Here it is folks; the final chapter. I supposed I've ended this with some semblance of dignity. This is dedicated to Luna, for all her help and support and s&m lovin', and for proofreading for me (except not this one.. next one again, I promise!)

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Chapter Nine; Earth Shifts II


Time passed as it is wont to do. And as she was wont to need, Sass the dog needed a walk.

'I'll be right back,' Tifa called up the stairs. Sassefrass was whining by the door.

'Where are you going?' Cloud called back down.

'Walk dog.'

'Hold on; I'll go with you.'

'That's okay, you don't need to. I won't be gone long.'

'No, I want to come,' Cloud said, coming down the stairs. He smiled as he brushed past her.

'Okay.. though I don't see why you feel the need.' Tifa smiled back, pulling a hat over her hair. Cloud handed her her coat without meeting her eyes, then put on his own.

She watched him from the corner of her eye. He was a little red in the face; maybe it was too hot inside and he wanted to cool down.

They strolled beside each other, comfortable in their silence, watching their breath like white smoke in the night air.
Or at least Tifa was comfortable. She glanced over to Cloud at one point and realized that he looked upset.

'What's going on?' she asked him.

'Huh?' He looked startled.

'You look unhappy. What's wrong?'

He blinked at her. 'I'm not unhappy.'

'Okay..' she said, trailing off in what she hoped was an encouraging way.

He did not take it as encouragement but instead looked away again. She didn't know what to say now, and watched him, worried in her turn.

He stopped walking. She turned on her heel to face him.

'Listen,' he said, blazing blue eyes focused on her. For a moment she thought to herself what a strange sight it was to see, his face barely illuminated by the street lamps, but lit with the power of a small green flashlight that was his eyes.

'I'm listening,' she answered.

'I need something to change. Life.. life is good right now, like it is, but it's not good enough.'

Tifa squinted at him. What was he trying to say?

'It's like we've stopped moving and I'm getting restless. I need to keep moving.'

'You're going to have to be more blunt with me, Cloud.'

'I'm tired with how things are, Tifa. But I don't know if the decision I want to make will be good for both of us.'

'Uh huh.. wait. Wait. This means you're quitting? You're leaving Walhalla? Cloud, be clear! Don't beat around the bush like this!'

He got an annoyed look on his face, stepped so close to her he could put an arm around her waist, and kissed her full on the lips.

Tifa's first thought was, oh nooo don't do that I taste like garlic!
Then she realized it was quite a statement for Cloud to be kissing her so.. let's call it fulfillingly.
Aaaaaaaaahh. (that was her next thought. Imagine closing your eyes and settling down on the couch after a long day's work and getting a head massage. It was that kind of aaaaaaaaahh. And it kept going throughout the kiss, just think of it as a contented humming in the background to our story)
Right after the indulgence that came with being unexpectedly kissed by her secret crush, she considered what he had just said to her. He was planning on leaving? He was restless, needed to keep moving? Bloody great.
And what decision did he mean? The decision to leave? Of course it wouldn't be good for both of them! She didn't see anything getting better if he left. She'd certainly feel more bored and lonely and perhaps just a tiny bit heartbroken as well.
Next thought: The bastard! He can't just leave like that!

So she broke off the kiss, exclaimed accusingly, 'You can't just kiss me like that after what you said!' and stalked off.

His eyes bored into the back of her head but she did not turn around or say anything else, and dissapeared around the corner.

He stood very still for a moment, then whistled for the dog to follow, and headed back towards the house.

*

She was waiting for him at the frontdoor, looking straight at him. For a moment they really saw each other. His expression was open and intense, and she felt something warm tug through her. She nodded, turning away from him, feeling stupid as her own eyes filled with tears.
'I guess I understand..' she said, horrified as she heard her voice crack.

He stared at her. 'Tifa?'

She shook her head and opened the door, taking deep breaths to get rid of her traiterous tears. What was she supposed to think?
First he tells me he's getting bored here, next he kisses me! What kind of dumb thing is that?

He came up to beside her, hands in the pockets of his jacket, not saying anything of her frustration, her uncharacteristically short fuse.

By the time they had taken off their coats, not saying another word after their respective outbursts, her tears had dried.
'Do you want some tea?' she asked Cloud neutrally.

He nodded, trying to get her to meet his eyes. In a moment, she said silently, just give me a moment.

Tea and peanut-butter-and-jelly crackers by the fireplace.

Cloud had somehow gotten a hesitant fire to fuzz in the century-old hearth. She rubbed her eyes from time to time.

Cloud watched her quietly but after a while he couldn't stand the silence between them.
'Do you even know why I was saying I was restless?' he asked, sounding irritated.

'You want to leave,' she answered, feeling miserable. She sat beside him, on the couch, and the warmth he radiated was just incredible, made her want to creep up and cuddle with him, to feel warm and safe and secure and feel slender and pretty and feminine in his arms.

