If I Should Wake Before I Die #4

After Advent Children, Tifa visits the church and finds an unexpected Zack. Romance, I-2

Character(s): Tifa Lockheart, Zack Fair
Pairing(s): Tifa/Zack

A lot of people came to visit the church, now, but somehow never more than a few at a time. Even so, Tifa liked to be alone when she came. So when she saw someone kneeling in the shadows by the pool she bit her lip and took a step back, meaning to sneak out quietly and come back later.

When the soft morning light slid over broad shoulders and a tight, charcoal shirt, she stepped forward again, meaning to get a look at Cloud’s face and see whether or not he needed company.

When the man raised his head and she saw the wild black hair she couldn’t hold back a gasp. He looked around, smiling. “There you are.”

Tifa caught at the cracked stone pillar next to her, feeling dizzy with shock. “You…” she whispered. “You’re…”

“Zack,” he supplied, obligingly.

“I remember.” She closed the last few steps between them, eyes fixed on him. He looked so real, so there, that her hand lifted to touch and make sure. The amusement in his eyes brought her back to herself before she quite groped a stranger (mostly stranger), and she pulled her hand back quickly. “I’m sorry. I’m—”

“Tifa.” He nodded. “I remember, too. Though I have to say,” his eyes slid down her body, “you’ve certainly grown up a lot.”

Tifa’s face heated at that look and she glared at him. Zack held up his hands, contrite. “Ah, I didn’t mean it like that!” He paused and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, okay, I did mean it like that, but not like that.”

Tifa sniffed. He wasn’t leering like the guys in the bar sometimes did, though, so she let it go and settled down on the still-cool boards beside the pool. The company of someone who was dead was close enough to alone. “So, why are you here?” She frowned. “Actually, how are you here?”

Zack folded his legs and sat back down himself. “Hey, Sephiroth isn’t the only stubborn bastard around.”

She tried not to flinch at that name and he shook his head, sadness dimming his wry, easy smile. “Aerith taught me, when I finally convinced her I wasn’t going anywhere,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” Tifa looked down at the pool, a smile softening her own lips. “If… if you see her, tell her thank you for me?”

“She heard you when you said it yourself.”

Tifa raised her head, startled. “She did?”

Zack’s expression was fond. “She blushed. The two of you are awfully cute, you know.”

Tifa was pretty sure she was blushing herself. Zack waved a hand, pretending not to notice. “It’s hard to be here like this,” he went on, “but we’re not really gone you know. It isn’t that hard to keep track of you and Cloud.”

“Oh.” Cloud and her? Why her?

“Harder for you to keep an eye on us, which is why I’m here, actually.” His hand closed around hers, warm and solid. “I wanted to thank you,” he told her, eyes serious and level and as warm as his hand. “Thank you for taking such good care of Cloud. Thank you for caring for Aerith, when she was with you.” The tilted smile returned. “You’ve been a fantastic guide, all along.” He lifted her hand and her eyes widened as he kissed her palm, soft and slow, earnest gaze fixed on hers.

“I—” She took a breath and tried again, without squeaking this time. “You’re… you’re welcome, of course.”

He grinned at her and stood, tossing her a casual salute. “We’ll be seeing you, then.”

The rising sun finally spilled down into his corner of the church and he was gone.

Tifa huffed and pressed her closed hand to her chest. “I see what Cloud means, about you,” she muttered. The pool rippled merrily in the clear light, and she reached out and touched a fingertip to the surface of the water, smiling. “Yeah. You take care of him, too, then. Okay?”

She lingered beside the pool, enjoying the sunlight that lay over her shoulders like a friendly arm.