The Other Side of the Wall"
"something has left my life
and i don't know where it went to
somebody caused me strife
and it's not what i was seeking
didn't you see me? didn't you hear me
didn't you see me standing there?
why did you turn out the lights
did you know that i was sleeping?..."
--"empty" -- the cranberries
"This place gives me the creeps," Barret whispered to the rest of the group. There really was no need to whisper, but everyone attempted to be as quiet as possible, as if any noise would cause a disturbance in the dusty mansion.
Tifa noticed that whispery thin cobwebs covered nearly every corner and edge of the large mansion, giving the walls a thin, filmy white color. The windows were completely intact, but were so filthy with stains of dirty rain, dust, and fingerprints, that one could hardly see out from them...or into them. Perhaps the obscured view through which people outside could not see was what kept them from coming inside. Why would one want to venture into a structure or building they could not see into or out of? Humankind had a constant fear of the unknown, she mused.
"The Shinra mansion has been abandoned for years," Cloud replied, his brow furrowing. His countenance seemed undaunted, but was betrayed in the way he gripped the haft of his sword. The knuckles of his hands were white, and his grip was a trifle unsteady, even trembling.
Aeris took notice of this, but chose to ignore it. She contented herself to observing all the others, in order to dissipate the feeling of discomfort inside her. Her gaze rested on the figure of Tifa, the girl next to her. Her usually calm looking wine-colored eyes seemed apprehensive, tossing a furtive glance at Cloud every once in a while. A little too often, it seemed.
"It should have been abandoned a long time ago. It holds too many secrets that are best left forgotten," a deadly calm voice spoke. The man clad in crimson, the newest addition to their team, brushed back a few strands of his long, jet-black hair. His normal, human hand remained clamped on his pistol as he took long strides, almost lethargically.
The group remained silent as they climbed up the stone stairs that spiraled into the darkness, making it hard to see each individual step they were to take. As they reached the top of the stairs, arriving at the walled entrance, a screeching noise was heard.
Barret yelled expletives as they were bombarded by a horde of monsters appeared to be identical to each other. They were all on their four legs, and could leap great distances with the spidery and abnormally elongated limbs. Three rows of razor sharp teeth vilely decorated their circular mouths, and a single, green-tinted claw decked the tips of their long, vine-like tails. They were all a discolored black and appeared to have no eyes, yet could sense anything moving just as well. One made a leap for the large black man, its jaws opened wide, only to be met by a hail of bullets. It fell to the ground screaming, its body filled with pellets of lead.
"Jesus Christ, what are these things?" Cloud gasped as he narrowly avoided one's claws. He sliced it through with the sharp blade of his sword.
Vincent calmly shot each individual creature that came after him, one after another. "They seem to be a mutated form of a type of normal creature. Probably another one of Hojo's experiments, they seemed to have escaped from his laboratory downstairs," he remarked. He aimed at another creature and shot it through its jaws. "Be extra careful with them, they're likely to be stronger than most monsters."
Red XIII and Cait Sith did not seem to be having a difficult time handling them, as they were aiding each other. Aeris, on the other hand, did.
She cast a lightning spell on two of the creatures, only to have them come running toward her, unfazed. Feebly, she swung at them with her staff, coming to realize that magic had no effect on them. She managed to knock one out by hitting it on the head with the blunt of her metal staff, but the other successfully launched itself at her body. With the white claws on one of its limbs, it swept across her midriff, causing the fabric of her dress to rip horizontally.
She cried out in pain as she felt the claws sink deeply into the soft skin of her abdomen, tearing it across in one clean swipe. The pearl-colored claws came back tipped red, having been dipped in Aeris' crimson blood. Cloud noticed this, and ran to her aid, decapitating the monster in one swift stroke. Aeris, not noticing this, crumbled to the ground, her hand lightly grasping the deep wound that was now spilling blood profusely. Cloud's strong arms caught her before she hit the floor, and lifting her up.
