Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Prompt: 024: Family
Word Count: 782
Summary: Her eyes are crying for a friendship she will never regain.
Author's Notes: Without spoiling the whole story, this is just a take on thefamily! angst I haven't really seen anywhere, possibly because nobody wants to ever say 'better [that person] than you,' but sometimes, no matter how guilty you feel for thinking that, it's true.
She's behind the bar when he finally walks back in. It's packed tonight, and she is laughing with the crowd at the counter and he wonders if any of them can tell. When they look to the door and then snap their attention back around, to each other--to her--he knows they can.
It disturbs him that his presence (or absence, rather) is so easily detected by the men of the new world, as though they sit outside watching and if he hasn't returned before the sun goes down she's free and they're safe. Robbers, staring down a house for the moment the guard dogs are asleep, or the family is on vacation. Criminals in a park waiting for the mother to turn her head, or standing in the shadows of the alley for the young girl who walks home from work alone.
He knows they bother her because she's told him they do, but she's laughing now despite, and no one would know she was crying just hours before. She doesn't look at the door when it opens because she knew it was him before he'd finished parking. He doesn't know when that bond formed between them. He suspects sometimes it was always there and it just took them a little while to notice.
He doesn't move until he sees Yuffie walking down the stairs, and then he's at the corner of the bar and he grabs her gently by the elbow and pulls her to the stairs, asking Yuffie to watch the bar for a few minutes. Yuffie is the only one who isn't glaring poison into his back, but all he can feel is tense muscles in an arm that usually welcomes his grip.
She leans against the bedroom wall, and he knows he'll have to speak first. She did her speaking earlier, and all he could do was run.
"I'm sorry." He'll say it again several more times.
"Why." She glares back, and it is not a question.
"You were upset, and I left. I shouldn't have left."
Upset was an understatement. After all these years, who would have guessed it would be her to feel the anniversary of their loss the hardest. He walks towards her, even though he already knows she will just push him away. "Dont," she chokes out, and he can hear the tears starting to break down her wall.
"I said I wish it had been me. I said--I said it should have been me."
It's not about them, and he knows that. That argument ended years ago. But he's as wordless now as when she'd said it that afternoon, the ability to speak swallowed by a darkness growing throughout his body.
Her arms are still crossed, and she turns from him. She's still trying to appear angry, but despair and loneliness are winning and her walls are crumbling. He reaches a hand to her shoulder.
"I shouldn't have left after that. You needed a friend. I was selfish," and he is unable to admit that he had to leave, because if he'd stayed he would have had to admit how much her hypothetical paralyzed him. And admitting that, no matter the truth, was something he didn't think anybody could do without shame.
She turns suddenly and it almost knocks him off balance, but his hand never leaves her arm. The tears are in her eyes, just as he knew there would be, but the glare is back.
"This isn't about guilt," she defends herself, though he has made no accusation. And it isn't about you, he sees her think, before her eyes dart briefly to the telephone, and he knows
"Elmyra called, didn't she?"
The tension in her arm drains under the words, and he now feels her weight against his hand in a cry for stability. She stands still for a second too long and he wonders if she needs to sit down. "She's sick. She wants to see Marlene again before..."
He feels his jaw lock at the timing, though it is irrational because Elmyra never knew the exact date.
"I would have outlived my parents either way," she murmurs, staring at him with eyes crying for a friendship she will never regain.
He feels the tears when they finally fall, closing the distance between them and cradling her to his shoulder. The paralysis is working its way back--the shameful cold that grows in his stomach and spreads across every inch of him when he thinks of the tables being turned. He doesn't run this time, but strokes her hair and holds her against him, and whispers, "but you wouldn't have outlived your family."