It takes Sam four months, six days and seventeen hours to get his costume together. Not counting the three months of planning beforehand.
Suffice it to say, his Cloud Strife costume is perfect. Even his sword is more detailed than anything he’s ever created and his hair alone should win awards. He’s positive he’s got the best costume out there.
That is until he spots her.
They’re on opposite sides of the convention floor, but Sam could spot a perfectly put together Tifa anywhere. Long black hair, cropped white shirt, indecently short shorts with those suspenders that may or may not have been a long standing part of his teenage fantasies. It’s decided as soon as he sees her perfectly accurate boots. He has to know her.
The floor is crowded as he makes his way over to her, but he’s carrying a massive sword over his shoulder so people move out of the way.
When he finally gets there, her back is to him as she surveys a table covered in vintage Power Rangers figurines and dear Joss he is in love.
Taking a moment to prepare, he closes his eyes and puts on his best Cloud voice (he practiced for days while watching Advent Children). “Tifa,” he greets.
No reaction. He clears his throat and tries again, louder this time. “Tifa,” he says more firmly.
This time she turns slowly and when Sam sees her face he takes a step back as his eyes widen in recognition. “Holy balls,” he breathes out.
“Sam? Sam Evans?”
He knows who she is, but it’s feels like he’s seeing her for the first time. The time between high school and now has clearly been more than kind to her and she’s dressed in like the greatest costume of all time, so he has to blink slowly a couple of times to get his brain to work. “Tina?”
“Oh my god, hi!”
Jaw dropped, he blinks down at her for a few seconds. “Hey.”
“Wow, what are you doing here?”
He laughs, shrugs a shoulder and eyes her outfit. “Looks like the same thing you are.”
She jerks back a little bit when she finally registers his costume. “Wow, you look great!” Her hand reaches out to touch his sword, finger tips barely grazing it in reverence. “Your attention to detail is amazing.”
He shrugs like it’s no big deal, but inside he’s jumping up and down. The appreciation warms his heart - he spent a lot of time on the thing after all - and it’s nice to have someone finally acknowledging it. “Thanks,” he says before flicking his eyes behind her. “You here alone?”
The smile fades from her face. “Mike was supposed to come with me, but he um...” She sighs, looks away for a second. “We broke up.”
He feels genuinely bad about it. Memories of Tina and Mike together rush through him and he feels a wave of nostalgia for that year he spent at McKinley. “I’m sorry,” he breathes out, soft and honest.
“Me too,” she says sadly, but sounding resigned. “I mean I spent months on his Zack outfit and now I’m here by myself. Whatever it’s fine, it happened ages ago.”
The sad look on her face twists something in Sam’s chest. “Well I’m here,” he says.
Like she didn’t really think of that before, her face softens as she looks up at him. “You are.”
“I mean I’m not Zack, but like...”
She laughs and puts a comforting hand on his arm. “I always liked Cloud better.”
It makes him like her even more than before because fuck yeah Cloud is better - especially when it comes to accompanying a Tifa. “Well, Tifa,” he jokes, smiling crookedly and holding out his free arm. “Shall we?”
She loops her arm through his and they walk off. “I want to see the Farscape panel at four.”
“Duh,” is all he says before leading them to a table full of plastic wrapped comics.
They spend the next few hours walking from booth to booth together and Sam learns all kinds of things about Tina like how she’s played all the Final Fantasy games at least three times, and how she’s never missed a midnight release of a DC Comics movie. They compare notes on the proper supplies to survive such midnight releases and he tells her his horror stories about bidding wars on ebay.
She actually laughs at his jokes, and when he gives her this James Bond impression he practiced for weeks she actually gets it. In fact, she laughs her way through her own impression of Moneypenny and seriously he might just kiss her just because.
She tells him all about Mike, how the last year at McKinley went and he tells her how sometimes he still misses Quinn, how transferring was even harder the second time around and that he wishes they had been better friends while they were in school together.
Tina smiles at that last part, squeezes his bicep affectionately. “Me too,” she whispers.
Like a punch to the gut, rewritten history shoots into his consciousness. He sees what life would have been like if he had really known her in high school, sees their entire relationship play before him
“We’ll make up for it now,” he says, swallowing thickly at the end of it. He always does this - falls for girls too easily - and he really needs to stop, but she’s blinking soft eyes up at him, and she’s dressed like Tifa Lockhart of all people - the one character he spent all of middle school in love with.
“Yeah,” she replies softly. “I think we will.”
“Come on, we have to make it to the other side of the building for that Sci-Fi panel. I hear Wil Wheaton is gonna speak.”
Her eyes go wide and he can’t help it if he grins at the firm grip she puts on his arm as she pulls them swiftly across the room.