Tifa fended well on her own, without anyone's help. She pummeled each creature's horribly deformed body with her fists and kicks, knocking each unconscious or dead. Noticing Aeris' cry for help, she turned briefly to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her side and cried out in shock. One monster's tail had whipped across like a snake, hitting her on the flesh of her side with its sharp tipped claw. The pain wasn't entirely agonizing, and felt brief, so she managed to compose herself and knock out the creature.
The fighting had ceased, and the mutilated, dead bodies of about fifteen creatures now occupied the room. Everyone seemed to be okay, except for the girl clad in pink, who now lay in Cloud's arms. He carried her away, and the rest of the group followed him. Aeris was still conscious, but was in serious pain.
"What happened?" Cait Sith queried, looking over the girl's unmoving figure that now was lying on the floor of the mansion. Cloud had set her down on a rug, in a room that seemed to be safe.
"One of the creatures clawed me," Aeris replied, her face a little drained. Blood ran from the deep cut that nearly covered the whole horizontal distance of her abdomen. Different patches on her dress were a deep red that was harsh in comparison to the original blush pink. Her left hand was still covering up the wound and had become bloodied too.
"It looks very deep, we should use Cure materia," Red XIII suggested.
Cloud looked grim. "We haven't any."
"What?" Barret looked incredulous.
"I said we haven't any!" Cloud repeated angrily, "a thug stole our only Cure materia in the Corel desert prison."
"Here, I have a potion that might help just a little," Tifa said, pulling out a tiny bottle filled with glowing liquid from the depths of her dark brown coat. She carefully removed the cork embedded at the mouth of the bottle and set it aside. Gently, she pulled away Aeris' hand from the injury, not minding that her own hand was being stained by her friend's warm blood. Then she picked up the glass bottle and slowly poured the liquid on Aeris' wound. The cut began closing a little, but still bled slightly, although it had diminished. Aeris whispered a weak thanks and Tifa squeezed her hand in reassurance before letting go, smiling a little.
"Is that all we have?" Cloud asked the group.
No one answered.
Aeris began to get up, her hand still closed over her injury. "I'm fine, it feels a lot better, and the bleeding has nearly stopped." Cloud removed his sweatshirt, then his tee shirt underneath. He took the two ends of the tee shirt's collar and ripped it across, making one long piece. He wrapped it around the wounded girl's stomach and tied the two ends together, not too tightly. A little blood seeped through the white cloth, staining it through.
"Thank you Cloud," Aeris said, smiling slightly. He said nothing in return as he put back on his heavy black sweatshirt.
"Hey Teef, you okay?" Barret questioned, as he took noticed of the small puncture on her side and the ripped portion of her coat.
"Mm?" She turned her head to face him, a little preoccupied with cleaning blood off her hand.
"Your side, it looks like it's been pierced or something," he said pointing to her small wound.
Everyone turned to face her.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. I just got nicked, it's okay."
Cloud looked at her, his eyebrows arched. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She flushed. "Yes, I'm fine, it's nothing," she murmured, covering up the puncture with her hand self-consciously. He continued to look at her with his burning blue eyes, and she shifted underneath his gaze.
He nodded and offered a hand to Aeris, who had trouble with getting up. He steadied her, helping her stand straight with his hands on her shoulder.
"Is it okay if we keep going? I don't think the inn here is safe," he asked her gently, his eyes softening to a lighter blue.
She nodded, "I feel okay, you guys don't worry about me, please."
"Okay then," Cloud said, walking forward towards the double doors of the mansion. "We should be getting on to the Nibel Mountains, then, if we want to reach the next town before evening."
They all murmured a quiet "yes" or "okay" as they followed their determined leader.
Tifa trailed behind. For some reason, she felt as if her cut was burning. She shook her head, convincing herself that it was insignificant. Ridding her mind of all wavering thoughts, she trudged on to catch up with the others.
