- In Midgar -

"Tifa, have you read the news today? Shinra is reinstalling its power in the North East frontier. Do you think we're gonna have a show down again just like the good ol' days?" Yuffie quipped in eagerness to Tifa.

The woman in question, idle mindedly stirred her spoon in her (now completely melted) chocolate fudge sundae. It had been five nights since Cloud's departure for another delivery in Wutai. He hadn't even bothered to call her since his last clipped call, which was about 3 days ago. Even that lasted about two minutes as a whole. Tifa recalled the memory.

The phone rang. Tifa answered, hoping it was the blond man who had left only 2 days ago. "Hello?" She answered.

"Hey Tifa, it's me. Cloud. I won't be back for sometime. Letting you know so you don't waste food in saving dinner for me. I'll let you know if there are any changes."

"Oh Cloud of course... but it's really not a problem. I can always make a little extra just in case…." Her tone laced with defeat. So she would not be seeing him anytime soon.

"No, Tifa. That's not necessary. Don't do that, especially when I'm telling you. Be careful taking care of things, I trust everything will be fine." Cloud answered in an aloof manner. As if not the least bit touched, she would even suggest such a thing.

"Ah-okay… Be safe Cloud. Please." Slightly caught off guard by his even more than usual cold manner, Tifa backed off the topic. At least he had been courteous enough to call her right? She offered a mocking smile to see, for no one but herself.

"Hn." Cloud barely acknowledged that he heard her request. It was obvious that he would indeed do what it took to be safe; he sometimes never understood why she felt necessary to request such obviously sensible notions.

Yuffie sighed in defeat. Shoulders slumped she perched her chin into her hand. Tifa was doing it again. She was thinking about him. She could tell by the dazed 'lost in thought' type of look she had in her eyes. Besides it was no secret. After the war, practically everyone knew Cloud meant more than anybody to Tifa. That is everyone except for Cloud of course. Or maybe the young man just liked to play ignorant.

"Hey Teef." The shorthaired girl placed a hand on raven-haired woman's shoulder.

"Hmm? Oh gosh sorry were you saying something Yuffie?" Startled out of her reverie Tifa had the decency to act embarrassed.

"Teef… you need to stop doing that… I know it's not my place to say anything, but you don't deserve this." Yuffie looked at her with sincere eyes. Begging Tifa to stop torturing herself in these seemingly one-sided speculations.

The longhaired woman's face instantly dropped. Tifa looked away from Yuffie. She was both embarrassed and sick of it. Everyone knew about her affections for Cloud. It was not that she was ever bold enough to broadcast, but she as a person had never been very good at hiding things. Especially her emotions, she was way too genuine for that. And at times like these, she hated that about herself.

"Look, I'm only telling you because I know and see what this does to you. You deserve more Teef. Please believe it." Yuffie pleaded.

"Yuffie… I…" at a loss for words, Tifa got up. "I think I'm going to go for a walk. I just—I don't know…"

Yuffie sighed and got up to hug her. Tifa responded with a weak embrace. The older woman was embarrassed her eyes were downcast.

Tifa turned and left Yuffie to her own musings in that coffee house. She didn't realize how evident it had become that it was clearly one sided. She felt like she was going insane. It wasn't the first time Yuffie brought it to her attention. She knew the younger girl meant no harm, on the contrary actually. She found herself a lone bench in the local park and sat down with her legs crossed over. She picked up a few tendrils of her hair and twirled them around her finger. Cloud loved to do that with her, she thought bitterly to herself.

Love. She scoffed at the word usage. Could Cloud really love anything about her? It wasn't that she had made it a habit to loathe herself. She was just all too convinced that there was not one shred of emotion that Cloud held for her aside from primal lust and basic good will. She was an attractive girl, he wasn't the first to tell her that and she was sure he wouldn't be the last. But for some reason, she found herself compelled to stay loyal to her affections for him. She had not once even considered any other man even for a moment. Tifa sighed in defeat. Why was she arguing with herself? It was a lost war.

