"Well, Ms. Lockhart, you've managed to make a full recovery. Your liver function is normal and your body seems to have fully adjusted to the mako. As long as you're careful, you'll be just fine."
Tifa relaxed her grip on Cloud's hand. "Thanks, doctor."
"You're welcome; now, I'm going to head back to Midgar and spend Christmas Eve with the family. You all have a Merry Christmas."
"You too, doctor; and thank you," the blonde swordsman thanked the doctor and showed him to the door while Tifa laid back on the bed.
Downstairs, the rest of the group was busy decorating. Cid and Barrett had just gotten back early that morning and were helping Jeeves bring the alcohol back up from the basement. Yuffie and Vincent, who had opted to stay the entire year with Cloud and Tifa, were hanging up decorations.
In the center of the rec room was a huge Christmas tree. Cloud, Tifa, Vincent, and Yuffie had spent a good portion of the previous day decorating it. It was full of white lights, and the ornaments were all either silver or golden in color. It made for a really nice look and Cloud found himself captivated by it.
Cloud placed his hand in his pocket and fingered the small velvet box he had hidden. "This would be the perfect place to do it."
The ex ShinRa guard nearly jumped out of his skin. Tifa had snuck up behind him.
"What's in your pocket?"
Cloud looked down at his pants and noticed the box did make a noticeable bulge. "Ah, hahaha, nothing; how about a drink to celebrate your bill of clean health?"
Tifa frowned. "Cloud, I just got over my alcoholism; I don't want to celebrate that by drinking."
Cloud's mood was instantly shot down. He had let that out just by instinct, trying to change the subject. "Sorry Teef. How about we go help everyone get ready for the party? You've already made sure everyone's coming, right?"
"Yeah; we've only got to set the food out. Then, of course, I have to change into my dress."
Cloud's eyes went foggy as the daydream started. He remembered seeing the dress Tifa was talking about. It was a nice, skimpy, short, white dress. He had seen her try it on with Yuffie when they ventured over to the city one afternoon and he'd had to restrain himself from jumping onto her. Over the past year they had been at the house, Cloud and Tifa's relationship had grown by leaps and bounds, but they still hadn't joined in the biblical sense, but Cloud had a feeling that wasn't far off.
Cloud snapped out of his daydream. "Yeah, sorry Tifa, I'll grab the tables and you go check on the food."
Cloud watched Tifa walk into the kitchen. Truth be told, he was amazed at her, how she had overcome everything this past year. She hadn't had one relapse since the first incident the night they arrived. She had helped him overcome his depression, and he had helped her battle her addiction. Together they made each other happier than they ever thought possible, and it was only getting better.
Thinking along those lines, Cloud started to smile. The memories they shared over the past year easily put him in a good mood, and the thought of living the rest of his life like the past year, with Tifa by his side, made it seem like paradise.
That's when it hit him. "It's time." Fingering the velvet box in his hand, Cloud started to go over the words in his head, waiting in anticipation of the Christmas party.
Later That Evening…
The house was filled with new life as the guests started to arrive. First to show up was Cait Sith along with Red XIII. Cid had gone to pick up his wife, and his new daughter Saferia. Barrett also made a quick trip to pick up Marlene and Denzel, who were overjoyed to see Cloud and Tifa again. Soon after, Rufus showed up with Reno, Rude, and Elena and joined in on the party.
The festivities were going along as planned, but Cloud noticed Tifa seemed a bit uncomfortable. He walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist, whispering in her ear, "What's wrong?"
Tifa sighed. "I was hoping a friend of mine would make it, but it doesn't look like he's going to show up."
Before Cloud could answer, the doorbell rang. Jeeves answered it and a young man accompanied by a woman around the same age walked in. Tifa locked eyes with the man and got excited. Forgetting about her predicament she ran and hugged the man.
"Jake! I was beginning to think you weren't coming!"
Jake looked over at his girlfriend, who seemed a little annoyed at the attention Tifa was giving him. Cloud didn't seem to care, though, already knowing who the man was. He walked up to them.
"You must be Jake."