The Nibel mountains were extremely cold, and the winds cut through one's skin like icy knives. Nibelheim was already cold as it was, but the mountains following it were freezing. They were all shivering despite their warm clothing. It had been hours since they had left the haunted town, and they all felt weary and chilled to the bone.
Aeris' weakening state had grown quite noticeable at this point. Her pace now dragged, her breath was slower, and the bandage Cloud had applied to her cut was now soaked through. He was still supporting her frail body, helping her walk steadily. The condition of the environment was not ideal, as they had just fought and defeated another gigantic monster on rough terrain, in the bitter cold.
The group was reaching high altitudes now, and the winds blew stronger still. Tifa shivered violently under her coat. Her skin felt extremely frigid, but she was unusually hot inside. Each step seemed like an agony for her, but she walked on, lagging a little behind the rest of her friends. She felt a little disoriented, perhaps it was the altitude, she had never really liked heights, and the mere presence of the mountains unnerved her.
Aeris stumbled over a stone, falling forward. Cloud caught her, and she moaned in pain as his hand briefly touched her waist. His hand came up red, his fingertips stained with her blood.
"I think we need to rest," he announced to the group, his voice reverberating through the deadened air. Chafing his hand repeatedly against his dark sweatshirt, he tried desperately to wipe off the blood. He hated touching blood.
They came to a stop in a small crevice within the depths of the black rock that made up the mountain. It provided some shelter from the harsh cold. The fast winds howled outside.
Cloud gently removed the blood-soaked bandages from Aeris' abdomen, laying them aside. He looked upon her paled face as he delicately peeled off the reddened pieces of cloth. Her face was turned away from him, leaning against the rough rock. Her eyes, usually the color of fresh leaves and grass of Spring, were shut tightly, her lush eyelashes slightly wet. A single tear slid down her right cheek, her eyebrows knitted in pain. Her lower lip, wet with tears, trembled slightly. Cloud looked away, feeling a little discomfited.
Vincent had offered a part of his red cape to her, and Cloud tied it around the wound in the same fashion as earlier. He tried not to lay his eyes on her face again, knowing he would be looking at a person in pure agony. By merely looking at her, he could almost feel the wound himself.
Red XIII curled up in the corner, his fire tipped tail flickering around like a firefly. He rested his head upon his front paws. Barret sat next to Tifa, leaning his head back against the stone edges in the crevice. He turned to her, observing her unusually pale face.
"You okay? You don't look too good."
"No, I'm fine. I think it's just the cold. I'm not used to it and the high altitude, that's all," she said in response, her voice oddly quiet. Barret said nothing more.
Tifa felt a sudden wave of nausea come over her body. She cringed, trying to ease it away by wrapping her arms tightly around herself and taking short breaths. Her mouth slackened open slightly, sucking in breaths and blowing them out audibly. The breaths came in and out unsteadily, the waver in them noticeable to the others. Cloud looked up at her from his sitting position, one leg bent with his arm resting on it, the other stretched out crookedly.
"Tifa, are you feeling all right?" he asked, seeing that her breathing was loud and unsteady, accompanied by her trembling body. He shifted his position forward until he was close enough to reach out to her. With his right hand, he touched one of hers which had been rigidly wrapped around her sides, her arms crossed tightly. Concern rising within him, he removed it from the claw-like grasp and overturned it, he put his left hand over her small palm, sandwiching it in between his other. Cloud felt a cold shock run through his body as soon as he came in contact with her hand. It was unusually cold.
He looked up at her. "Your hands are like ice."
To his surprise, Tifa forcibly and quickly drew her hand back, pushing herself against the wall further away from him. Her hands were again tucked within her crossed arms, in the folds of her jacket away from him She turned her head, avoiding his concerned stare. "I just-I just get a little sick up in the mountains-" The sickening wave came back, stronger this time, overtaking her senses and making her feel like she had been run over by a rotating truck. Without a word, she bolted back outside into the cold, her hand clamped over her mouth. When she was at the edge of the small cave away from the others, she bent over a patch of dirt and vomited. She stood up again, her back still hunched slightly, taking in air in great heaves. She felt like a dead, limp leaf left thrown on the ground. Placing her hands wearily on her hips, she turned to walk back into the crevice to join the others. Her injury was now throbbing and burning. Perceiving that it was just the combined pain of the wound and the freezing temperatures that had made her ill, she thought it was nothing.