He leaves her alone for maybe a minute and he honestly should have known better. Tina’s walking nerd bait at places like these and he sees as much when he returns.
A short burly man in a poorly constructed hobbit costume is talking to her, his close proximity making Sam’s fist clench around his buster sword just a little tighter. If the guy would just stop staring so blatantly at Tina’s chest like he’s never seen a pair of tits before, Sam could probably stomach it better.
At least that’s what he tells himself. He’s protecting Tina’s virtue just like he’d protect any girl he was with. He has a little sister okay? So he’s just naturally protective of girls.
“Everything okay, T?” His voice is low and commanding the way he’d imagine Cloud would sound in this situation and he smirks a little when the guy talking to her jumps and nervously smiles. A former SOLDIER could kick the asses of a hundred hobbits and not even break a sweat.
Tina laughs like everything’s fine, but when she grabs Sam’s arm, her grip is a little too tight for that to be true. “S’fine, Sam,” she says softly. “Gary here was just talking to me about his World of Warcraft avatar.”
Sam arches an eyebrow at the guy. “Horde or alliance?”
“Alliance,” Gary answers and Sam scoffs, rolls his eyes.
“Let me guess,” Sam says, running his eyes up and down as if in thought. “Gnome mage.”
Gary stutters through a yes, but Sam’s pulling Tina away from him before he can get anything else out. “Lay off my girlfriend, dude,” Sam tells him, making sure to give the guy a good look at the weapon in his hand.
Gary rushes away from them and Tina’s got her face pressed into Sam’s bicep laughing.
Sam shrugs. “That’s high currency around here,” he tells her. “It’ll keep the dudes off of you.”
She laughs again. “I don’t know if I want that. I mean I’m newly on the market and everything.”
He tries to ignore the way that affects him because it’d be ridiculous to be jealous right now. They’ve only just reunited and she’s never expressed an interest in him, and whatever.
She’s hot. She’s really hot and she’s dressed as a video game character he may or may not have jerked off to a lot as a teenager, and she like gets him or something. They’ve been hanging out for only a few hours, but he seriously feels like she gets him.
“Sam?” Tina’s voice breaks him out of his thoughts and its only then he realizes he’s just been staring at her in silence, fist clenched tightly on the handle of his sword.
“Yeah, sorry, I just...”
“I was kidding,” she says seriously, her eyes staring curiously into his.
“I know.” He tries to laugh, but he’s not entirely sure it comes out sounding right. Leaning a little closer to her, he forces his face to stop frowning before saying, “There are just a lot of creepy dudes around here, okay? Just watch yourself.”
“You’re here,” she points out.
He grins. “I’m the exception.”
“You kind of always were, weren’t you?”
He’s not really sure what she means by that exactly, but she spots something out of the corner of her eye and pulls him towards a booth before he can ask her.
“You know I’ve been thinking,” he says, watching her as she inspects some signed prints of Edward James Olmos in Blade Runner.
He points towards one of the prints on the table, and she looks at him briefly before he nods and she’s handing cash to the vendor. “Yeah,” he says after she’s paid. “I’ve been thinking we should enter the contest together.”
“Yeah, the costume contest.”
He’s trying to figure out why she looks like she didn’t know there was one. “Oh,” she says quietly.
“You weren’t going to enter?!”
One shoulder lifts quickly in a half-shrug. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Tina!” He doesn’t mean to raise his voice but seriously look at her freakin’ costume it’s amazing. “Tina!”
She laughs. “Yes?”
“How could you not be entering?! You’re wearing the perfect Tifa costume.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like I made it for the contest. I just like wearing it.”
“This is so wrong,” Sam says, shaking his head.
“Sorry,” she says, but she’s still laughing.
“That’s it, we’re signing up. You deserve a trophy for that outfit.”
He grabs her hand with his to pull her towards the sign up table and only hesitates a beat when she intertwines their fingers.
They win. Obviously.
It’s probably because they spent the hour before the contest officially started practicing an epic choreographed duel together, but they would have won anyway. Their costumes so far outshine everyone else that the contest is practically a joke.
When their names are announced Tina jumps into his arms, a happy laugh beating warm breath over his ear. He’s seriously happier than he’s been in a long time and when she pulls back, for a second all he wants to do is kiss her. There’s this look on her face when their eyes lock and he swears she wants to too. Her chest is pressed up against his, his hands warm against the bare skin of her back and oh god, he cannot get hard in front of five hundred cosplaying nerds. Talk about embarrassing.
Thankfully the moment passes soon enough, and the announcer is handing them a small little trophy that Tina hoists in the air, bouncing a little in victory and beaming up at him. She intertwines their fingers and he smiles back down at her and complete elation thrums through him.
Sam honestly can’t remember the last time he had this much fun with a girl before.
