Smile of the Cheshire Cat
She flipped pancakes and fried bacon like any loving wife would do. The baby needed to be fed and her husband was busy warming the bottle, while drinking a cup of coffee. Tifa, the first-time mother, checked to make sure the bottle was filled with milk and not coffee as her husband made the mistake once for a midnight feeding. Morning rituals are always easier to endure when your mind is in a constant state of action. Coffee certainly never hurt that schedule either as long as the baby never had any.
Pancakes were bubbling and ready to be flipped as her son sniffled a hungry cry for attention. Tifa turned to face her child in time to see her husband race to the boy with a bottle to the rescue; it wasn't her child, it was their child. A quick flick of the wrist and the pancakes were turned as hot butter browned the gooey batter and warm maple syrup awaited the touch of sugary sweet on doughy delight.
She could already picture what her husband would do once she laid the pancakes in front of him. Two pats of butter would be put on first followed by the curved trail of syrup as he made a smiley face before finally mixing the butter and syrup together. It was his way to start the day before work. Smile first thing in the morning and get it over with: at least that's what a fortune cookie said one night when they had Wutanese on a date.
But Tifa knew him better than that. She's seen him as a machine and as a man; she's seen him frown and smile; she's also seen him laugh and cry and seen him in all the nakedness of his humanity. There was no doubt that he was who he was and she loved him for that: a husband, a lover, and a father. With those quiet thoughts playing through her mind, she gave him a quick kiss before setting the plate of hot pancakes in front of him as she took the bottle out of his hand and clutched her son close to her chest.
She watched him eat and smiled as the two pats of butter and astream of maple syrup made its way onto the pancakes as she predicted. It was simplicity in its predictability, but complexity in its reason. It was something about having breakfast smile back at you, which supposedly made it easier to ingest. But she knew that it was her smile that attracted him in the first place and her smile that had somehow won his heart. But what he didn't know was that he inspired that smile and that was why she gave her heart to him.
She couldn't picture her life any more perfect than now, but there was a time when she saw herself with someone else, holding someone else's child. And with that, a flash flood of history replayed itself over in her head and memories of a time when her heart belonged to someone else plagued her mind:
It was the smile of the mechanical cait that mocked her as she stared at the hands of Cloud and Aeris interlaced with one another. The bright glaring teeth laughed at her as it saw the torment hidden in her eyes as Tifa the woman lost in the battle of love. At least the battle for the man named Cloud Strife. The only witness to her loss always smiled back at her as if taunting her the entire time. A smile that hid knowledge of her pain and a reminder of what tormented her.
Then that mechanical toothy grin haunted her again as words of eternal love and destiny in the stars scratched at her ears like a festering wound that echoed the future of the cetra with her hero and bodyguard. A childhood crush lost is a platonic friend gained. And soon everyone smiled along with the black and white toy cait as they celebrated newfound love and Tifa's misery.
So Tifa, being positive, learned from the mechanical cait and learned how to smile like a machine and perfect the toothy grin that was immortalized by wires and wheels, though Tifa utilized muscles and sheer will: at least those didn't need oiling. But there were more advantages to being able to hide your feelings behind a mechanical mask then there were to creating a mechanical mask out of human flesh.
Just as Tifa adjusted the mask to her face, the fickle hand of fate murdered the beautiful angel whom everyone loved and everyone cried for, except Cait Sith because a machine wasn't built to cry. So Tifa set aside her mechanical smile and cried as in the distance Cait Sith smiled his eternal smile while the mercenary soldier laid his true love to rest.
Cloud was free, but his heart had long been captured by the emerald-eyed woman whose smile was like a rainbow. Tifa the woman tried to grasp onto hope and pull herself out of the resignation of defeat, but that hope led nowhere and a destiny with Cloud was not pre-ordained. Chance and circumstance were bitter old spinsters who liked to spite those who were in love.
And so Tifa replaced her sadness with that mechanical smile that sold everyone the lie that she was happy. Even the eternal smiling face of Cait Sith approved as she imitated the wide brimmed grin, but then Cait Sith smiled at the wake of danger and smiled in the face of death. A machine could never frown if it wasn't programmed that way, and so Tifa programmed herself to smile without remorse or reserve. Tifa the actress was a stage sensation waiting to be discovered.
