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Cloud Strife/Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)

Title: Mend This Wavering Heartbeat
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Cloud Strife/Tifa Lockhart
Author: bofoddity
Spoilers: Entire game, slight mentions of the sequel, Advent Children.


Everyone who's been involved with Final Fantasy VII at some point knows that the most baffling drama in fandom surrounds the infamous love triangle between Cloud Strife, Tifa Lockhart and Aeris Gainsborough. Both Cloud/Tifa and Cloud/Aeris are extremely popular pairings, and both sides are willing to claim their chosen 'ship as canon, but so far neither has been officially confirmed.

However, this essay isn't about whether Cloud/Tifa is canon or not. I personally believe that both Cloud/Aeris and Cloud/Tifa were implied during the course of the game, and I like them both, Cloud/Tifa just a bit more. It wasn't always that way, though. I disliked the idea of Cloud and Tifa together for years, mostly due to problems I had with Tifa's character, but while my thoughts about the pairing weren't always glowing, it never left me cold. And no matter how much I wanted to pretend that the relationship wasn't there, it played such a big part in both of their lives that it couldn't be ignored.

Appeal of Cloud/Tifa lies in the complexity of their relationship, in things gone wrong and mistakes made, and how they managed to solve all of that and find each other for real. And that's what made me like the pairing so much in the end. It wasn't always to my liking, but it was never uninteresting.

The Dreamers: Characters

Self-centered jerk. Tragic hero. That guy with pointy hair. Cloud Strife is a man of many things and also the main character on the game, ending up with biggest chunk of characterization and a lot of attention. Formerly a member of Shinra Inc.'s elite force, SOLDIER, Cloud has joined a rebel faction known as AVALANCHE. Cloud emphasizes in the beginning that it's just another job for him, but it doesn't take long for him to start caring about AVALANCHE's cause as it ties together with a personal journey of his own. On the surface, Cloud's quest seems to be about revenge, but in reality it goes far deeper than that. Cloud claims to pursue Sephiroth, a madman who destroyed his life, but it's actually himself he's searching for, himself he wants to settle up with.

Heart of the AVALANCHE. The nurturer, the warrior. Tifa Lockhart is Cloud's childhood friend and one of the main members of AVALANCHE. Though very beautiful, Tifa is also incredibly strong both physically and mentally, as she was able to pull her life back together after she lost everything in a terrible incident and her skills as a martial artist are a valuable asset in struggle against Shinra Inc. Tifa was the one to lead Cloud to the AVALANCHE, and she's shown to care for him deeply as she keeps an eye on him during the missions.

It's been pretty straight forward so far, but both Cloud and Tifa are one of the most complex characters in the game, and neither is what they seem to be in the beginning of the game. Cloud's story is all about struggle, while Tifa shields herself in secrecy, and both have trouble opening up to others, least of all to each other. Even their sweet childhood friendship isn't as simple as it seems to be. In fact, it's one of the things they have to redefine before they can be in peace with themselves and with each other.

Long, Long Road: Their Story

Cloud and Tifa both grew in a small mountain town of Nibelheim. Cloud lived alone with his mother, while Tifa had her whole family intact before she lost her mother at fairly young age. Tifa was a popular child with lots of friend, but Cloud was an outsider, never allowed into the group. Though the two of them lived next door to each other, they were never close. So one could say that there wasn't really childhood friendship to speak of, merely acquaintance.

To deal with his isolation, Cloud begun to think that he was better than other children of the town who, according to him, were immature and laughed at every stupid thing. The only exception was Tifa, who he watched from far most of the time. When he finally dared to approach her, he picked up the wrong day, as Tifa's mother had just died. Devastated over her loss, Tifa left for the Nibel-mountains to meet with her mother's spirit, and while all her friends abandoned her, Cloud followed her all the way until Tifa missed her step and they both fell. Cloud got away with minor injuries, but Tifa fell into coma for days and her father blamed Cloud for the accident.

It didn't help that Cloud blamed himself, too. He was angry with his own weakness and inability to save her, so he got reckless, getting into fights without even caring who he was up against. That's when he first heard about Sephiroth, a famous war hero who had all the respect and admiration that Cloud could only dream of. He reasoned that if he got as strong as Sephiroth, everyone in Nibelheim would finally have to notice him, including Tifa.

This lead to the most beloved Cloud/Tifa-scene, the promise they shared under the stars. Cloud invited Tifa over to a well standing in the center of Nibelheim to tell her about his dreams, even though he was afraid that she hated him because of the accident that almost took her life. Tifa was surprised, but she came anyway, listening as Cloud told her about his plans. It was then his turn to be surprised as Tifa suggested a promise between them.

Tifa: Hey, why don't we make a promise? Umm, if you get really famous and I'm ever in a bind..... You come save me, all right?
Cloud: What?
Tifa: Whenever I'm in trouble, my hero will come and rescue me. I want to at least experience that once.
Cloud: What?
Tifa: Come on--! Promise me----!
Cloud: All right.... I promise.

