Note:  I do not own Final Fantasy VII.

Chapter 10:  Epilogue

            It had been ten years since the last AVALANCHE member died.  Ten years since Tifa had been left to live the remaining years of her life without her friend and soul mate, Cloud Strife.  She lay peacefully on her bed as her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren mourned the death of one of their uncles and guardian, Vincent Valentine.

            Today was the funeral of the late gunslinger, which attracted the attention of many to the quiet lands of Kalm.  Only two members of AVALANCHE still lived, Tifa Strife and Nanaki, son of Seto.  Those two remaining members talked of the old times they had together and the many battles they fought.  Nanaki treasured these moments the most, for he feared that old age was going to take his last companion away very soon.

            "It is unfortunate that you won't be at the service.  I know that Vincent would understand though," Nanaki said resting his mane on Tifa's bedside.

            "Yes, he would.  He saw me not too long before he passed away.  He knows that I'm getting too old.  But I'm glad you came," Tifa's old wrinkled hands gently stroked his mane.

            "Anything for an old friend.  It was well worth bringing my cubs along so they can learn about the warriors who saved the planet."

            "We're hardly warriors anymore Nanaki, at least I'm not.  But it is good that you brought them," Tifa laughed.

            "They were excited to meet their Aunt Tifa.  I'm sure you've made a lasting impression on them."

            "How could they get a lasting impression on an old woman who's too weary to get out of bed anymore?"

            "By your strength to still smile and comfort others despite the odds.  I also told them the stories about how you were the one who killed Sephiroth in the end.  I think that memorialized you in their minds," Nanaki replied.

            "Yes, I guess I did do that.  It was so long ago, but I remember it like yesterday.  So much has changed since then.  When was the last time all of us were alive and together?"

            "Almost twenty-five years ago, before Barret died.  I think you still have the picture we took of all of us including our children and grandchildren," Nanaki said while pointing his nose towards the wall of pictures.

            "So I do," Tifa smiled as she gazed upon all the pictures.

            All her memories were hung up on that wall.  The first picture taken of AVALANCHE and the only one that had Aeris in it hung at the very top.  That had been in her house ever since she and Cloud first moved into Kalm.  Her eyes scanned down to see her wedding picture as she and Cloud were engaged in a kiss.  She even had Yuffie's wedding picture hung up on the wall. 

            It had surprised everyone when she announced her engagement to the Chief of Police of Wutai.  Apparently, it was an arranged marriage, but Yuffie didn't throw a single complaint over her father's decision.  When Tifa looked at the picture, she could tell that the little thieving ninja had grown-up and fallen in love.

            The rest of the pictures had so many people in it, she could hardly discern who was in them whether it was her family or her extended family and friends.  She turned her attention back to Nanaki and gave him one last stroke.

            "Is it almost time for you to go?" Tifa asked.

            "Yes, the funeral will be starting soon.  I should take my leave and let someone speak to you before it starts," Nanaki bowed before padding out of her room.

            Tifa watched as he nodding his head to someone waiting outside her door.  She squinted to see a dark-haired woman with red eyes slowly made her way to the bedside.  Even though it was her granddaughter, the girl had a striking resemblance to the way Tifa looked at the tender age of eighteen.

            "Nana?  Can I ask you something?" the young girl kneeled at her grandmother's bedside.

            "What is it Cree?"

            "Are you mad at me for Uncle Vincent's death?" the girl asked trying to force back her tears.

            "How could you ever think I'd be mad at you for that?"

            "Because if I didn't ask him to take me to the Midgar Ruins.  If he hadn't gone with me, he would still be here today," the girl sobbed.

            "It's not your fault Lucrecia.  It was an accident.  He died trying to save you.  You wouldn't have known that the Ruins were still so unstable," Tifa stroked the girls hair trying to comfort her.  "Did you know that your uncle was the one to name you?"

            "Yes, you told me," she sniffed.

            "You were his favorite, whether you knew it or not.  Because you were his favorite, he always hated to see you cry, so try not to blame yourself for his death."

            "But, he could have lived for hundreds of years.  He could have lived so much longer, but I prevented that."

            "He could have, but I don't think he wanted to.  He had already seen so many of us grow old and die, it would have hurt him too much to see that happen to you."

            "I know, but why does it hurt so much?"

            "Because you love him, that's why.  I know that's how much it hurt me when your grandfather passed away.  But I promised myself that I would live the remaining years of my life to the fullest, in honor of his memory.  I think Vincent would want you to do the same for him," Tifa said with a smile.

            "I'll try, but I don't think I'll ever be able to forget him.  I wished I had a chance to tell him how much I loved him, but I was afraid that he didn't think that way about me.  I mean, I was like a niece to him.  I didn't want him to stop loving me, but at the same time, I wanted more.  I don't want to forget him," Lucrecia sobbed.