The taunt of death knocked on Tifa's door as ShinRa planned to execute her along with her feelings and remorse. No smiles were needed if you were dead and Tifa resigned to the feeling that she may not live another day. But Tifa was a fighter and wanted to live because she knew that she wasn't a machine, despite her mechanical facade. She couldn't be pieced back together or rebuilt if she was killed and AVALANCHE was falling apart. She and Barret were set to die and Cait Sith's creator couldn't possibly save them like a toy that needed a new battery.
So for a short time, Tifa became a mechanic who survived her own death and joined with the rest of AVALANCHE to find their missing piece. Cloud was lost and impending doom threatened to destroy all life on earth as Tifa the coward cried deep inside behind the smiles she wore. But Tifa was an optimist as she turned over every rock and stone to find her childhood friend. And there she learned that Cloud was found, but still lost between the abyss of reality and delusion.
Tifa the woman stepped up again and sought to reclaim Cloud's mind and heart. She needed hope, so she smiled. Cloud needed support, so she smiled. He needed someone to sort out the complexity of his life and thoughts, so she smiled as she was swept into the Lifestream with him. And after all the smiling and all that sorting, Cloud found himself and Tifa found herself still losing to a woman who had died for the planet: proving that the mind and the heart are two separate entities.
The mechanical mask was replaced as she stared bitterly at the mocking smile of the cait smiling back at her. There was no joy or anger in that smile; it was just there. There to taunt and there to be eternally awkward in the worst situations. Cait Sith, the machine without a soul, presumably run by a man with a soul. Though it wouldn't surprise Tifa at all if there were no man behind the machine. Illusions were best kept when there was nothing to shatter that image.
And that illusion remained as they all marched down to the very center of hell to fight for the entire planet. Cloud was going to have his revenge and everyone was going to help him ensure that Sephiroth was going to die. That resolve was almost diminished at the sight of the dark angel himself. Fear enveloped everyone in the party except for Cloud, Vincent and Cait Sith. Cait Sith was the lucky one because a machine had no emotions. He couldn't fully witness the terrible destruction Sephiroth wielded, but at least he could witness the final fight of AVALANCHE. Cait Sith only smiled back at the one-winged angel and for once, Tifa was glad that the machine always wore a mocking smile.
The battle raged and Tifa the fighter got the chance to shine as she threw out all her best punches. Bullets rained, swords clashed and curses shouted as the climactic fight for the planet was finally won by AVALANCHE. Words could hardly describe the beautiful sight as Lifestream spilled out from the earth and stopped Meteor. And for a moment, Tifa wondered if the man behind Cait Sith could also see the wondrous sight behind the bright eyes of the cait. Jealousy was replaced with concern as the fate of the man behind the machine had yet to be determined.
It was time to celebrate their second chance at life and so the members of AVALANCHE rejoiced the coming of dawn. The celebration was bittersweet as memories of the loving angel Aeris quickly reminded the fighters that victory did not come without a price. Celebration turned into mourning as a moment of silence fell on deaf ears to those who never knew the kind soul who gave her life for the planet.
But the world would soon learn the name of Aeris Gainsborough; Cloud would make sure of that and Reeve, who was actually Cait Sith, solidified that resolve. So the people of the world together mourned for the death of their loved ones and mourned for the loss of the beautiful angel who begged the planet to spare them. And for the first time, the members of AVALANCHE recognized Cait Sith as a man rather than a machine meeting the one pulling the strings, Reeve.
It was his tears that Tifa first noticed. She was shocked to say the least, never really visualizing that a man who built machines could cry. But he was a man after all and though she had only met him as a machine, she would soon see him for his human side: a side she never realized existed until now. But then what came first, the man or the machine? Tifa knew the answer had to be man, but with the man named Reeve who built the machine called Cait Sith, she wasn't certain.
Curiosity got the better of her and she dared to talk to him for the very first time. His lips were firm in a smile of resolute sadness, but they held something more . . . something sympathetic. Tifa no longer saw a mocking smile that Cait Sith still wore as he stood next to his creator. Reeve the man had a smile like a human does, one with feelings and emotions and also one that isn't eternally superficial.
Surprisingly the topic of conversation led to the meaning behind her smile and Tifa was shocked that he admitted to insightfully seeing behind her mechanical mask. All the feelings of bitterness and anxiety washed over her face and the mask dropped off breaking into tiny invisible pieces shattered on the ground. Tifa the woman cried out in pain and all the despair depressed her to admitting how her life hadn't warranted a truthful smile in a long time. Sadness always found a way to overshadow her joy.