She loved him ever since he saved the planet. She loved him ever since he stood up against all wrong. She loved him ever since he showed his borderline martyrdom heroism for others. She loved him ever since he became the young man that he did. She loved him because she allowed herself to… and now she could not allow herself not to. Spending her idle thoughts with memories of him when she in fact knew it was unhealthy and stupid. Perhaps that's why she had such a low self-esteem as of late. Because she realized how stupid this whole ordeal was. What would this all mount to in hindsight?

"Oh Shiva, how do I stop?" A tear slipped out of her eye. "Help me." Tifa voiced her plea to nobody in particular. She found herself praying without any real faith that she was being heard. "Give me the strength. I beg of you." Tifa cupped her face into her hands and cried, silently.

- In Wutai -

Cloud glanced at his watch, 15 minutes past 9. He was hungry, annoyed and tired. He needed a good fuck and some dinner, he thought sourly to himself. Kamazaki was inside still changing. The man had insisted that Cloud stay another night after his long weary travel. Cloud did not necessarily desire to stay the extra night, but truth was he really was tired. It took a total of five nights to get here on his fenrir.

"Just a minute Mr. Strife, I'll be out in a jiffy!" The overly jolly man called enthusiastically from his room.

Sighing in irritation, he stood up to go outside and at least wait out there. Just as he was about to reach for the door, the man who had him waiting came running down.

"Sorry about that! Got a phone call from the fiancé when I went up there and you know how women can be. So talkative over nothing eh? But my motto is more action and less talking, if you catch my drift…" The other man winked, leaving the hardly discreet implication out for the taking.

Cloud smirked. "You're funny. How far is this place?"

Kamazaki smiled, "Only around the corner. You'll love it, I assure you. By the way you're not seeing anyone right? I'm assuming you aren't. I can smell a single bachelor from a mile away and you're definitely one of them."

Cloud looked at him, wondering how he should even respond to such a shamelessly open statement. This was supposed to be a professional atmosphere. This was his client after all. He decided to just agree, for the sake of fewer complications. 'Not like I am overtly with anyone in particular anyways.' The golden haired man thought to himself. "Why do you suppose?"

Kamazaki assured Cloud of exactly why he thought such a thing as they left his modest apartment.

"Well for one thing, you have not received one phone call from any suspicious lady friend. Nor have you made any such calls to anyone around my presence. And mind you my apartment is small so even if you did it behind my back, I would have known trust me. So my mate, I'm positive from your indifferent nature that you are single. Call it a wide statement, but I know a single bloke when I see one." Kamazaki flashed him a smile full of teeth.

Cloud blinked in response. He was actually caught off guard. 'What's with this guy?' Cloud mused to himself. This client was a character of his own.

"Oh come now, I'm just being friendly. Hope you're not offended now!" Kamazaki patted Cloud's shoulder as they entered the tavern. Cloud offered him a tight-lipped smile that did not quite reach his eyes.

They were seated by the bar, where Kamazaki insisted was the quickest service. More than a few ladies had glanced at the yellow haired deliverer. Kamazaki was not blind to the female attention that this young man brought about. He was a good looking guy, he could not hide that fact even from himself. From what he could see the man had a tone athletic build, deep masculine voice, and strikingly sharp facial features. Cloud reminded Kamazaki of himself in his younger years. Of course he was a little less stoic, but similar to his old self nonetheless. Kamazaki was now a little heavier and a little bald. But upon close observation, you could tell that he too once upon a time was a pretty face.

"So tell me, why haven't you settled down yet? You're not all that younger than me. Surely, you plan to get serious soon."

"With all due respect, it's not your business to know. Of course I mean that in the politest of ways." Cloud laid the discreet threat out there. He was starting to get a little irked with this man's inquisitive nature. Client or not, he was overstepping boundaries. He hardly knew the man and he had no desire for that to change.

"Listen now, where's your good nature. I was just curious. I see I really have offended you, I'll drop this topic." Kamazaki's smiling face straightened up, getting a bit miffed by the younger man's attitude.

