped his head over his shoulder and sent a glare Barret’s way as he said, “What the hell—?!”

But Barret had a feral grin on his face. “Be a man and ask her to dance!” he said, loudly, over the revelry, and before Cloud could even think what he had meant, Barret had already put two fingers in his mouth and whistled.

Cloud didn’t know just why Yuffie suddenly jerked her head up toward them. Having spotted Cloud and Barret together, Barret gave her a nod and a grin, and Cloud watched from the corner of his eye as Yuffie gave Barret a similar conspiratorial grin, before she bowed her head apologetically at Tifa and rushed toward them.

Cloud frowned at Barret, who just waved him away with a “Go on.”

Had they planned this?

But there was no reason to refuse. If anything, it would probably hurt Tifa if he didn’t go.

Cloud sighed. “Fine,” he said.

“All right! That’s it!” Barret exclaimed behind him, as Cloud fisted his hands and strengthened his resolve before he walked over to Tifa still in the circle of dancers.

 


 

Being with Tifa was a lot more nerve-wrecking than Cloud had initially thought. He didn’t know why. They had been together for months since he came back to Midgar. Why was he suddenly being nervous now?

Tifa’s instructions on how the dance work seemed to enter his right ear and exit through his left. He couldn’t comprehend a word she was saying. God! And his palms felt clammy. If only his heart would stop beating so loud, maybe he could actually do this right!

Tifa waited for the right moment to enter the dance, and when she said, “Okay, now,” Cloud wasn’t sure what he did wrong. He tripped over his own leg and then stumbled backwards. It happened so fast that Tifa couldn’t even react before Cloud fell on the ground with a thud.

He had half a mind to glare toward Barret’s direction, whom he knew was still sitting where he had left him a few moments ago with Yuffie. He could just imagine them snickering.

Tifa’s giggle brought him back to his predicament and Cloud felt his face growing hot. Falling on his behind right at the start of the dance was so mortifying!

“Here,” Tifa said, holding out a hand.

Cloud eyed it with a scowl. “I can’t dance,” he mumbled.

That response, however, only elicited more giggles from her. “Come on,” she said, grabbing his arm and tugging him to stand up. “It’s not that hard, really. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.”

Cloud was really not a dancer. He had never danced, not even when he was little. But he remembered often seeing Tifa dancing with her friends back then, and she had looked so happy. The smile she had had then was almost the same smile she had before.

Would he be able to see that smile up close?

Albeit reluctantly, he did as he was told. Tifa grinned at him as she pulled him up and she told him, “Just follow my lead.” A part of him knew that should be his line, but he didn’t care about it at the moment because Tifa was smiling so sweetly at him.

They waited for the right moment and Cloud remembered the music just as it was about to start a new passage, and this time, he didn’t miss the beat when Tifa said, “Now.”

His dance was rough if compared to Tifa. Hers, however—the way she moved was so in sync with the music it was as though the dance had been ingrained into her body for years. She moved nimbly, and even the most basic movements seemed beautiful.

It turned out the dance was more than just a series of steps, twirls, and claps. Not too complex, but not too simple either. Cloud stumbled a few more times, eliciting more giggles and smiles from her, but as he gritted his teeth and was determined to get this right, Cloud finally found the meeting point where the dance and the music seemed to meld together, and Cloud suddenly felt his body moving in rhythm with the beat.

Noticing this, Tifa laughed. Not a mocking or teasing laughter, but a victorious laugh, and she clapped her hands and said, “See? It’s not hard.”

Cloud felt himself grinning. It really wasn’t hard at all. He wasn’t a dancer, and he was sure not everyone at the party was a dancer at all. He only needed to let loose, to stop thinking for a moment, and let his eyes, ears, and body took control.

Cloud met Tifa’s gaze and he saw pure joy there. A pure, genuine, and sincere happiness. An ear-to-ear smile that reached her reddish-brown eyes. And there it was—the girl he had yearned for throughout his childhood. That joyful, childish smile that had been buried prematurely by the untimely death of everyone she had known and loved. Even back then, Cloud had only seen glimpses of it. Tifa was never one to show her feelings, but when she did, it always took his breath away.

Cloud grabbed her hand. He noticed her widening eyes. This wasn’t in the dance, but he didn’t particularly care. In a swift movement, he tugged her toward him and gave her a couple twirls under his arm, before they changed positions and fell into the beat of the dance once more.

Tifa raised and eyebrow questioningly, but Cloud only replied with a grin. Maybe she understood, maybe she didn’t. He didn’t really know why he did that himself. He only knew that he wanted to see more of her smile. 

After a moment, Tifa did smile and laugh and say, “Let’s do that again.”

 


 

The dance ended after a couple more turns around the fire. Everyone was smiling and clapping and shouting in celebration. The two of them walked away from the crowd, and Cloud’s eyes scanned his surrounding for his friends. Barret was back with Cid and the other men—their faces already red with all the alcohol in their system; Vincent was nowhere to be seen. Yuffie was stuffing her face with some food she found somewhere and Cait Sith now had a larger crowd that consisted of more children and adults. Red XIII—ahh there he is—was sitting among the crowd, his tail swishing this way and that, as some children sat against him.

“Everyone looks so happy,” Tifa commented. Cloud glanced down at her. Apparently, she had also been scanning the crowd for their friends.

“Yeah,” he replied.

There was silence, in which Tifa quietly watched as the musicians start to play another song and a new batch of dancers gather around the fire. “This is okay, right?” Her voice was too quiet, it was almost lost in the loud festivity, but Cloud had heard it. “She would want this for us, right?”

Cloud looked at her. Her shoulders, which always seemed so strong and sure, suddenly seemed small and weak. “Tifa?” he asked, concerned.

He felt a small tug on his hand. Her hand was there, holding just the tip of his fingers.

“I saw her,” she said, her voice soft, “when the lifestream broke free from the earth. Just a glimpse, but it was as clear as if she was standing right there in front of me.” A wistful smile grazed her lips. “She was smiling.”

Cloud froze. In that moment, he realized, once again, how selfish he had been. He wasn’t the only one whose mind was preoccupied with Aerith’s death. Everyone probably felt the same. They knew that nine should be here but only eight came back. It’s precisely because of that that they were trying to enjoy this moment as best as they could.  

Tifa was right. Aerith wouldn’t want them to brood over her death more than they should, and she would want them to enjoy themselves as much as possible. 

Cloud firmly held Tifa’s hand in his own. “You deserve this, Tifa,” he said. “Be happy for this. I’m sure that’s what she wants.”

Sometimes, Cloud forgot about it. Tifa and Aerith were the two girls in their party who had been together since before they left Midgar. Their meeting might have started at an odd footing, but they had grown quite close—as close as any girls would be. Cloud had been too preoccupied with his own troubles that he sometimes forgot how much Aerith’s death had impacted the rest of them, especially Tifa, who rarely showed her feelings to other people. Tifa always looked so strong, so sure, so bright in his eyes that he forgot how sensitive this girl was. She was the girl who tried to brave the mountain pass to Mount Nibel when she was only 8 years old just so she could see her late mother.

Tifa met his gaze and there was a soft smile on her face. “We all deserve this,” she said.

Cloud smiled back. They did.

~ END ~