She met everyone's concerned gaze with a tiny smile. Cloud was back to tending to Aeris. He turned his head to look at Tifa.
"Listen, Tifa, if you're-"
Tifa cut him off abruptly, "I just needed a little fresh air...that's all..." she muttered, almost incoherently.
"Are you su-"
"I'm fine," she said wearily. Cloud nodded, her answer satisfying him.
"Come on Aeris," he said to the girl next to him, getting up. "We've only a little more way's to go, and we'll get you to an inn."
The girl with the faded emerald eyes smiled sadly at him. Blood still leaked steadily from her wound, and the mere act of sitting down and getting up only exacerbated the pain. The hour of rest that she had had only caused her to be more weakened than she already was. She felt as if she was dying.
A pool of red now marked the space she had been sitting in.
Aeris felt drained. Her new bandage was now completely soaked through like the last, and the bleeding hadn't ceased at all. In fact it seemed to have increased. She would have collapsed hours ago, if it weren't for Cloud who was supporting her as the group walked. Her eyelids felt like heavy weights, wanting badly to shut. Her mouth was dry and her lips were chapped and close to bleeding due to the cold and the winds.
"Hey, are you all right?" Cloud asked her, looking her face over. It appeared to be gray and lifeless. The ethereal glow in her green eyes seemed to be dulling.
Aeris nodded feebly, but said nothing, still marching forward with what little dignity and strength she had left.
The pain inside Tifa had resurfaced again. It seemed that every other second, a great wave of agony would wash over her body, wrenching her body like a thin stick in a vice. The next second, it would die down, leaving her empty and relieved, her weary body trembling violently. But again, it would the pain would come back, go away, come back, go away...again and again, like a twisted carnival ride. Sour bile crept up her throat again, but she refused to let it overtake her. Wasted...that's how she felt...And yet, she still moved forward, trying her best to ignore the pain in her. Her head felt as if it were stuffed with sharp, penetrating sticks and diluted with poisoned water. She couldn't see anything clearly, and the world had become a tornado trapped inside the glass of a mirror. Everything looked gray, blending in with the sharp angles of the harsh rocks bedizening the slopes of the mountains.
She couldn't escape her abject pain, and couldn't really figure out what she had done to glean such horrific agony. Walking slowly forward, her body tilting slightly to each side, she felt horribly ignominious. Oddly, she decided that she needed to stop in her tracks.
The others dragged on, not noticing the brown haired girl who had ceased moving at the end of their disheveled line.
Aeris stumbled into Cloud's arms, not knowing how to carry on any further. The blood loss and exhaustion combined had caused her to faint.
"Oh, God, Aeris!" Cloud cried out as the feeble girl fell heavily into his awaiting arms. "Someone help me over here!" he cried out, trying to gather her into his arms, against his body. Barret rushed to the head of the line, helping Cloud pull the unconscious girl together.
Tifa felt a hundred invisible hands grab her from all sides, tossing her and pushing her back and forth at every angle. She began to cough violently, the rough sounds echoing in her raw throat. Her mouth felt like it was made of itching grains of sand. From inside, she felt as if her innards were being mashed together into an inconceivable skein. Unguided, she began lilting to her left side. Wavering a little at first, she fell heavily to the left, feeling as if someone were tugging her down. The hallucinations went away as darkness claimed her.
Vincent turned around, noticing the fair skinned brunette fall in a heavy heap. She seemed to be at least twenty feet away from the rest of the trailing group.
Cloud looked past Aeris' sagging shoulder, seeing Tifa collapse. He screamed out her name, being too far to reach her.
