Characters: CloudxTifa, OC
Word count: about 3800
Summary: Going back to the place all those memories were finally jogged. Very fluffy for the most part.
It was a little ironic that they still spent the first morning bedridden. They’d both thought of the same place immediately when the topic had come up, wanting to actually experience what the tropical island had to offer. After all, the warm hospitality and attractions- springs, surf and sun without the madding crowds of Costa Del Sol- were rightfully famous, and they’d missed out when they’d last been there. Reconstruction had started right after the eruptions had settled, and fun times and relaxation were still readily marketable products, even if Mideel was a little out of the way.
However, the surfing lessons and relaxing spa treatments were forgotten once they checked into their suite. After all, it had a big bed, with smooth cotton sheets and soft pillows. It also came with a decadent bathroom, and room service. So for all of the first night and the following morning, the closest they came to the beach was hearing the sound of the surf through the open windows as they enthusiastically enjoyed their marital rights. Their newlywed state was aphrodisiac enough, although those bits of lace that Tifa had acquired for the occasion also helped to shatter any half-formed notions of leaving the room.
A bit of a waste of the trip, but they had the rest of the week anyway. And really, a luxurious soak in hot springs just didn’t compare to how deliciously good they could make each other feel.
But they had come to Mideel to experience the attractions. So after a long lazy lunch in bed, they got ready for the beach.
“Besides, if we feel like it, we can always come back for a ‘nap’,” Tifa suggested, winking over her shoulder. He really did look so good in boarding shorts. It was too bad he didn’t walk around shirtless more often.
Cloud grinned as he rubbed sunscreen carefully into her skin.
“True… But I’ve got the Underwater Materia on me just in case we need to duck under for some, uh, privacy.”
She glanced back and laughed at the naughty look on his face, the way his gaze lingered over her curves as he finished spreading the lotion over her back.
“Here, give me some. I think I missed a spot,” she said, turning and slowly running her fingertips down the tantalizing blond trail leading away from his bellybutton.
He chuckled and scooped his wife into his arms, carrying her the few steps back to bed.
“Yeah, why don’t we lie down while you take care of that?”
They could always use that Materia later.
Cody was your typical Mideel surf instructor. Laid back, fun loving, and religiously devoted to his sport. He was also constantly teetering on the edge of the poverty line, although he could always find enough gil to spare for a beer or two. He was quite content to keep it that way- the pursuit of material wealth was something he observed with bemusement. After all, he already had enough of what he wanted- and some people were so stressed by their lives that they had to spend a lot of their hard earned wealth on a break. He often wondered why they didn’t just take it easy in the first place.
He would have shrugged it off if someone had pointed out how philosophical his outlook was. But he accepted that the world moved inevitably and continuously in cycles. Day and night, high tide to low, season after season- and life to death. Every soul was as transient and unique as each breaking wave, fated to eventually dissolve against the shore. There was no need to struggle to accumulate gil and position when you would simply become Lifestream again once your time was done. So he worried more about tide tables than his bank balance, how to make pretty girls laugh at his jokes instead of lighting up their eyes with gifts.
He sometimes pondered the future, but preferred to live to the fullest in the present. That was the thing that divided surfers from everyone else: knowing that if you just seize your chance in that breathless moment between breaking and broken- the ride can be absolutely epic.
His gig at the hotel provided all he needed: food, shelter, and gil to save for extras like new boards. He also got to meet some fun people- everybody was always in a buoyant mood after a couple of days of relaxation. It was always a riot to party with folks that wanted to make the most of their holiday. And if he occasionally had to spend the time teaching overweight businessmen or spoiled teenagers instead, he shrugged it off. They paid well for the scant number of hours involved, and he got to stay in the water, showing off what he loved doing.
Most of the hotel staff had different levels of tolerance for newlywed couples, but he didn’t mind getting assigned them. If they were like typical newlyweds, they would probably skip lessons to “sleep in”- in fact, this couple had already missed the morning class- and he could get paid for chatting up the girls at reception. At first glance, they also appeared fitter than the usual tourists, which would make it easier to show them the ropes.
