All right! Here is the end of Puppy Love, I hope you all enjoyed my little ficlet, sorry it took so long for me to finish! There are a few mild spoilers of Crisis Core, nothing explicit, but I'm warning you anyway! All copyright applies, and I hope you all enjoyed this little journey! Read my other stories!
Epilogue: The Buster Blade
Tifa's 26th Birthday, one year later…
A large truck pulled up the dusty trail; the brunette woman inside held the tiny bundle in her arms as her husband drove. The old vehicle wasn't ideal for a family, with their adoptive son having to move every time his father shifted gears. The mother had to hold their baby close, being careful not to jostle the small being too much. They'd waited three months for the little one to be ready for the journey, and even though it wasn't far to go, it was important nonetheless. Tifa Strife smiled softly as the little raven-haired baby gazed up at her with mako washed blue eyes. "Zack's awake," she said softly, looking over to the blond driver.
Cloud nodded a bit and smiled, "we're almost there, just hang in a bit longer Denzel." The boy nodded and reached up to take the tiny hand of his baby brother, smiling softly as he did. The barmaid looked at her three men with more then a little pride, her family was beautiful and she couldn't be any happier.
"You don't think it's going to be too hot for him, do you?"
The swordsman shook his head, "no, he'll be fine Teef, don't worry so much. He's got you to take care of him, and we won't be long." He rounded the corner and stopped, putting the green pickup in park. "It's walking from here," he announced and the little family piled out of the car.
"Why didn't Marlene come Cloud?"
The father looked down at his adopted son, "now that Barret and Elmyra are married, she's going to stay most of the time with her father… but don't worry, you'll see her soon." The teen started to walk with Cloud, Tifa taking Zack and walking just behind them. It didn't take long at all to reach their destination, and the group stood on a cliff that the swordsman knew very well. A rusty sword was there, sticking out of the ground.
Cloud lead them closer, and he put his hand on the hilt of the Buster Blade, his glove gripping the hilt with a comfortable familiar feeling. "Zack…" he spoke to his best friend, a small, sad smile tugging at his lips. "I'm not the only proof you existed anymore, Tifa and I, we named our son after you. He's strong, and I know that he will grow up to be someone we all can be proud of." He glanced over at Denzel and Tifa, his eyes then going to the little blue bundle that was surprisingly quiet. Then he turned back to the wind. "This is where you died, this is where you passed your life to me. You left me all your pride and dreams…" He pulled the sword out of the ground and held it up in front of his face, bowing his head a bit.
"I wanted to give you a gravestone, but I realize now, how wrong I was. This sword was an extension of your arm, it was your pride, your weapon, and I left it here to rust. Even though it was a sword, a tool of war, it was never like that for you. It didn't deserve to be left here to rot, you are gone and there is nothing the sword can do for you here." He spun it around his head then clipped it to his back, his face was clear of all guilt, replaced by something much more beautiful. Cloud was in love, with his wife, with his family… and with life. "I'm going to restore your pride Zack, and the dreams you gave up for me, and I'm going to give them to the next generation, who will grow hearing your stories. You will live again, through us."
Cloud closed his eyes and felt calm, his heart was free and unburdened, and when he turned to look at Tifa, she was smiling radiantly with tears in her eyes. "Come on, let's go home…" They all turned to leave, but the little baby giggled, reaching up to touch something that wasn't there. The swordsman felt a cool wind pull through that smelled of rain and lilies.
Perhaps their lost friends had come to see baby Zack, and it made Cloud's heart swell. He walked up to Tifa and placed a soft kiss on her lips, being careful of the small bundle. "I love you."
The bartender gave him a beautiful smile, "and I love you… I always will."
Tifa's 42nd birthday, 16 years later…
Yuffie Valentine let out a sigh as she ran her hand through her hair. "Tifa, do you dye your hair? I'm four years younger then you, and I'm starting to get gray in mine!" The ninja tucked a piece with three gray hairs behind her ear to try and cover it up.
The birthday girl laughed a bit and shrugged, "I figured by now I'd be white haired, with all the stress Cloud is always putting me under. And now Zack and Aaron are just as bad, and Angel is following in their foot steps."
The Lady of Wutai nodded, tugging at her red kimono, "yeah I know what you mean. Hades is rather smitten with Zeppelin, he's always running off, you know Yuki is always training, I don't know how many materia I've mastered healing that girl, and well Lazarus… he stays inside, he still hasn't out grown his asthma. I won't even mention Vince…"
They both looked over as boot falls came around the corner, the Lord of Wutai rising an eyebrow to his wife. He'd long ago gotten rid of his claw, but Cerberus was still on his hip. He was in red nobles robes and hakama, his bronze shoes replaced with normal black ones. His headband was gone, and his hair was free, nearly falling to his knees, and a white stripe colored the front of his hair and his temples. He looked older then Yuffie now; biologically he was eight years older then his wife since he'd lost Chaos all those years ago. He'd aged like the rest of them; but Yuffie certainly didn't seem to mind.
The Empress tugged on her black obi a bit to put it back in place, then hopped up, going over to her husband and hugging him around the middle. "Have you been watching Yuki again? She's sixteen, she's going to like boys you know."
Strong arms encircled her and the man shook his head, "I was watching Zack and Aaron training."
Tifa frowned a bit, "the party is going to start, and they are going to get dirty again! Did Cloud start this?"
Vincent shook his head, "Cloud is picking up the cake, and it was Denzel."