Jake let go of Tifa and extended his hand to Cloud. "You must be Cloud Strife. Tifa's told me a lot about you."
"I can say the same about you. I can't thank you enough for being there for her while I was gone."
Jake smiled. "As long as you take good care of her, don't worry about it." Jake wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. "Besides, I'm settling down next month. This is my fiancé, Cheryl."
Tifa looked at Cheryl's hand and admired her ring. "Oh, it's so pretty. Congratulations! I'm very happy for you both."
Cheryl's mood softened at Tifa's kind words. "Thanks. Is there anything to drink around here?"
Jake visibly stiffened. He leaned down to whisper in Cheryl's ear, but Tifa cut him off. "There's some eggnog I made up in the rec room. Put a lot of Southern Comfort in there so it should warm you up."
Tifa noticed Jake's look towards her. "Its alright, Jake, the doctor cleared me, I have no intention of going back to a 24 hour drunk." Tifa grabbed Cloud. "Not with this guy around."
Cloud kept his arms around Tifa and looked to Jake and Cheryl. "Well, join the party; now that everyone's here we get officially get it started."
The kids were running around playing with Red XIII and Cait Sith, Cid was playing a heated game of Halo with Barrett, and Vincent and Yuffie were chatting with Reno and Elena, who happened to be the newest couple on the block. Tifa mainly stayed with Cloud, but broke off later on to talk with Cheryl. Cloud didn't notice when Rufus snuck up behind him.
"So, you're going to pop the question tonight, Cloud?"
Cloud jumped and quickly spun around to meet the President's gaze. "Am I that easy to see through?"
"No, this just seemed to be the prefect time. Why not now?"
Cloud felt his heart beat faster. "Now?"
"Of course now; afterwards I have an early Christmas gift for you, but seeing as your having a little trouble here, I'll help you along." Rufus hit a button on a remote, ending the music. Tapping his spoon against his glass he got everyone's attention. "Thank you everyone. Mr. Strife here has an announcement."
Cloud wanted to just disappear as all eyes locked onto him. He turned to glare at Rufus, but the ShinRa president had a huge grin spread across his face. Cloud knew now there was no turning back.
"Tifa, could you come here please?"
Confused, the raven-haired girl met Cloud in front of the large Christmas tree. Cloud held her hands and looked straight into her eyes, avoiding the gaze of the crowd, too scared it would make him nervous. "Everyone, this past year hasn't been easy for Tifa or myself. We had a bunch of things to overcome. Tifa battling to beat her addiction to alcohol, and I was dealing with a huge case of depression."
Cloud found the courage to leave Tifa's eyes and look around the crowd. "But this past year as we've been recovering has been like paradise for me, and I know I owe all my friends for that feeling, but I also know without Tifa it would have been meaningless."
Cloud slowly got down on one knee and Tifa turned bright red. Tears started to fall from her eyes as Cloud stared up at her. He reached into his pocket and retrieved the velvet box. "Tifa, this past year with you has been the best year of my life, and I want the rest of my life to stay this way, with you." Cloud opened the box and presented it to Tifa. "Tifa Lockhart, will you marry me?"
"Yes!" Tifa covered her mouth realizing she had spoken a little too loud. Everyone smiled; she removed her hands from her mouth a little more in control. "Yes, Cloud."
Cloud took her in her arms and, ignoring everyone else at the party, kissed her as passionately as possible. Hoots and hollers erupted from the party guests as the couple continued there public display of affection.
Later on, once the excitement had calmed down and everyone had had a chance to congratulate Tifa and Cloud on their engagement, the party had continued. Tifa and Cloud both had a couple cups of spiked eggnog and were feeling a little more inclined to join the party mood. Yuffie had had one too many and Vincent was trying to talk her out of dancing on the bar in her skimpy Santa outfit. Unfortunately, Yuffie then revealed to the party guests the outfit she was wearing was a gift for Vince because he had a fetish for having sex with girls in Santa outfits. After Cid and Barrett's laughter had calmed down, everyone gathered around the tree to exchange presents.