            Tifa smiled as she listened to her granddaughter's confession, being familiar with those exact same emotions. "You don't have to forget him, just live for him.  Do you know what he once told me Cree?  It was before you both left for the Midgar Ruins."

            Lucrecia shook her head and stared up at her grandmother's dim red eyes.

            "He told me that he thought he was falling in love again and you were the one who made him feel that way.  He loved you and knew how much you cared for him.  It is hard not being able to say everything you would have wanted to after someone's gone, but I think Vincent could tell what was in your heart."

            "Oh, Nana.  Thank you for letting me know.  I don't know how long it'll take me to get over this, but I will . . . for him," Lucrecia said as she gave Tifa a warm hug.

            "That's good to hear child.  Now get going or you'll miss the funeral," Tifa said softly.

            Lucrecia merely nodded before she walked out of Tifa's room.  Tifa breathed out laboriously as she closed her eyes.  It had been a long day and she was tired.  Talking with Nanaki and her granddaughter had taken most of her energy, but it was well worth it.  She wished that her body could move so she could also attend Vincent's funeral.  He had been such a good friend and mentor to her children as well as her grandchildren.

            Tifa raised her frail hands to her face and marveled how these old wrinkled hands once had the power to kill.  She could feel her life force slowly draining from her body and knew that there would have to be another funeral soon.  Lowering her hands, her eyes caught the image of a blond-haired man with vivid blue-eyes.  Her grandson, Marcus, had grown up to look almost exactly like Cloud.  He even had the same carefree attitude Cloud had as a boy in Nibelheim.  Her heart always warmed whenever she saw him.

            "Marcus dear, shouldn't you be outside with the others?"

            "I'm not Marcus."

            "Then who?" as Tifa squinted her eyes.

            "Has it been that long that you forgot what I looked like when you fell in love with me?"

            "Cloud?"

            He merely nodded as he walked closer to her bedside.

            "I must be dreaming.  No, no.  I'm not dreaming.  It must be my time," Tifa said with a smile.

            Cloud chuckled.  "Yes, it is.  Somehow I always thought you would greet death with a smile."

            "Well, death happens to look like the man I love.  It seems fitting though: makes the passage easier."

            "They try to do that.  But are you ready?"

            "What do I need to do, pack?  Of course I'm ready.  I've lived without you for far too long," Tifa smiled while closing her eyes.

            Cloud put his hands over hers and kissed her on the lips before pulling back to lift her up.  Tifa felt so light as she sat up from the bed with little effort.  She looked down at her hand in Cloud's and immediately noticed how they were young again.  Turning her head back, she could see her lifeless body aged with time resting on the bed as her long silver hair nestled against her body.

            She turned back to Cloud who had an understanding smile on his lips.  "It was hard for me to see myself on my deathbed, especially watching you cry when I passed away."

            Tifa merely nodded in response and entwined her fingers in his.  "I'm ready, let's go."

            The two spirits floated through the house and past the cemetery where Vincent's funeral was being held.  Tifa saw hoards of people lining up to pay their respects for the fallen hero.  It looked like the other AVALANCHE member's funerals.  She knew hers would be very similar, except they would put her to rest next to Cloud's body.  Death was such a horrid experience for everyone to cope with, but necessary to remind the living why they live.

            The pair floated down towards the ground and sailed past the many rocks and layers of the earth.  Eventually the rocks and dirt cleared into a bright blue sky with a large field filled with beautiful flowers.  Tifa gasped at the beauty that she saw all around her.

             "Is this the Promised Land?"

            "Yes, it's the Promised Land.  Come on, everyone's waiting for you," Cloud said while tugging on her arm.

            The couple ran through the fields until they came to an opening where a large group of people had gathered.  Tifa recognized everyone.  Barret stood out the most with his large figure and Cid and Shera were holding hands not too far away from them.  She could see Reeve and Yuffie waiving while Vincent merely bowed his head and smiled one of his rare smiles.  Her mother and father were also there to greet her as behind them Ilfana and Professor Gast stood next to each other. 

            Then her eyes landed on a bed of black spikes as Zack gave her a thumbs-up while draping his arm over Aeris.  Tifa beamed with joy as she saw all of her friends again.  She was especially glad to see Aeris again.  She hadn't seen the flower girl since she saved her from Sephiroth.  Tifa had never gotten the chance to thank her.  Now she had all the time in the world as she slowly approached the group with Cloud right beside her.

            No one was certain about what to say and Tifa didn't know how greet everyone whom she hadn't seen in a long time.  But Aeris broke the silence with a greeting that echoed all the feelings of everyone waiting for Tifa Strife's return to the planet.

            "Welcome home Tifa"

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A/N:     Thanks to everyone who read or reviewed this story.  I hope I did a good job in keeping you all entertained.