“Hey, you’re the Strifes? Name’s Cody and I’ll be your surf instructor this week. I’m here to help you have fun and stay safe. So the lessons are going to be held at the pace I deem appropriate, so I can be sure you’ve got basics down before we move on to the cooler stuff. Of course, young people usually pick up the skills pretty quick, and we’ll get you catching waves as soon as possible. But you always have to keep your limits in mind ‘cause sometimes the ocean can get pretty gnarly. Just a reminder that any injuries sustained…”
Cody studied their expressions as he finished making the usual hotel disclaimer speech. They were both nodding, the husband seriously and the wife with a friendly smile. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he recognized the husband from somewhere. And his wife’s fantastic figure- sadly covered up by a sporty tankini- also stirred his memory. And then it clicked where he’d seen that hair and bust line before.
“Hey, you’re Cloud Strife, aren’t you? And Tifa Lock- huh. I guess it’s Strife now, too. Awesome. Congrats on the marriage.”
They both flushed with a mix of pride and embarrassment.
“Thanks. We’re snowboarders normally. But we thought we’d try out surfing instead of just lying on the beach.”
“Well, it’ll be my first time to teach real life heroes. Let’s get you guys some boards and see what we can do.”
He was quickly impressed by their rapid progress, especially Tifa’s. Some female students held up the pace of the lessons. They tended to flirt a lot with instructors, coyly asking for extra demonstrations and hands-on help. Only to drop out and stay on the beach sunbathing and drinking cocktails when it became apparent that learning to surf required lots of unglamorous paddling and the occasional wipeout. But she picked it up easily; athletic and agile like her husband.
Strife had the build, wicked scars and Mako eyes of an ex-SOLDIER, and his incredible strength showed in the unthinking ease with which he picked up his board. Some of the other tourists recognized the two of them as well, and their lesson generated a greater amount of interest than usual. But they didn’t expect special treatment, and they built a good camaraderie through the afternoon, listening carefully to Cody’s advice on timing and stances, and enjoying the thrill of carving a board across such an unpredictable medium. By the time the sunset was staining the sky behind them, they had mastered catching waves and were trying out tricks.
It was always rewarding to make new converts, and having such naturals as students was extremely unusual. Cody had never met people with such acute awareness of their bodies in relation to the wave surface and the board. He half wondered if doing some fight training of his own would also heighten his perceptions and lower his reaction times the same way. It was a far cry from the usual paddling and maybe standing up that was a normal first lesson. So he observed the lowering light with some regret, although he was looking forward to introducing them to some steeper waves the next day.
“Well, I have to say it’s been a blast. But I’ve got a date, so I’ll leave you two to it. The spa package this evening should take care of any sore muscles you’ve earned. And we’ve got dawn patrol tomorrow.”
“We’ve had a wonderful time,” Tifa said, and Cloud nodded.
“Looking forward to it.”
“Now I know you two are newlyweds…but this is Mideel and serious surfers pay respect to the tides. It makes a huge difference. So I’m going to ask you to be careful not to, uh, sleep in. All-time waves wait for nobody, you hear me?”
They both flushed and nodded, and Cody laughed and winked.
“No worries if you do. It’s your honeymoon. But I’ll be at the beach at dawn, and you know how to get out to the line-up if you get held up.”
He waved a cheerful goodbye before he caught the next wave. They saw him again once the wave finished breaking, a tiny figure making his way to shore.
“Looks like he had a good ride.”
“Yeah,” Tifa said, waving.
“I don’t think he can see us. We’re backlit, and it’s getting dark,” Cloud pointed out.
Waves continued to break in a soothing rhythm away from the line-up spot, but neither of them moved. There had been quite a queue in the afternoon, but there was no longer any competition. The other surfers had been out longer than the three of them, and the growing dark and their rumbling bellies had persuaded them to call it a day earlier.
Tifa sighed happily, luxuriating in the coolness of the water on her legs, the satisfying weariness in her back and arms. It was so nice just to play. You could do such different tricks on a board your feet weren’t attached to. Cloud had taken full advantage, pulling off some magnificent tricks just for fun. She wished that she could have gotten a picture of him grinning as he did that daredevil headstand. Knowing Cloud, he would figure out a way to capture those moments on camera. And they had the whole rest of the week to continue to make new memories like that.
Which reminded her…
“Want to head in?”