'You have no idea what I was talking about.'

'Huh?' (Very eloquent, Tiff.)

'Tifa, for a while now.. things have changed. I've changed. Stuff's gotten different. I don't think things should stay the way they were. I need to tell you what I-'

Tifa interrupted him, furiously shaking her head. 'I don't care. I don't want you to go. Especially not because of stupid reasons like that. You have absolutely no good reasons to leave, besides which, I want you to stay.' she said. As she realized what she had said, how it might have sounded.. she decided she did not care. Perhaps she would get lucky. By pretending she didn't mind him leaving, she would be miserable.

But, now, wouldn't she make him miserable? Then again, she wasn't forcing him to stay. He was an adult, he could choose for himself. Why would she be afraid she might influence his decision? Her mouth tightened. Shit. That was the whole problem. She wanted him to feel strongly enough for her to let her influence his decision.

He looked at her for a long time, that annoyed look back on his face making her nervous, even with the hint of amusement he was letting shine through, and she grew shaky because they were sitting so close by, and because she loved his eyes so.

'Then I stay.' he said simply, with the tiniest smile relaxing onto his face.

Her eyes were fastened on him, and she couldn't help her undoubtedly joyous expression. A grin flew to her face, and she ashamedly brushed away a few relieved tears. He would stay.

'Thank you.' she whispered at one moment, though unsure of who exactly it was directed at. Him? Her lucky stars?

She let out a deep breath. 'I would have been unhappy if you left.' she confessed lightly. A moment later, she wondered how she might have dared to say those words out loud.

He had the strangest expression on his face as he rose, took in one hand both their empty teacups to bring to the kitchen, and then leaned over and touched a second, this time slight kiss to her mouth.

'You're so amazingly clueless sometimes,' he replied.

And then she was sitting alone on a couch.

*

It was an utterly silent day, not too long after we had last left our heroes..

Tifa sat in her bedroom, nestled in the great big windowsill she loved. It was pouring rain out, and she was briefly reminded of that second day that Cloud had come over, right after they had found each other again.
Found each other, found each other.. she sighed out loud. The sound shriveled in the cold air around her. She imagined she could see her breath around her, but couldn't. Cloud whirled through her head. His face, his voice, his figure, his scent, his hands, his touch. He was so warm, he made her feel so warm.

What was going on? What was happening to her? Who was she, anyways? Who had been that young girl, setting bravely out with a pack of friends to conquer a villain, save a world? She felt like it had been a movie, and she had watched it a million times, the way she always had watched her Disney movies when she had been a little girl. Millions of times. Tens of millions.
That was how often she had thought back to each scene, each little bit from the great big movie called 'Tifa's life,' starring anonymous as Tifa Lockheart. Anonymous was her. She frowned and tried to look out the window. It was misted over, and she wiped a bit of it away. It made her hand feel cold, like it was dead, and she stopped.

'PLEH,' she wrote instead.

She regarded her four mirrored letters with a wry look. It didn't serve a perfect composition, those letters seeming too small when looked at in relation to the entire window. For form, Tifa wrote 'PLEH' a dozen more times, spread unevenly about the window.

She stepped back to oversee it now, and rolled her eyes at herself. She jumped when Cloud rested his hand on her arm.

'It's just me,' he said quietly, and followed her when she walked back to the window.

He looked at the window, and then at her, and then at the window again. His eyes had the strangest glow in the diffuse light that had dribbled through the clumped sky after the storm, light blue with incredible purple shadows reflecting shadow the way only eyes seem to be able to.

She followed the eyes set in that ernest face, she saw his eyebrows making the slightest motions. He wiped away the 'PLEH' nearest to her, where she had curled up on the window sill again.
She drew flowers and vines and spirals through the moisture, and watched with half an eye as he wrote beside her, letters mirrored as he always put them.

'What are you doing?' she asked him.

'Being more blunt, as you asked me to.' He answered. When he pulled away she gazed at his backwards words for sometime before they clicked into place.

'AFIT UOY EVOL I' it said.

She frowned, little gears in her head whirring and clicking, and something in her brain was telling her to feel very stupid right about now.

'Oh for crying out loud,' she exclaimed at herself, and then started to cry.

He neared her, unsure of what this meant. She stretched her arms and wrapped them around his waist, fumbling her breath into his chest. He rubbed her neck and her shoulders, not sure if this response meant kissing her would be okay.

Eventually he slipped onto the windowsill and she settled into his lap, where he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed her temple, because that was the bit of her skin closest to his mouth.
She let out a long, lingering hum and reached her arm to write something else, next to his declaration.

'YALED EHT ROF YRROS DNA OOT UOY EVOL I' it said.

'I amaze myself,' she muttered, and sniffed in his scent as he laughed and laughed and nearly squished her in his hug.

And don't pretend you can't finish the rest of the story from there.

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