"When are you getting married to your fiancé?" Not fazed by the older man's changed tone, he asked his own question.

"In 2 months from exactly today. We're getting wed on January 1st, 'New Year's' she insisted. We even booked a private hall and such." Kamazaki offered the information in a flat tone.

'Great. I got him put off by my asshole tendencies. Just the kind of reviews I need.' Aggravated Cloud sighed. "Listen, I apologize if I was rude. I'm not one to talk about such personal matters so openly. It's why I was taken aback by your questioning."

Kamazaki eyed him, seeing the younger man was offering a genuine apology he smiled again. "Bygones be bygones eh? Actually the reason I asked so much in particular is because I noticed a lady over there in the corner has been eyeing you since we have arrived. I'm a taken man, but Shiva is she gorgeous." Cloud smirked but did not turn to look at her.

After the food arrived, both men started silently eating. But of course thanks to Kamazaki the silence did not remain for too long.

"You really must turn to take a look at her. She seriously hasn't stopped eyeing you since we got here."

Just to get the older man to shut up about the woman for a bit, he turned to get a look at her. For a moment he almost stopped breathing. She looked exactly like her.

Auburn hair, green eyes and a diamond shaped face. Aside from slight differences, she was almost entirely a clone of her. Aeris Gainsborough.

Sucking in a whiff of oxygen, Cloud exhaled. Not breaking eye contact with her. His eyes had to be lying. How could someone look so much like someone he had once loved so much?

"Beautiful right? Told you."

"Excuse me for a moment." Cloud got up unceremoniously and stalked over towards the woman that held his attention.

"Wait—what about deser—ah I guess I'll wait for your return." Shaking his head, Kamazaki picked up his phone and dialed his fiancé.

In the distance, Cloud could hear Kamazaki calling out to him. But nothing mattered. He had to see if this was real.

"I see I finally got you to notice me." The young auburn haired lady offered a coy smile.

"Who are you?" Cloud was caught off guard; she even sounded so much her. Just looking at her, was filling this odd void in his body. He felt foolish, but he couldn't help himself. Never could when it came to her

"Serenity. Serenity Williams. And you're Cloud Strife. I know all about you." She smiled again, confidently this time.

'Serenity. Interesting name.' He mused to himself. "And how is it that you know about me Ms. Williams?" He pulled a stool out by the bar, "Mind if I?"

"Oh no please, I insist. It's not everyday that I meet Mr. Strife. Didn't know that the descriptions would not do you as much justice as they should. You're incredibly sexy even in person."

Cloud was now curious. Why did this beautiful woman who resembled his old flame so much, know so much about him; whereas he had no idea who she was. Not to mention, he wondered if she was normally this bold and outspoken. "I'm sorry you have yet to tell me, how?"

"I've read all the old news articles about you killing… Sephiroth. My father was the chief news editor. He was in love with your heroic legacy. As am I. But nobody ever told me you would be so charming even to look at." She flashed teeth.

Cloud evaluated this piece of information and scrutinized her gestures. She seemed to smile a lot. He wondered if she was this confident with all men.

"I see. That piece of news that you refer to is over 7 years ago. How old are you Ms. Williams?"

"Please, call me Serenity. I'm 21. I grew up reading all of my father's work on you. I must say I'm so intrigued by all of your battles! You're so brave. You look just like they say, but even better." Cloud smirked; she was just a young girl. She was 14 when the Planet was in such chaos. He stared at her face. She looked so much like her. He couldn't get over it. He was curious about this girl. Curious as to why she looked so much like her.

"Serenity, you are right. I am Cloud Strife. You've made me curious about you. However I must return to my friend over there. Is there a way I can reach you? If you are not comfortable with that, I understand." Cloud watched her as she listened to his words. She looked absolutely smitten. A look he would have loved to see on her face. His Aeris' face. A face that was almost entirely like the deceased girl's was staring back at him just now.