Tifa and Cloud were basically strangers to each other before this night, but this is where their friendship truly begins, as Tifa shows faith in Cloud's abilities by calling him her hero, and considering Cloud's baffled reaction, this was the first time someone believed in him. After Cloud left, Tifa found herself thinking about Cloud a lot, more so than other boys who had left the town, even checking the newspapers in hopes of finding an article about him. She waited him to return, only to be disappointed as neither SOLDIER who arrived in town two years later after Cloud's departure were Cloud. What she didn't know that Cloud indeed was there, only as an ordinary trooper.

Cloud failed in becoming a SOLDIER, and as he was assigned to Nibelheim, he was too ashamed to show his face, least of all to Tifa. During the mission he again watched her from far, never revealing his presence to her. Things took nightmarish turn as Sephiroth, Cloud's idol and superior officer, went insane and lit Nibelheim in flames, killing everybody in the town. Casualties included Tifa's father, leaving her the only member of her family left alive, and in her rage she single-handedly attacked Sephiroth, only to be slain down.

Witnessing all of this, Cloud finally snapped and attacked Sephiroth himself, carrying Tifa to safer spot as she laid unconscious on the floor. He had come to her rescue, only once again too late. Cloud ended up in Shinra Inc.'s hands and Tifa was saved by her martial arts instructor, Zangan and taken to Midgar.

Five years passed. Tifa had rebuilt her life from the ashes and ran a bar in the slums, as well as took part in rebel activity against Shinra Inc. One day as she walked around the train station, she noticed a young man who had collapsed on the ground, and as she went to see if he was alright, he surprised her by calling out her name. She recognized him as Cloud, only that something seemed to be seriously off about him. As she didn't remember seeing him in Nibelheim, she was confused to hear him claim that he had seen her five years ago when it had been seven years for Tifa, knowing things that he shouldn't have known. All of this worried Tifa greatly, so she told Cloud about AVALANCHE-job in order to keep a closer eye on him, as she was unsure about the exact events of Nibelheim herself.

As AVALANCHE's quest to protect the Planet proceeded, Cloud befriended a young woman named Aeris who was incredibly interested in him. Now it was Tifa who stood aside and watched Cloud from far, keeping her silence. This is what she gets a lot of criticism for, but some fans forget that she does this because she's confused and scared, not because she's malicious and wants to hurt him. After Aeris died and Cloud pursued Sephiroth, alive and more powerful than ever, even more furiously, Tifa never once left his side. However, her silence turned out to have a high price as Sephiroth finally struck him with the truth, revealing him that he was never in Nibelheim. When Tifa was unable to respond, Cloud's confidence crumbled and he ended up helping Sephiroth out, disappearing soon afterwards.

Tifa became extremely depressed over his disappearance. She and Cloud had been distant to each other when they were children, but Tifa had turned this distant relationship into a close friendship in her mind and had become very fond of her. When AVALANCHE finally found Cloud in a comatose-state from town of Mideel, Tifa gave up on everything to be by his side, proving the depth of love and devotion she had for him. Though often blamed for being mentally weak, Tifa shows incredible strength here as she refuses to abandon him, even though his situation seems pretty hopeless.

When Mideel is attacked, Tifa and Cloud fell into Lifestream together, with Tifa getting closer to Cloud than any other person ever has. She entered his subconscious, saw his shattered state of mind and was determined to help him pull himself back together again.

It's in Cloud's mind where he and Tifa were finally completely open with each other. Cloud confessed that he joined SOLDIER for her sake, and Tifa remembered how their relationship really was in the beginning. Yet it's obvious that they both had warm feelings for each other, as Cloud's devotion to Tifa motivated him to become a SOLDIER and he was apparently the only boy Tifa thought of as everybody left the town, her liking to him slowly developing into love. After they discover that Cloud was a hero after all, Cloud finally comes to terms with himself and they are able to return and continue their journey.

As the final battle against Sephiroth approached, Cloud advised all his friends to find their reasons to fight, and everyone except for Tifa left. As only survivors on Nibelheim, neither Cloud of Tifa had homes to return to. They spent a night under their ship, the Highwind, where Tifa finally dared to open up about her feelings for him, and Cloud responded.

Tifa: As long as I'm with you... As long as you're by my side... I won't give up even if I'm scared.
Cloud: Tifa....
Tifa: No matter how close we are... We were far apart... before this. But when we were in the Lifestream surrounded by all those screams of anguish, I thought I heard your voice... sniff... you probably don't remember this... But deep in my heart I heard you calling my name... Or at least I thought I did...
Cloud: Yeah... At that time I heard you calling me. You were calling me back in from the stream of consciousness in the Lifestream.
Cloud: After all, I promised. That if anything were to ever happen to you, I would come to help.
Tifa: Cloud...? Do you think the stars can hear us? Do you think they see how hard we're fighting for them?
Cloud: I dunno... But...Whether they are or not, we still have to do what we can. And believe in ourselves... Someday we'll find the answer. Right, Tifa? That's what I learned from you when I was in the Lifestream.
Tifa: Yeah...... that's right...
Cloud: Hey, Tifa...... I...... There are a lot of things I wanted to talk to you about.
Cloud: But now that we're together like this, I don't know what I really wanted to say...I guess nothing's changed at all... Kind of makes you want to laugh...
Tifa: Cloud... Words aren't the only thing that tell people what you're thinking...