Tifa watched curiously as the man in front of her asked to hear her story and then blushed as he stammered for his words. He had asked her if she wanted to get some coffee with him and though Tifa the bartender had already had her fair share of caffeine this morning, the offer was too sincere to be rejected. So with her ghost for a smile destroyed, Tifa let her lips curve upward in a beautiful smile that came from the heart. She had taken the first step in healing as she walked towards the nearest coffee shop with Reeve and took the first step in leaving behind her love for Cloud Strife.
That day was an epiphany for Tifa as she shed herself of her old loveless life. She was no longer second best in a relationship that would never develop. Now she was the first choice for a man who looked nothing like a hero, but had the heart and soul of a man capable of saving a nation. And Tifa discovered Reeve's amazing ability to balance the fate of Midgar along with his romantic interests for the woman he found in her. For the first time in years, Tifa the woman felt flustered with girlish anticipation.
Every spare second was spent with him as he willingly spent time with her: none of that being wasted on bitterness or contrived emotions. Months passed as the beautiful heroine dated the scraggly techno-geek and Tifa discovered the beauty hidden behind all the wires and fluff of the man who controlled Cait Sith. True love always delved deeper to the core of the soul and never dawdled on the surface.
Her friends were shocked when one romantic evening she agreed to be by his side until death do them part. Wasn't the beautiful heroine supposed to be paired with the handsome hero? But Reeve was a hero in his own right and no objections were elicited from her friends as they saw the happiness shine in her eyes: something they thought was only reserved for a certain blue-eyed swordsman.
But even the blue-eyed swordsman gave the couple their blessing knowing that the shimmer in Tifa's eyes, the shimmer that made him join SOLDIER, could have never been created by him after everything was said and done. And the last tie to Cloud was cut as Tifa made her vows and kissed her husband in marital bliss in front of all of AVALANCHE and Midgar as they applauded their marriage. Tifa the wife smiled at her husband who wore a look of disbelief as if he was blessed with a miracle to discover that the woman standing next to him loved him for all his worth.
Tifa would tell him one day how that love wasn't a miracle. She had seen his naked being exposed to the coldness of the world and he had proven that he was human. That humanity led to the discovery of his heart and soul and Tifa knew that no one was as truthful about emotions than the man who could immortalize a smile on a cait and mog named Cait Sith.
The toothy smile of the cait found its way back into her life as the bedroom decoration for the invention of flesh between a man and a woman. Nine months of anticipation and nine months of pregnancy finally led to the birth of Reeve and Tifa's first creation together. A son was born into this world and the parents were able to tend to the beautiful miracles that the planet invented for mankind.
And all those memories and musings led her back to the breakfast table with her son Alex in her arms and her husband Reeve sitting across from her enjoying some pancakes. A tender smile crept up her lips as she watched him read the paper while simultaneously trying to eat pancakes, drink coffee and entertain Alex with baby talk. He juggled his life constantly with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he never seemed to mind for a reason Tifa never quite figured out. Her smile didn't go unnoticed by the man who found the happiness to relight the shimmer in her eyes.
"Have I ever told you how beautiful your smile is?" Reeve asked as he watched his wife and son serenely.
"You have, countless times. But you know it wasn't always that beautiful."
"You mean when you still loved Cloud?"
Tifa nodded at the memories that were once bitter and had long been aged to the point where there was no taste anymore.
"They were still beautiful, but in a different way."
"Only you would find something beautiful in the masochistic smile I wore. It's amazing how love changed all of that."
"Love did a lot of things for us. It made me see a future I never thought was possible."
"You never dreamed of getting married and having children?" Tifa raised her eyebrow in curiosity.
"I did, but I never dreamed it would be with you."
"But you did, didn't you," Tifa flashed him one of those truthful smiles.
"Yes, I did."
Reeve leaned over to Tifa and gave her a kiss while their son watched passively with his bright young eyes and a baby's smile.
The beauty of life is something that should never be deterred and left unspoken. Tifa and Reeve learned that love can bloom in unexpected places and the simple acts of kindness can blossom into a cornucopia of affection. The future was theirs to create and together they had the tools to make it a good one.