Tifa had been too delirious to notice where they were, at the narrowed edges of the mountain. She collapsed to the rocky dirt and rolled down the short slope like a broken doll. Her body stopped scraping the edges of the mountain as it came to a broken stop at the beginning of another slope. She had fallen at least thirty feet.
"Jesus Christ!" The blond youth cried, leaving Aeris in Barret's hefty arms. He ran towards the direction in which she disappeared, after seeing her slide helplessly down the narrow slope. He and the rest of the group except Barret bolted down the hill. Their boots and paws caught against the rocks and pebbles as they attempted to control their inertia while slipping down. Cloud nearly lost his balance at the end, but ran to the unconscious girl's side.
Her eyes were closed and her face was a ghostly white. She looked pallid and sickly, with a little stream of blood trickling from her bottom lip, her head leaning to the side. With one hand, he gently lifted her head and supported it by letting it rest on his bent knee. Using his thumb, he gently cleaned away the running blood which had begun to drip off her chin. It smeared on his thumb, so he diligently wiped off the rest of it using his other fingers, until her chin and the top of her throat were completely clean.
Red XIII padded next to Cloud's side, examining Tifa. He walked softly to her side, where her wound had been. His only good eye narrowed at the sight of her puncture. It had swollen greatly and the normally pale skin surrounding it was tinted a slight green. Dry blood was caked around the wound like a ring of rubicund dust.
He turned his head to all the others, stopping to rest on their leader's pale face. "Why didn't any of us take notice of this before? Tifa was clearly not feeling well, and her wound isn't hard to discern, can't you see what happened?" He turned his muzzle back to her pierced side, nodding toward it. "Whatever cut through her skin was laced with some kind of toxin. She's been poisoned." His deep voice was resolute.
Barret joined the rest of them, Aeris still lying in his enormous arms. "What the hell happened?"
Cloud looked at him, his face a little gray. "She got poisoned."
"Do you have any antidote?" Barret asked.
Cloud shook his head.
Barret rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Why don't any of us stock up on any goddamned items? We could've picked some up back in Nibelheim!"
"I don't know! Damn it, you're not making this any better!" Cloud shouted in frustration. He bent over to pick up Tifa's limp body. She felt incredibly light in his arms.
"Her energy is being drained by the poison. It has been going unnoticed for too long, at this point it is dangerous and fatal. If it spreads anymore throughout her body, she could perish," Vincent added with his monotone voice.
"Miss Aeris needs help too," Cait Sith piped up, his incurable cheery voice echoing, "she's lost too much blood, I'm afraid she might be in serious danger if it doesn't stop!"
Cloud whipped around angrily to the whole group, "Will you just shut up!"
Her eyes fluttered like butterfly wings in the midst of the bright light that soaked into the room. The squinted emerald irises sparkled as the sun's rays splayed through them, playing with the light contained inside them.
Aeris' throat felt dry like a strip of dead tree bark. She swallowed.
"Hey there," a soft, familiar voice beckoned to her. Her line of vision rested upon the blond man sitting by her bed. She shifted uncomfortably in the thick sheets wrapped over her body. Feeling warm, she noticed dimly that she had gotten a new change of clothes. Silently, she ran her hand under her shirt, over her abdomen. Smooth, unbroken skin now replaced the injury.
She merely looked at him, not saying anything for quite some time. It took a moment to take in the whole scene before her.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice tacit.
Cloud smiled. "You fainted from blood loss, you're going to be fine though. Your cut's healed up and you should be up on your feet pretty soon."
Aeris nodded slowly from her lying down position. She licked her dry lips hesitantly. "Where are we?"
"Rocket Town," he replied before standing up. Taking slow steps, he walked towards the clear window. Outside, he could see the tilted rocket, its metal coat giving off bright beams of light. Odd, he thought, that it was leaning on one side...it looked like a crooked bullet. He turned to look at her, still laying in bed. She was flipped on her back, staring up at the ceiling in an aimless manner. Her eyes were still a little blank, but the color had returned to her cheeks, making them appear quite warm with pink undertones. She could see his chiseled profile against the rays of sunlight, making his features glow. He smiled again. "Anyway, you should get some rest. That's all you need to get better."