Cloud kept Tifa close to him, not wanting to let go for anything. Tifa just kept playing with the diamond ring on her finger, the excitement still causing butterflies in her stomach. Cloud's touch had her on Cloud Nine as she sat there and let her mind wander into a fantasy daydream of her future with her childhood sweetheart.
Cloud was also playing through a fantasy in his head until someone tapped him on the shoulder. With an annoyed sigh, Cloud turned to meet the offender and was surprised to see Reno looking a little embarrassed.
"Wanted to say congrats on you two getting engaged and all."
Cloud was confused. It wasn't like Reno to be so… normal. "Thanks."
"Yeah... boss wants to see ya, too."
Disappointed he'd have to leave his love's side, he gently pushed her forward and stood up.
"Just got to go talk to Rufus." Cloud kissed her. "I'll be right back."
Tifa smiled. "Hurry back."
Walking behind Reno, Cloud was lead into the main dining area where Rufus was chatting with Jeeves. Beside them was a suit covered in plastic. Cloud was dreading this, he hated to dress up.
"Cloud! Congratulations!" Rufus faked a surprise.
"Yeah, and thanks for your help." The sarcasm oozed off of Cloud's words.
"Think nothing of it. Now, for you to help me, I'd like to announce to everyone my new Chief of Security to everyone."
Cloud was confused when he saw Rufus smile. Reno picked up the suit and pulled off the plastic cover. Cloud nearly gagged. It was a military style suit with emblems, patches, tassels, and everything all over it. Reno and Rude both had smiles plastered on their faces. Rufus had his hand under his chin, studying the suit. "I'm getting another one made up, but I was able to have this one tailored to your size for your announcement tonight."
"Oh Cloud, yes way. Especially after that three million gil bonus you received."
Cloud sighed and grabbed the suit. He walked into the bathroom to change and could hear Reno chuckling through the door.
Rufus stood in the center of the party and tapped his glass with a fork once again calling the guest's attention.
"Thank you. I'm afraid this time my news isn't quite as exciting as an engagement, but nonetheless it's still important. As you all know, throughout the world we've been having trouble with renegade groups. As the head of ShinRa, I've had countless requests for strengthened security at our cities. As some of you might have heard, we recently had an attack on Junon last week."
Behind Rufus, a screen descended. A projector showed a picture of a human-like being that was grotesquely mutated. A gasp echoed through the room. Rufus signaled for everyone to quiet down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I didn't come here to scare you. Quite the opposite, because tonight I'll be introducing the first step to our solution."
The creature on the screen slowly transformed back into a human. "Through our research with Mako, we have been able to design a process to take these mutated humans, remove the Mako from their bodies, and turn them back into their former selves. Mind you, this technology is still in its infant stages, but we have been able to use these mutants that we have captured for research purposes. Keep in mind, we are not experimenting on live people; these mutants were killed in order to keep the peace."
Barret raised his hand. "So you aint try'n to start no more shit like that crazy ass Hojo?"
Rufus sighed. "Professor Hojo is perhaps the biggest black spot the ShinRa corporation. In dealing with these mutants, we have no other alternative but to kill them. We can't hold them in conventional cells, and through the research we've found that without a supply of Mako, their bodies start to degenerate. Eventually they suffer extreme organ failure and die off."
Cid now had a question. "So how exactly are ya creepy bastards in research trying to deal with this?"
"Our researchers while discovering our newest type of power supply known as fusion power stumbled across an interesting fact: Fusion power actually acts as a counter balance to Mako power. The fusion power, while environmentally safe to the planet, is almost deadly to Mako cells. It splits the Mako cells down to the point of them being so dilute they don't have an affect anymore. In the case of our mutant friends here, they break down the Mako cells to the point they are passed through the human body and after about a week of carefully monitored recovery, they should return to their human form."
Rufus quickly foresaw the next question. "Yes, I said 'should'. You must realize, whoever out there is subjecting these people to high levels of Mako energy doesn't have any care for their wellbeing and it's extremely hard to undo what they have done. Again, while this process is still in it's infant stages, it is promising to help these victims. With that, I should introduce the next part of my surprise. I'm sure you all here know this man, as he is one of several unique individuals who saved the world more than once in the past few years."