“Soon…but I just thought of something.”
Cloud looked at her quizzically, idly rubbing the salt from his shoulder. She smiled playfully.
“Which do you think is wider? Your old bed, or your surfboard?”
He glanced down, considering. “Well, this is longer for sure. But I think-“
And then he realized why she was asking, and raised one blond brow, smirking.
She flushed, but the sudden heat in his eyes was just the effect she was hoping for.
"My husband just looks so good without a shirt on," she teased, and he barked out a laugh, although he couldn't help flushing and rubbing the back of his neck when she checked him out more obviously. He took a careful look around and then grinned slowly, shuffling down the board.
“Well, I guess there’s one way to find out.”
A couple hours later, Cloud was uncomfortably reminded of a different sort of memory. He resigned himself to sitting in the steaming water amongst the floating red petals, trying not to think of another big tub he’d shared rather reluctantly. The petals were meant to be romantic, and Tifa had actually squealed before eagerly getting in. He wished he’d looked at the newlywed’s package a bit more carefully. He hated smelling pretty, and it was hard work to deflect attention from his delicate features as it was.
He slid a glance over to her, hoping she would never find out what he had gone through to get those stupid bikini briefs- Aeris’ delighted suggestion. The unbelievable details girls insist on. But he’d gotten in to save Tifa. And when he looked over at her, lying back with a blissful smile on her face, he supposed it had been worth the trouble. Besides, he had the ring to ward off such uncomfortable situations in the future, although it would take awhile to get used to feeling and seeing it on his finger. He fiddled with it, studying the way it turned and shifted.
“I’ll never forget that look on your face when you saw it,” she said, terribly pleased with herself.
“How did you figure out where I got them made?”
“I didn’t- Yuffie did. She knew as soon as she saw them. The morning after- we didn’t even get a chance to make the announcement, remember? You were putting the boards outside with Denz, and Marlene and I went to get a table. Most of the gang was already there for breakfast.” Tifa shook her head at the memory, smiling. “I swear; her eyes just go straight to anything shiny.”
“Teef, is that-?! Ohmygodyouguysarefinallygettingmarriedle
“Yeah, I remember… we came in and everyone was shouting congratulations and patting me on the back… ”
He frowned, puzzled.
“But you haven’t been to Rocket Town recently.”
“Hmm.” She smiled teasingly.
She laughed, splashing him.
“Cloud! A wife’s got to have some secrets.”
He splashed back, grinning.
“A husband has the right to the truth.”
“What if he’s ticklish?”
“Hey! That’s-! Two can play at this game!”
The staff outside rolled their eyes at the laughing shrieks and splashing sounds that followed. Newlyweds could be so immature sometimes.
They avoided the bar scene after dinner, making their way back down to the dark, empty stretch of the beach. Just being closer to the water alleviated the stickiness of the tropical air somewhat as well. It was nice to walk hand in hand, with the soft, cool sand underfoot, and the bar’s pulsing music just audible over the surf. The moon was still almost full, and seemed to light a silvery path out into the water.
It was really too inviting to resist. The smell of seawater suited them better than that floral massage oil anyway.
They both stopped mid-splash as light expanded in ripples around their feet. Each movement they made caused another wave of glowing blue-green in the water, and even their skin picked up traces that glowed in the air.
“This can’t be Lifestream,” Cloud said, puzzled and anxious. Another dip wasn’t in his plans. But they were definitely causing whatever it was, and there was no dizzying press of voices or weight of memory that came from contact with the real stuff.
“N- no, I don’t think it is. It looks similar, but it doesn’t feel the same, does it?”
Cloud brought up his cupped hands to inspect the specks of light at closer range.
"I think they're tiny creatures. Like fireflies, but only in the ocean. I wonder why they light up when we touch them."
Tifa pondered a handful of her own. "Maybe they're communicating with each other. Fireflies do it in order to find mates, right?"
They made their way further out curiously, studying the patterns of light that bloomed in their wake.
“The color is eerily close... Do you remember falling in at all?”
“Some parts. I heard you calling for me.”
Tifa smiled, thinking back.
“Yeah, you said. And you called back. Kept me from getting intoxicated myself.” She paused, keeping her eyes fixed on the water. “You know, I meant to tell you something that I told you there.”