"Oh my gosh, of course. I would love that Mr. Strife. Here please take down my number. Call me whenever you'd like…" She rummaged through her purse to pull out a pen and piece of paper. She quickly jotted down her number as if in fear of her life if she were to not. She slid it over to him, her fingers still pressing the other end of the paper.

Cloud grabbed the paper, but not without lightly grazing her hand in a slightly suggestive manner. Gasping she pulled her hand back and blushed. He smirked enjoying her response. He got up to walk away, but not without turning back to look at her once more. As if she was just a figment of his imagination.

"Well look who decided to return. So who's the dollface, I see you've got a number." Kamazaki flashed a smile.

"Hn." He nodded. "She interests me." Cloud glanced back at her, to see that she was taking her leave. But even as she did, she continued to glance at him. Could it be that she also felt a pull towards him? He wanted to know more about her that much was for sure.

"Who is she though?" The older man was still curious as ever.

"I guess I'll find out."

- 15 Days Later In Midgar -

This was ridiculous it had been the 15th day and still no word from Cloud. Even on his longest of trips he had the decency to at least check up on her and the kids. She told herself if not for her sake, then at least for Denzel and Marlene's sake. Those two were even beginning to worry. Granted they weren't exactly kids anymore. Denzel was turning 21 soon and Marlene in her early teenage years, not too far behind Denzel. But regardless Tifa took them in when they were only children and that image refused to leave Tifa.

She picked up her cell phone and decided to call him. For once having the confidence to at least question his distant nature. She realized long ago that their nightly affairs were insignificant to even discuss. A heated blush donned her cheeks, remembering his passionate ways with her when the doors were shut and the sun was hidden. But this was just ridiculous, was he okay even. She was starting to get worried. The worry wart that she was, even in knowing that it was not likely that anything human or not could harm his mako makeup, yet she couldn't help but think of the worse.

She heard the dial tone ring once and go straight to voicemail. 'What the hell?' She called again, maybe it was just bad reception. This time it immediately went to voicemail. By this point her negative thinking had her fearing the worst. She called again. This time she decided to leave voicemail. "Cloud this is Tifa, I'm calling to ask about you. Is everything okay? We're all starting to get worried. Please call me back when you get the chance."

A second later a text came, reading: "I am busy. I'll call you later."

Tifa sighed in relief at least he was okay. Maybe he was busy with another client. It could be possible he got new work while he was away.

A few hours later…

Denzel walked in, "Hey Tifa I'm going to be going out tonight to Monty's Inn. A bunch of my friends are taking me out… is that okay with you?" Denzel wasn't going to originally add that last part in, normally he could just tell Tifa his plans and as long as they weren't dangerous she allowed him to do his own bidding without interference. But he noticed the slumped form over by the windowsill, perched on a large bean chair. Something he had bought for her birthday present 2 years back. She looked so tiny to him now. The same woman, who had mothered him into the man that he was now- was so petite next to his 5'11 frame and he couldn't help but feel a wave of emotions for her. With the strongest one being his overprotective concern. He walked over towards her. "Hey… is everything alright?"

She looked at him with surprise written into her tear-glazed eyes. "Oh Denzel! Sorry, didn't know you had been calling for me. It seems lately I seem to be doing that a lot." She looked so helpless, Denzel started to feel another emotion. One he felt too often when he saw Tifa like this. Anger. "Tifa… are you upset that Cloud has been gone for so long?"

Tifa looked away. "Denzel, I'm just being silly sitting here and getting myself all sad. Nothing is wrong with me I promise!" With forced enthusiasm, Tifa wiped at her eyes and gave him a watery smile. Denzel's heart broke.

He wrapped her into his arms and engulfed the smaller frame of his pseudo mother. She was only a few years older than him and quite frankly had not aged a bit, but she was the closest thing he had to a mother, ever. His face hardened, he would not let her cry like this. Tifa slowly pulled away from Denzel. "I'm fine Denzel I promise." She cleared her throat.