Cloud walked up the stage in his uniform, looking ridiculous. He could hear Cid and Barret snickering from the crowd and instantly felt embarrassed to be on stage; even Rufus was smiling at him. "Please welcome ShinRa's new Chief of Security, Cloud Strife."
A resounding applause filled the large rec room. Cloud felt a little more comfortable especially when he caught his fiancé's smile. He waved to the crowd and sat in a chair near the podium as Rufus continued with his speech.
The party goers had left and the crew was busy cleaning up. Cloud had quickly changed out of the gaudy military uniform the moment he was excused off the stage. He caught Tifa's eye from across the room, but before he could get to her side, Jeeves blocked his path.
"Cloud, President Rufus wanted to speak with you. You as well, Madam Lockheart."
Tifa smiled. "It won't be long before it's Madam Strife, Jeeves."
"And a congratulations to you both. I'm very happy for both of you. Now, if you would follow me, please."
Jeeves led them past the kitchen and dining room towards the rec room where the Gateway Machine was stored. There they found Rufus, Rude, and Reno standing around the machine.
Rufus noticed them entering and motioned for Jeeves to fetch something from the other side of the room. "Cloud, remember when I told you about a present?"
Cloud noticed Jeeves walk up behind Rufus, holding a folder. "I'll warn you, this isn't going to be a delightful surprise, and I haven't been keeping this from you: we were just made aware a few weeks ago. I wanted to confirm it before I brought it to your attention."
Tifa looked over Cloud's shoulder as he was handed the folder and he started to open it. Inside was a cover sheet reading "Jenvoa's Gate Project". As Cloud flipped through the pages he saw images of highly infused human beings, data read outs, reports signed by the infamous Professor Hojo, and other assorted documents. However, when Cloud came to one particular page he froze. "Alex Strife."
"Yes, Cloud: your father. We received a report last week from a group that raided an underground lab that one of those creatures was seen coming out from. That's where we found that folder."
Cloud continued to flip through the pages. Images of various experiments filled the documents. Cloud was disgusted at some of the images: one showed Hojo himself injecting pure mako into a man strapped down to a table.
"I've looked into Hojo's notes and confirmed it. Jenova's Gate was supposed to create a being as powerful as Jenova using the highest possible dosage of Mako in a human body. As you can see, the results are pretty gruesome."
Cloud was clearly shocked. "What about my father?"
"Your father was the first victim Hojo got his hands on. Straight from the Wutain war front, your father was declared dead, but Hojo was able to revive him. He then used your father to test how much Mako the body could handle. Hojo wasn't able to contain him and your father escaped. We know he's alive, but we have no idea where."
"How do you know he's still alive?"
Rufus handed Cloud another folder. "This is your first job as Chief of Security. After learning about these people continuing Hojo's experiments and unleashing these creatures on our towns, I launched Operation Phoenix. We need to track down the labs and people creating these creatures and stop them while containing the creatures at the same time. While you're busy with that, Reeve and the research division are hard at work coming up with a reversal process for this and, hopefully, we can turn these creatures back into the people they once were."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Last week, a man spotted a deformed human-like creature that matched the picture of your father in that file. We can't be sure, but the sketch the artist got from the witness's description was almost a dead-on match."
Tifa grabbed Cloud's hand "So..."
"Yes, Cloud, your father is alive. And if we play our cards right, we can get him back."
You guys have no idea how hard this was to write. I hit a huge writers block and it just seemed nothing could get me though, but some how it happened. Maybe it had to do with me asking out a lesbian on a date, or maybe the awesome Kenny Chesney concert, or maybe just maybe it had to do with the fact I sat down and refused to get up until I finished this. What ever caused it this story is now finished. Want a sequel? GO TO THE MESSAGE BOARD AND VOTE ON IT! Its in the members only section so you'll have to sign up for an ID (Yes its Free!) but the poll is up and running and waiting for ya'll. Big thanks to my BETA Calistar Heir for getting this edited, without her this story might have never been finished!
PS I didn't know the girl was a lesbian when I asked her out, she looked completely normal…and hot…damn that sucks.