The bartender nodded and got up, wincing a bit as her hip popped. "Let me tell you, getting old is no fun." She walked toward the back yard, intent on telling the playful teens and their older brother to knock it off. Denzel was about to turn thirty, which was kind of shocking, and his younger brothers were sixteen and fourteen respectively. Angel and Aaron were twins, and while Zack looked a lot more like a mix of the two parents, Angel looked almost exactly like her, and Aaron the spitting image of Cloud. She opened the door and saw that most of Avalanche's children were out here, and the handsome and married Denzel was being the referee. The three Valentine kids, the two Highwinds, Barret and Elmyra's other adopted daughter, who was holding hands with Reeve's son, and her own daughter were ringing a chalk outline on the driveway.
Tifa glanced over as Cloud walked up; he looked almost the same, except for the few lines of white that highlighted the front of his spiky hair. He had a few smile lines around his eyes, but the frown creases were nowhere to be found. The bartender felt that that was probably one of her greatest accomplishments. He was wearing a white button up dress shirt and black jeans, his combat boots were worn at the toes but he just wouldn't get rid of them. The swordsman had Tsurugi on his back, and he approached the boys. "It's your mother's birthday."
Zack gripped his sword, the refurbished Buster Blade, and frowned at his dad. "It's still just a day, Mom wouldn't care. I have to train, if I'm going to be strong like you someday."
Aaron shook his blond head, his hair was just as wild as his father's, if not more, and the younger brother sighed. "That's all he thinks about Dad! Train… train… train… it's getting annoying!" The boy put his sword, Cloud's old Rune Blade, on his back and crossed his arms. "I want to talk to our friends we never get to see."
Cloud nodded and patted his youngest son on the shoulder, taking his place in the make shift circle. "Aaron, take Angel and get the cake out of the car." He pulled his blade from his back and smiled a bit at his son. "So, your Mom's birthday is just some other day? If training is so important, fight me."
Zack's eyes got big, his father had never offered to spare with him, and barely did with Denzel. "You never will fight me Dad, why now?"
"I'll have you know, that your mother's birthday is a very important day to this whole family, especially for me." He got into his ready stance, not backing down at the boy's nervous expression.
Denzel chuckled a bit, "you brought it on yourself Zack. You know all that's happened on and around Mom's birthday."
Zack frowned more and jumped into action, and Tifa was rather surprised that the boy was as fast, if not faster then Cloud himself. But the legendary swordsman had one thing that Zack had not found, experience. He easily blocked every attack his teenage son could throw, and it only to one, powerful swing to toss the Buster Blade away from the youth, and he watched as it stuck in the dirt blade up, clear on the other side of the spectators. "Dad, that hurt," he mumbled, his pride more then a little tarnished, especially in front of Yuki Valentine.
Cloud walked over and pulled the blade from the dirt, and held it up for his son to see. "You don't deserve to wield this blade, unless you know what it's for. Do you know what my sword is for?"
"Yeah," he said it like it was obvious, "to fight."
The older man shook his head, "it's to protect. This," he looked the blade over, "is your pride. Your pride as a man, as a warrior, it is not a toy. Your namesake gave this to me; it was his dying wish that I carry on his dreams. It is my dream to see you carry it and protect those you love with it. If you do not, then I admit I should have left it rusting on that cliff." He pointed the blade down, resting it on the ground and held the hilt out for his son to take.
Zack stepped up and gingerly reached out for it, then nodded, "you're right Dad, I'm sorry I shamed you, and your best friend. Will you teach me what it is to be a warrior, and not a boy with a sword?"
Cloud nodded and smiled a bit, ruffling his hair and handing the sword back over to his son. "I will, and I won't go easy on you either."
The teen grinned and nodded, putting the sword on his back. "I wouldn't expect you too!" He ran off with the other teens, running past Tifa with a grin. They all went into the bar, leaving Denzel and Cloud standing in the driveway for a moment alone.
"Dad, I wanted to talk to you about something."
The blond raised an eyebrow and looked to his son, nodding. "I doubt I'll be any better then your mother, but I'll try."
"Well, how did you handle it when Mom told you she was pregnant the first time?"
Cloud raised an eyebrow, but smiled a bit, "I was speechless, and if a stiff breeze had gone by, I would have blown over. I can't remember feeling so happy and terrified at the same time."
Denzel nodded, "good, then when Marlene says that I'm weird, I can say I come by it honestly." The swordsman blinked, not getting the meaning at first, until his eldest son grinned and clapped his dad on the shoulder. "You're going to be a grandfather, in about six months. Mom already knows, but she said I had to tell you."
Cloud smiled and nodded, hugging Denzel tight, "congratulations, I know you've both been trying for along time for a baby. You can use that Ultima Blade I gave you to protect Marlene and your child now, I'm proud of you." The other man nodded with a wide smile and misty eyes, and started inside, only to be replaced with a certain birthday girl.
"Surprised?" Tifa giggled a bit and wrapped her arms around Cloud's waist, giving him a squeeze. He just nodded a bit and kissed her gently. The barmaid smiled again and looked into his amazing eyes. "Are you happy Cloud?"
The man stood there for a moment, reflecting on the question. To think, all this had started with him picking out a little dog, and even though Heaven had died the year before, he still credited that little fluff ball with all of this. If he hadn't wanted to make Tifa's twenty-fifth birthday the best he could, then he never would have had the courage to do any of this. He nodded, looking into her bright eyes… all right so maybe he still would have, it just would have taken longer. "Yes, I can say truthfully, that when you found me in Midgar all those years ago, I never imagined being this happy. Thank you… and happy birthday." He pulled a small box out of his pocket and opened it for this treasure of a wife, and over all the noise of the party, Tifa's beautiful laughter was heard.FIN