He frowned, struggling to recall.
“Was it important?”
“Not to heal your mind. He- that younger part of you- said you wouldn’t remember, but that it would make you happy to hear it…”
Cloud tilted his head, intrigued. He’d gotten used to the gaps in his recollection, and filling in this one seemed promising.
“You know after you left that spring, I started thinking about you a lot. Looking for news about you. When the news came about the investigation, I volunteered to be the guide. I’d hoped you would be the first class sent by Shinra- picked out a flashy outfit and everything to impress you…You don’t still have that picture, do you? It’s so embarrassing…”
“I remember being impressed, if that makes you feel better. You had a nice belly then, too,” he joked, pulling her close so that he could rub it reassuringly.
“A cropped vest with tassels, Cloud. Ugh. Don’t even get me started on the hat. Anyway, I was so disappointed when Zack showed up instead. I emailed him to ask about you, even. But then Sephiroth…”
They both blanched at the following memories, so she struggled to get back on topic, focusing on the stream of light that followed as she swirled her hands.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is…you weren’t the only one with a crush then. I remember wishing I’d gotten your PHS number before you left. Kept thinking of ways to ask your Mom for it, you know, casually. But I always chickened out.”
Cloud kissed the back of her neck, feeling a warm glow of pleasure at her words.
She hugged his arms, wistful as she considered lost chances.
“I wonder sometimes if we would have happened faster if I had just told you sooner.”
The glow faded slowly as they stilled, soberly holding each other in the gentle tug of the ocean.
Cloud's voice was quiet when he finally spoke.
“What if I’d never been injected with Jenova cells? Or I hadn’t been sent to Nibelheim at all? I wonder about that too, sometimes. I don’t know if I could have beaten Sephiroth without those SOLDIER alterations. You might've died that night if I hadn’t carried you out.” His arms tightened around her reflexively at the thought.
“There are pieces of the past we can’t regret along with those we do, right? And I’m OK with that now. I thought you were too.”
“I am. I truly am. I know it’s silly to waste time on what-ifs.”
He kissed her neck again, a smug smile tugging at his lips as he thought of something.
“It’s ok. Everybody does it. But dragging the past around can get really tiresome.”
She choked at the unbelievable familiarity of the words and turned abruptly to protest. He took a hasty step back, chuckling as he held up his hands in defense. The glow around their bodies sprang to life again a second later.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” she said dryly, trying- and failing- to hold back her smile.
“Here is the knife.”
“Thanks,” Tifa said, slicing open her choice- banana nut- and sighing with satisfaction when the butter melted a little as she spread it. Freshly squeezed juice, gourmet coffee, perfect pats of jam and butter, and warm muffins, all without having to get up. She would miss having room service, expensive as it was.
Having no responsibilities for a week had been a delightful change. But they couldn’t wait to see the kids again- the emails they had sent using Barret's phone had been re-read multiple times, and Fenrir was packed with carefully chosen souvenirs. She could already picture their reunion, trying to follow two different streams of conversation as both of them excitedly relayed their tales of the week at once.
By tomorrow they would be back to that cycle of weekdays and weekends, of school and work and play. But they could manage breakfast in bed, and one last surf session before leaving. And once they were back home, she would put together albums of the photos, help make room for the ones Cloud matted and framed, add some new tropical cocktails to the menu. Start giving her name as Tifa Strife.
Life as usual, but with some nice little extras.
“’Cause you are my wife,” he added suddenly.
She looked up curiously. There was something slightly hysterical about that grin on his face.
“For the rest of my life.”
She started to laugh. He was obviously in the silly conversation mood.
“Are you rhyming?”
“My name is Cloud Strife.”
She shook her head, giggling as he grabbed her.
“You have lost it completely,” she declared.
He chuckled, kissing her soundly.
“And I don’t want it back.”
A/N: I modeled Mideel on my experiences in Bali, which is, IMO, truly heaven on earth. I highly, highly recommend a visit to anyone. You can really take a bath in flower petals there, and it really is quite lovely.
Bioluminescence caused by dinoflagellates is magical to see. It’s more prevalent in tropical waters, and in the spring because red tides are more likely, which fit in perfectly with my fic.