"Tifa tell me the truth, why are you upset like this?" Denzel stared into her face, as if searching for telltale signs of any truth to why she would be so upset.

"Cloud called me back a little while ago, he said he would not be returning for another few days. But that when he would, he would be bringing someone back. He met someone there…" She gave Denzel another watery smile. Denzel stared at Tifa, there had been countless times she broke down as a blubbering mess because of Cloud's aloof ways but this time even he could not excuse the anger he felt for the older man. Was the man stupid? He had a woman who adored him, doting on his every move and yet he decided to find someone else? He shook his head not really understanding, not really wanting to.

"Perhaps you misunderstood Tifa, maybe it's just a guest. A client that he's doing a favor?" Denzel despite all tried to offer Tifa different insight.

She stayed quiet. How could she tell Denzel, that Cloud outright told her to keep their sexual tirades in the dark because he was bringing over a girl? A girl that Cloud cared about enough to hide that implicative detail from. How could she tell Denzel, that he outright told her to never indicate that there was ever any illegitimate relationship between them? She really had been deduced to a mere closet prostitute of Cloud's past now. Not that she wanted to disclose her intimate matters with all, but was she really that much of an embarrassment that he could not bear to mention them to this new girl he was bringing over. This new girl, who in supposedly such short time won over the ice prince himself. A feat she could not accomplish even in the past 7 years. She bit her lip and physically shook her head as if to rid her self of such thoughts.

Denzel hopelessly stared at her tormented actions. "Tifa, please… you can do better than this…" Denzel left the statement open ended, he did not elaborate. But he knew she was aware of what he meant.

"Promise me, you won't worry over me Denzel. I'm fine, go. You're keeping your friends waiting." Tifa smiled at him and tousled his brown hair. A gesture she always did.

"I'm not leaving you, until you promise yourself that you will do better for yourself. You don't need this Tifa… I don't want to see you hurt like this, it kills me inside." He looked down, defeated and somewhat embarrassed that was so affected by her intimate matters with Cloud.

"Oh Denzel!" She grabbed the young man and pressed his frame to hers, his head to against her heart. The move was somewhat awkward considering his build was so much bigger now than it was as a child. But it was an innocent act, one that a mother would only do. "If you want to make me happy, at least please go enjoy the rest of your night. You're only here for a few days… It will make me happier knowing you're enjoying yourself." She smiled at him again. "Please?"

Denzel gave her an unsure boyish grin. "Alright, but only if that's what you really want. You sure you want me to leave you be. At least promise me you'll think about something happier to divert your thoughts." Denzel grabbed her hands for emphasis.

"I promise you I will." Tifa pulled her hand from his and saluted him. Making the young man laugh. Denzel mock saluted back.

"Okay young lady, you behave now. Call me if you need anything while I'm out or even if you want me to come home. I'm only one phone call away." He gave her a mock fatherly stare and gave her a kiss on her forehead. He turned to leave.

"Denzel…thank you." Tifa truly was grateful that he cared as much as he did.

Denzel looked at her and gave her a genuine smile. One he all too often gave Tifa in the midst of growing up. One reserved only for her, his mother Tifa.

After Denzel left Tifa decided to follow up on her word and busy herself with something other than Cloud Strife. Although she couldn't help but muse over the fact that she wished with all her heart that one day Cloud could say something even remotely close to what Denzel had.

She sighed. Yuffie was right. Denzel was right. She needed to stop. And besides before she knew it these next few days were going to pass and Cloud and his new object of affection would be here. A feeling of anxiousness filled her. A new and foreign feeling passed through her surprising her; she felt a part of her itching to let go of Cloud. The man she secretly considered hers.

'I'll let you go Cloud, if that's what you truly want. But you must let go of your hold over me too.' Tifa thought to her self. She wasn't going to allow him to use her in anyway. In the past she let him have his way because she found it impossible to say no. It was important that she mustn't.

"It's only fair." Tifa spoke out loud to no one in particular. Now all she had to do was believe it.