She nodded silently.
Cloud began to walk to the wooden door to her room. "I'm going to go check up on Tifa."
Her eyebrows arched slightly. "Tifa? Why?"
"Oh, you don't know about her, huh? Well, she was poisoned, that's why she was feeling so ill up in the Nibel Mountains," he chuckled, "funny how you both passed out at the same time. She's still a little unstable. You only needed a few potions and you'll be up on your feet by tomorrow, Tifa on the other hand ... Well, she needs more time to fully recover."
Aeris nodded then looked back up at the white ceiling, studying its blankness.
"Rest, okay?" he said, as he turned to open the door. He was gone.
The last thing Tifa remembered was being overwhelmed by pain, then keeling over into complete darkness. She still felt as if her body was wracked by the odd discomfort and nausea as earlier. She blinked twice before fully opening her almond shaped eyes. Light refracted off the dark, rich crimson color, making them appear eerily beautiful. She sensed that someone was in her room. The muscles in her neck twisted painfully as she attempted to turn it slightly, causing sharp pain to shoot down her spine. She moaned as the feeling spread throughout her.
"Are you feeling all right?" a deep, unfamiliar voice asked, generating from the corner of the room. She turned her body uncomfortably in the softly spread sheets of the low bed she was laying in. From the corner of her eye she saw the dark, brooding man clad in red and black.
Tifa swallowed painfully, the dryness in her throat spreading soreness down her esophagus. "Yes, I feel fine," she said, her voice coming out in raspy whispers. She was lying, she honestly felt like shit.
"I believe that you are lying," his imperturbably smooth voice echoed. He walked over to her, taking his usual strides again. Tifa noticed that his walking was akin to floating or sliding...it was so fluid, but then again maybe it was just the effect his long cape had. She looked up at his cold, white face as he sat down in a chair next to her bed.
"I am, to tell the truth ... I feel awful," she admitted. She wondered if he could hear anything she said. All the strength she once had was depleted, and even the mere act of speaking tired and pained her greatly.
"You were poisoned by the creature that attacked you, earlier on," Vincent added. She said nothing.
"You should have let us know of your misery, you were seriously endangering yourself by not doing so."
Tifa frowned and looked away, turning her back on him. But doing so caused her more agony. Gritting her teeth, she held in a cry.
"I didn't want to be a burden," she whispered. Her head felt warm, and her skin was cold to touch even though she was burning inside. She tried to move her arms and legs, but they felt like leaden weights. Her body felt completely drained of energy and a little sore. Licking her lips, she felt a sharp sting. The bottom lip was split, and dry blood covered it. She noticed that there was a cut on her right cheek as well.
"You fell quite a distance when you fainted," Vincent said, as if answering her silent question. "You'll be fine, though, you just need a lot of rest and some medication treatment."
"Why are you here?" Tifa asked, a little abruptly. She cursed herself immediately for her audacity.
"The others are out, arranging plans to contact the man who owns the airplane we are searching for. I decided to stay here, having no place or need in that position." He looked at her with his penetrating blood colored eyes.
"Where's Cloud?" she queried, her voice a little hesitant.
"He is with the other girl, on the other side of the wall. She is resting, like you," he replied, still staring into her wavering eyes.
She looked down. He was with her, she thought. She looked up again, staring him back in eyes. His expression was unreadable. There was no emotion shown on his stoic face, but she thought she could feel something glowing ... something burning and alive dwelling within his red eyes. Her own eyes widened. They reminded her of-
"Your eyes," she breathed, "they're...they're like mine...red." She was mumbling.
He looked away immediately. His reaction unnerved her a bit. "Yes, they are...You and I are much alike in many ways."