Yes, I chose the more romantic version of the dialogue. I'm a sad, objectionable person.

However, even if you end up seeing the less affectionate version of the dialogue, the point still remains: Tifa and Cloud have managed to overcome the difficulties of the past and care very deeply for each other. When they finally go and face Sephiroth, they do it together.

Beyond Time: Why Cloud/Tifa?

As I stated in the beginning, it took me a long time to learn to like this pairing. It's far from an easy relationship, and even after everything the two went through together, there are still things they need to deal with.

First, I have always resented the idea that Cloud and Tifa would get together immediately after the game. While they obviously care for each other, they were brought together by a crisis, and they both should first rebuild their own lives before considering a future together. This is why I wasn't surprised to hear that in the beginning of Advent Children, according to the current information that exists, they weren't yet a couple. I would imagine that they would have to learn to know each other first, go on dates and such before making further plans for the future.

Also, Cloud still has issues to deal with. He's haunted by deaths of Zack and Aeris, two friends whose deaths he feels responsible of. Even after the big emotional journey he went through, he isn't at complete peace with himself. He should first solve things with himself before starting a romance with Tifa.

And this is part of the reasons why Cloud/Tifa interests me so much. It's a very realistic relationship, and as far from smooth fairytale love as you can get. Both are quiet and secretive about their feelings, both are afraid of dealing with the truth and yet brave enough to do so in the end, and both had to grow and mature before they were finally able to turn to each other. Their relationship is full of knots and tangles that need to be opened up, and in the end, the bond between is strong enough to last for a lifetime. It's a relationship that needs a lot of work, but in the end, it will be worth it.

Sites & Fic Recs

Eternal Love
My Hero (fanfiction)
Our Promise (fanlisting)
Cloud And Tifa Forever (webring)
Frail Hearts
Memories & Promises
Starcrossed
Stars Of Heaven
Two Tales Of Love (also Squall/Rinoa)
Tied Together (also Squall/Rinoa)
The Cloud X Tifa Lj Community

Frank Verderosa's Internet Series
A Labor Of Love, by Meriko Robert
Motto, by Mako Raine
Helping Hands, by mintbaby
Crystal Bits Of Snowflake, by Nanaki Lioness

Comments

*tackles* I love this pairing! This was a great essay. Thanks for writing it. =D
Thanks for reading it! ^^
Thanks for your comments. ^_^ I have to admit that I used to criticize Tifa lot for that exact reason, but after little maturing I realized that I personally wouldn't have made any better choices. But I guess it's her realism that makes Tifa a hard character to understand.

Also, your fic: Carnival Lights, right? I've read it and I loved it. I think you caught Tifa's essence perfectly. *fans you*
*applause* Nicely done. Really sums up the appeal of the pairing :)
When Mideel is attacked, Tifa and Cloud fell into Lifestream together, with Tifa getting closer to Cloud than any other person ever has. She entered his subconscious, saw his shattered state of mind and was determined to help him pull himself back together again. - *nods* That's when I realized that they were meant to be together. Tifa has been there for him through all his hardships, and Cloud has done the same when they were young. I think it's Tifa that shows more of her affection for Cloud, especially in the ending parts.

Tifa is actually my favorite character: A martial artist who kicks ass but has a good heart. I don't see characters like her anymore. XDXDXD I dislike Cloud/Aeris because they haven't really been "together" for a long time, unlike Cloud and Tifa who've known each other yet kept their feelings for each other. The secrecy makes me wibble. ^___^
Oh I'm so late. But I can't tell you how pleased I was to find this here, and complete with links besides. Cloud/Tifa is one of only two "ships" I've ever really loved (I do write other couples as canon dictates, but without much passion). Anyway, thanks so much for this.
no I AM late :D well after AC I would never deny that Cloud loved/loves Aeris..but still, I ship Cloti ^^ ♥

Official

Cloud and Tifa is the official couple according to Final Fantasy 20th Anniversary Ultimania Scenario.

http://thelifestream.net/ffvii-advent-children-complete/6139/this-just-in-the-love-triangle-debate-over/

CANON

I know anti-fans say otherwise, but I was so happy to hear that CLOTI is canon.

I love the way you've written this essay. Very in-depth and informative. You've explored each character well, and stated their moments accordingly.

Tifa is the only person who knows his past and the one who understands him the most. She supports Cloud through thick and thin, and was always a great help to him, especially in the final battle of the game. In ACC, Cloud was quite dragging with his guilt and problems, but Tifa had the strength to accept reality and move forward. And despite isolating himself from her and his family/friends, Tifa still gave him the encouragement he needed to shake off his doubts. She was the catalyst for him to regain the will to fight.
blue by darkhavens

September 2015

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