Disclaimer:  I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of its characters.

The Search is Over

Chapter 1:  The search begins

            Tifa checked and double-checked Cloud's bags to make sure he had all the necessities he needed.  She made sure that some of his favorite foods were packed and loaded onto his Chocobo, Locus.

            Cloud walked up to the stables to see Tifa busying herself with his bags.  He smiled and slowly approached her, "I think you've checked my bags about twenty times now."

            Tifa jumped up after being startled by Cloud's presence.  "Cloud!  You scared me," Tifa gasped trying to steady her wracked nerves.

            "Sorry about that," he said while scratching the back of his head.  "But I think you've already check my bags enough times."

            "Oh, I know.  I just want to make sure you have everything you need for the trip," she said trying to hide her embarrassment.

            "I do," he chuckled.  "Are you sure you don't want to come?" he said, hoping to change her mind.

            "No, I shouldn't.  There's still so much more work that needs to be done here and I couldn't leave my students without a teacher for two weeks," she said sadly.

            "I understand Master Lockheart," Cloud mockingly bowed down like one of her students. 

            "Cloud!" Tifa pushed him lightly causing him to fall back, but not before he grabbed her wrists and dragged her along with him. 

            Tifa landed awkwardly on Cloud's chest and the pair lay there on the ground too stunned for words.  They were both enjoying the moment, but too shy to express their true feelings.  Tifa and Cloud stared into each other's eyes and blushed.

            Quickly pushing herself up and brushing back strands of loose hair, Tifa muttered her apologies.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to . . . I mean . . . here," Tifa said as she offered her hand to help Cloud up.

            He accepted it and let Tifa pull him part of the way up.  "It's ok Tifa.  I shouldn't have pulled you down with me," he said as he brushed some dirt off his pants.

            "But I guess you should get going if you want to get to Corel in time," Tifa said with a mix of sadness and resignation.

            "Yeah, I guess I better get going.  I'll make sure to say 'hi' to everyone for you," as Cloud slowly mounted his Chocobo.

            "You better," she said with a smile.

            Cloud nodded his head to show his compliance and smiled one last time before kicking Locus's sides to lurch him forward. 

            Tifa stood on the outskirts of Kalm as she watched Cloud fade away into the distance.  She sighed as she made her way back to the small house they shared.  She entered her house and looked up at the portrait that hung proudly over the mantle, it was the first thing that greeted them whenever they came home.  The large gold-framed picture was that of the AVALANCHE members at Gold Saucer during a break in their journey around the world.  Everyone, even Vincent Valentine, had huddled together to have this one moment immortalized forever.  It had been a year since that picture was taken and stopped Meteor from destroying the world. 

            Many things had changed in that year.  Cid had finally proposed to Shera and was to marry her by the end of the month.  Yuffie had gone back to Wutai to mend things with her father.  Nanaki has been immersing himself in knowledge about the planet through Bubenhagen and is still searching for more of his kind.  Cait Sith . . . . no, Reeve has been converting all of the mako reactors back to coal and solar power.  Vincent has been wandering around the world killing all the remaining Jenova clones that still existed.  Barret found comfort and a mother for Marlene with Aeris's adopted mother, Elmyra.  Which reminded Tifa of the one who never made it back to celebrate, Aeris.  The group had built a monument in her honor on the cliff overlooking the Midgar ruins: forever etching her memory in stone.

            Their journeys really changed everyone, but some things never change.  Cloud still appeared to mourn the loss of their fallen comrade by volunteering countless hours cleaning up the Midgar ruins and visiting Aeris's monument in his spare time.  Though Tifa and Cloud were living together, they still had a platonic relationship.  Neither one had the courage to change it into something more and Tifa was afraid that his feelings would never be the same for her as she had for him.  Despite it all, they made a vow to stick with each other since neither of them had a hometown or family to call their own.

            She made her way around the living room to the piano.  She insisted that they get one and though Cloud was reluctant at first, he eventually relented.  After playing for a few months, she had regained her previous skill for the instrument.  She sometimes even heard Cloud hitting a few keys now and then.  Tifa sat down and started playing a song from memory, one that she had learned by heart as a young child.  She closed her eyes while her fingers glided across the keys.

            After she finished, she still felt the need to let her fingers work the ivory keys.  She picked up the pile of sheet music and shuffled through the pages until she found an interesting tune.  One document caught her interest as she pulled out the crude piece of paper.  Everything was hand-written and there were many edits and scribbles written in pencil along the margins.  It looks like Cloud's handwriting.

            Tifa noticed that the title to the piece was called 'The Search is Over.'  She scanned the notes and started working the keys until the music transferred from the page to the piano.  The melody was beautiful.  She could tell that it was a score that was meant to have lyrics attached to it since the piece was fairly simple and repetitive, but it was far from boring.  She flipped the page to find the last half of the score and ended the song with one last chord. 

            She felt at peace as her hands rested on the keys, still holding them down until the last sound resonated out of the piano.  Removing her hands to hold up the hand-written sheet music, she smiled at the thought of Cloud composing such a beautiful piece.  But her smiled turned into a frown when she read the title over again.  'The Search is Over' . . . he's probably still searching for her, for Aeris.  She carefully put the sheet music back to its place and closed the cover on the keys.  Taking a deep breath, she left the piano and the beautifully written score behind to ready herself for the rest of the day.

__________

End Chapter 1

A/N:  I will warn you that the next chapter will probably blind most of you.  I'm also working on two other fics at the same time so updates will take at least two to three weeks.