She answered him with silence. Her eyelids felt heavy once more and she felt herself drift into a sleepy oblivion. His voice warped into incoherent background noises in her head. Letting out a soft sigh, she succumbed to the peaceful darkness.
Vincent watched her close her eyes and go to sleep once more. It was a good sign, he thought, she needn't be awake any longer. He quietly stood up and walked out of her room. Closing the door behind him, he noticed the blond man with the large sword, the leader, waiting by the doorway.
"She's fallen asleep again," he told Cloud, "it's best that she get some rest, she is still recovering from the poison and her fall."
Cloud nodded and began to walk away, down the hallway. Vincent called to him again.
"I think you should stay with her."
Cloud frowned. "No, I was just on my way to join the others, besides, I need to pick up some supplies."
"She wants to see you."
"She needs her rest, though," Cloud argued, getting a little irritated from his responses.
Vincent looked at him, undaunted. Cloud shifted under his gaze.
"She's asleep now, but she wanted to see you. No one deserves to wake up alone."
His blue eyes widened a little, but within a second, he regained his composure, recovering his stony countenance once again.
"Maybe a little later," and said no more, walking away a little hurriedly.
Tifa awoke once again, quite some time later. Evening was approaching and she could see the burning red sun's rays engulf the entirety of her empty room. Her head throbbed, and her sensitive ears heard muffled voices by the head of her bed.
Aeris and Cloud were chatting, laughing on the other side of the wall.
She shut her ears and closed her eyes once more. Due to her weakened state, she let herself be easily pulled into sleep again; there really wasn't anything for her to do. She didn't feel tired at all, but was willing to seek comfort in the empty dark where she would be deaf and blind to the world around her.
Outside, Cloud shakily placed his hand on her doorknob, a heavy tray on the palm of his other hand. There was food on the plate that he had gotten from downstairs. Since eating wasn't allowed in the inn's rooms, he had to sneak it up. The food was still hot, and she needed to eat since she was still weak. He nearly dropped the whole thing while trying feebly to balance it with one hand while opening the door with the other.
With a creak, he pushed the heavy door open. Red and orange light flooded into his clear vision, causing him to squint slightly. Softly, he walked over to her bed, still holding the tray of food, now with better leverage.
"Tifa..." he whispered, smiling at her sleeping form, trying to wake her. "Come on Teef, you need to eat," he said softly, amused that she was still slumbering. He hadn't known that she would be this tired.
He set the heavy, round, wooden tray by the small table by her bed and sat down on the chair pulled up by the edge of the mattress.
"Tifa..." he called again. She didn't budge. She clearly wasn't going to wake up any time soon and he didn't want to deprive her of any needed rest.
He took this quiet, undisturbed moment to study her. Underneath the heavy white blankets, he saw her chest move up and down with her slow breathing. It seemed a little shaky, probably because of her sickness. His eyes traveled down to her bare arms that were resting lithely on the soft blankets, they looked pale and thin. The color of them was akin to that of the sheets, but the bluish color of a bruise marred her left arm. He had never known she could look so...small, so tiny, almost like a child, as she did now. Now that she was weak, sick, and asleep, she actually seemed vulnerable and a bit fragile, much unlike her usual appearance. The heavy sheets and blankets covering her body heightened the effect it had on him.
Moving his vision back up to her face, he noticed the chocolate strands of hair shining brightly in the dim light, spreading about her body like an aura. It was untied from her usual ponytail and her straight strands looked soft to touch. His pacified blue eyes rested on her heart-shaped face. Her skin was flawless, and seemed to have regained its normal, healthy rosy flush. Despite her condition, she seemed at peace, her lush lips pressed together in a neutral line, her lashes brushing against her skin. Funny, that she looked more peaceful at sleep than when she was awake. The usual tense look that she held was now gone.
Cloud felt a little embarrassed when he discovered that he was staring at her. He turned his head away, flushing from his abrupt realization. He felt as if a giant pair of eyes were closely watching him, and her heard the familiar voice yelling at him to get away from her, that he shouldn't be watching her, and that he had no place being so close to her. How dare he...