They celebrate their victory at this Star Trek themed bar on the other side of the hotel. He buys them both Andorian Ales and they sit together side by side in a booth against the far wall. For the next few hours they sample different drinks and criticize some of the costumes that come into the bar.
Later, she pulls out her iPod and shows him her entire Final Fantasy music playlist. It’s got over 500 songs, but Sam recognizes them all. Heads bowed down together so they can both listen, Sam explains how he owns a lot of the sheet music and Tina looks at him like he just told her he also has a map to the Holy Grail.
When he tells her he can play Breezy from Final Fantasy VIII on the guitar she actually kisses him. Like legit lips against lips kissing.
It’s brief, but long enough for Sam to really feel it and when she pulls away they’re both breathing a little harder than before.
He’s about to say something or maybe kiss her again because that was awesome, but she’s talking before he can even finish his thought.
“Sorry, I just got a little excited there.”
He laughs, shakes his head to reassure her. “It’s okay.”
She takes a deep breath. “Did you bring your guitar?”
He nods quickly. “It’s in my room.”
She licks her lips, eyes flicking down to his own and okay, he kind of wishes his guitar was right here right now.
“Cool,” she says softly, shrugging like she’s indifferent about this information. “Play me the song some time?”
Maybe he says, “Yes,” a little too eagerly, but if Tina Cohen-Chang were looking at you like that, dressed like she was made for you, well...
They don’t end up making out in the bar or anything, but it’s okay because they do spend the rest of the day going to different panels on the schedule and Sam realizes how much more fun it is when he has someone with him at these things.
By the time they’re done and the convention is shutting down for the night, he finds that he just can’t let her go. She’s...he doesn’t know, but right now she’s the Tifa to his Cloud and that’s not something he’s willing to let slip through his fingers.
The entire walk to their hotel room is spent trying to figure out ways to spend more time with her. He doesn’t want to sound lame or over eager, but the idea of walking away is kind of eating him up.
“Well, this is me.” The door reads 306 and he stares resentfully at the bronze numbers for a second.
She steps closer to him, an expectant expression on her face. “Yeah?”
He chuckles nervously and runs a hand over the back of his neck, looking down the hallway briefly to try and calm his nerves. He’s sucks at words sometimes.
“Listen Tina, I was thinking...”
She laughs when he trails off again and puts a hand on his arm. “Sam, what is it?”
“Sorry, I’m just really bad at words sometimes.”
Tina smirks at him, runs her hand down his chest to rest at his belt buckle. “Words aren’t the only way to tell someone how you feel.”
If he wasn’t already completely under her spell, quoting the game like that would have done him in.
She’s so clearly propositioning him it’s kind of unreal. Seriously, how many nerds would kill to be him right now? There’s this hot chick in front of him in hardly any clothing, quoting a classic video game with her hands on his waistband like she’s ready to drop to her knees.
He’d probably lose his dude card for even considering turning her down.
Except he is considering it. He actually really likes Tina and he doesn’t want her to get the wrong idea about him. Plus, Cloud would never sleep with a girl on the first date so he grabs her hands, leans down close to her and smiles. “Have dinner with me,” he says.
Her brow furrows a little like she’s surprised he’s not taking what she’s offering, but her smile is pleased, so he knows he made the right choice.
“Yeah,” he says. “Dinner.”
Eyes narrowed, she considers that for a moment. “I have the Firefly blu-rays in my room.”
Seriously, he doesn’t think a girl has ever said anything so hot to him in his life. “Take out?”
His smile is wide and easy. “Shiny.”
They fall asleep to the sounds of Malcolm Reynolds speaking Chinese, empty pizza cartons and cans of Mountain Dew on the bed between them.
When he wakes up in the morning, Tina’s coming out of the bathroom, toweling her hair and dressed in loose sweets and a t-shirt with Afro Samuraiemblazoned across her chest. She looks completely gorgeous, like she stepped right out of all the fantasies he’s ever had in life.
Moving to sit on the corner of the bed opposite him, she smiles crookedly. “Did you sleep well, Cloud?”
He wonders how she manages to be just as awesome as she was the day before; he was so certain that out of costume it just wouldn’t be the same. Smiling at her he shrugs. “Next to you, who wouldn’t?”
The grin on her face makes him way happier than it should, and when she puts a warm hand on his bare calf he feels the touch all the way up to his chest.
“I was thinking about our costumes for next year while I was in the shower,” she says softly and it only takes him a moment to hear the critical part of that sentence.
“Next year?” The hope in his voice is obvious.
Eyes flicking down to the bedspread and then back up, Tina smiles. “Yeah, next year.”
It’s probably ridiculous to feel this way about a girl after only spending a day with her, but as Tina moves across the room to put her Firefly discs away and picks each one up almost reverently like they're meant to be treated Sam can’t find it in him to care.