Shaking his head, he violently pushed the thought out of his mind, muffling the tormenting voice that echoed inside. What does it matter, he thought, when someone can't see you? He smiled, thinking that he must be going crazy. Cautiously, he turned his head to look at her again, smiling still. It seemed as if she were beckoning to him, telling him to come closer.
Hesitantly, he reached out a hand towards her face, frightened that she may wake up. He almost withdrew it, closing his hands back slightly into the palm. But he didn't, and instead, opened his fingers out again, brushing the tips barely against her cheek. It felt warm to his touch, and sent the soothing feeling up his arm. Gently, he overturned his hand, and with the back of it, slowly touched her cheek, his skin brushing that of her face. For a fleeting moment, he kept it there, in its resting position, as if to soak in the warmth forever. His mind floated to that of many years ago, remembering the tender touch of his mother's hand on his cheek. He had been sleeping too, yet was awakened when she did so. He closed his eyes, locking away the glowing mako radiance.
With his eyes loosely shut, he fully cupped her right cheek, his fingertips softly brushing against her high cheekbones.
He opened his eyes once more, desiring to see her calmed face once more. He traveled the length of her face with his knuckles, pressing gently against the soft slopes. He noticed a cut at the top of her right cheek, about an inch long. Freshly dried blood had clotted over it. With the tips of his fingers, he brushed over it. At that touch, he saw her knit her eyebrows slightly and heard her make a small pained noise. He stopped and her expression regained it's peacefulness.
Using his thumb, he slightly traced the line of her small nose, following the perfect slope. Moving upward, his fingers felt the outline of her feminine, arched eyebrows and then her forehead, smoothing out her bangs from it. The silken strands felt soft and incredibly delicate to his touch, as did her skin. Cloud's hand lightly caressed her face as if it were the petals of a lily, susceptible to break or bruise under any slight touch.
This was an odd moment of peace for him, to be able to feel the graceful curves of her face with his hand, almost like a blind man. A tiny smile had etched across his usual cold composure as he did this. After what seemed like an eternity, although in actuality it was only a transient moment, he slowly drew back his hand. It oddly felt warm and he contented himself with merely gazing at her afterwards. He did not, and could not possibly explain what had just happened. It seemed an inevitable moment that was just seized just because he could. He acted out, not of his own accord, but was led by some unexplainable force within him. It was not that he had not wanted to do it, but as if someone had willed him too. Maybe it was just the beauty of her that drew him to her. Maybe it was the time of day. Maybe it was something else. He felt that he would never know, so he laid the question to rest. He did not need to explain everything, besides, that what she hated anyhow.
Tifa did not budge in her position and merely continued to breathe in, breathe out, silently. It seemed as though she had not noticed anything that had happened.
The air felt clean and cool now, and he sucked in a breath easily. It smelled of fresh water, of a spring breeze, and of powdery snow. His lake blue eyes continued to observe the slumbering young girl, almost amused that she was so deep in sleep.
"You look beautiful when you sleep, Tifa," he whispered, knowing that she, nor anyone else would hear him utter those words. He was thankful of that, but also, slightly saddened.
For now, he would stay by her bed, watching her comfortable form snuggled under the thick covers, until she woke up. He didn't care if it was for forever.
author's notes: hmm...this was quite an odd one. it didn't come out the way i originally intended it to. it was supposed to be a sort of sad fanfic, but ended up being pleasantly sweet. i guess it's your typical WAFF fic...! anyway, i had intended it to end with Tifa falling asleep to the voices of Cloud and Aeris laughing and talking in the room next to her...but, i guess not! it would have been a little too sad that way, eh? but, nevertheless, i hope you liked it. and yes, i do keep making curious little connections with Tifa and Vincent, don't i? i dunno, i guess it's because they sort of look like each other. you know, dark hair? reddish eyes? nevermind! well, don't have much else to say about this, bai bai for now! -_- <(...)