(A/N: Well, I thought I'd try my hand at writing Cloud/Tifa and this is what happened. This is from Tifa's PoV, and it's very introspective. If you're wanting light and happy fluff, this isn't it.)
The kids always knew when Cloud arrived home. She looked up from the bar as he walked through the door but they only had time to smile at each other before Marlene and Denzel thundered down the stairs and rushed to greet him. Both flung their arms around his waist, which was as high as they could reach, and Cloud ruffled their hair in turn, saying hello in a quiet voice which was lost amidst the children's excited squeals.
Tifa watched as she dried a glass. Every day that Cloud came home, her heart lifted a little more. And it was the same for the children; they were growing more affectionate and trusting and she knew Cloud liked that even if he wasn't used to the attention. He was good with the children, she thought.
Cloud gently disengaged himself from the children's embrace and, holding both their hands, he walked up to the bar. He leaned down and whispered something to them. Marlene and Denzel nodded, grinning, and headed for the stairs. He sat down on one of the bar stools in front of Tifa. She put down the glass.
"Would you like a drink, Cloud?"
"Give me something hard."
Their eyes met and a little shiver went through her. They shared a memory through that glance – and she noticed Marlene turn and smile at them from the foot of the stairs and wondered if the little girl remembered too. But then Denzel pulled at her hand and the children vanished from sight. Now they were alone in the twilight of the bar. She poured a drink for him.
Cloud drained the fiery liquid in one gulp.
"What did you say to the kids?" she asked.
"I said that if they went away to play in their room and were good and quiet for the rest of the day, we'd take them to the chocobo stables this weekend."
She smiled. They'd been planning to do that anyway – as a surprise. And she knew that Cloud wouldn't let them down now they'd made a promise. He was so, so good with them, she thought. She was finally feeling at last that they were a family, and now that Cloud was here, she wanted…
He looked at her enquiringly. He was still in all his working wear, she saw, with his sword strapped on his back.
"Shouldn't you go and get changed?" she asked.
He ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah… I've had a long day."
"There's – there's something I want to talk to you about. Upstairs." Her heart pounded – why did she feel so nervous? They were secure together now, weren't they?
He shrugged. "All right."
She slipped out from behind the bar and he took her hand without even hesitating or letting her make the first move – oh God, she loved him. Not everybody understood how much a simple gesture like that meant to her. Because Cloud – he was still damaged. His mind had been shattered and she'd helped him put it back together again, but he was still fragile, so fragile; and when the Geostigma hit, it had been like squeezing a thin, cracked egg, and she wanted to hug him, to be there for him, to protect him like a mother bird guarding her nest – but he had pushed her away.
So she was grateful for every step closer he took, every touch and every smile. And all the signs were that he really was healing this time, and that was why she wanted to talk to him now. She wanted to really cement their relationship, make it strong, and repair the cracks that had ruined it before.
The stairs creaked as she followed him up to the room they shared. It was plain, with whitewashed walls, and a single picture hanging above the bed. But the picture meant a lot to her because it showed Cloud, Denzel, Marlene and Tifa herself, happy and together as a family. An image which she hoped reflected reality. She sat down and traced the patterned coverlet on the bed with her finger while Cloud shrugged off his sword and disappeared into the bathroom to wash his face.
She listened, but she couldn't hear Marlene or Denzel in their room. They were being quiet, just like Cloud had told them to. She felt a rush of love for all of them. The room was dark and silent, but she didn't mind the solitude because she knew she wasn't alone. Every day, Cloud came back. The guilt that plagued both of them had lifted and they were moving on. Moving forward. This would be the next step.
Cloud returned from the bathroom, his blond hair slightly mussed. He had removed his shoulder armour, which he dropped next to his sword. Then he stood and looked at her, as if he wasn't sure what to say. She patted the bed next to her, her dark eyes twinkling. He smiled – she loved it when he smiled, it was so hesitant and somehow innocent, like the smile of a baby – and went to sit down next to her. Almost before she knew it, they were kissing – it seemed so natural, for her to tilt her face towards his and for him to wrap his arms around her and for their lips to meet. The kiss was slow and lingering and soft. She remembered how awkward he'd been the first few times, how cold and unresponsive. He was afraid to get close, and she thought she knew why: her poor, damaged Cloud, who had lost those closest to him.
But he was moving on and so was she. And he was close now, so close, his body pressing against hers. Tifa broke off the kiss, her face flushed.
"There's something I want to ask you," she said.
"What?" He noticed that her brow was furrowed and shifted away slightly, taking her hands. His hand passed over the ring on her finger.
"We…" This was harder than she had thought. It all seemed so clear in her mind, but when she tried to put it into words, she stumbled, her tongue tripping over the syllables. "You know Marlene and Denzel… We're – we're like a family now, aren't we?"
He nodded. Encouraged, she went on.
"And – and you're like a father to them. They love you, and it's so great, the four of us, together… But… I was wondering, wouldn't you like to be a real father?" There. She had said it. She bit her lip as Cloud stared at her. She could almost see the cogs turning beneath his spiky hair.
"Do… you want…?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I'm like a mother already to Marlene and Denzel, and, well, I guess it's made me… think. That I'd like my own children. You and me… us." Her mouth trembled as she saw Cloud frown. She squeezed his hands more tightly. "But this is something we can decide together… I mean, if you want to wait a few years, that's okay, or if…" She trailed off. Cloud didn't say anything, and she wondered if it was like this for all couples. No, it probably happened naturally for them – people living normal lives, living together, and then a baby would come along, whether planned or by accident and that was so completely ordinary – but they weren't an ordinary couple. And Cloud hadn't lived a normal life by any stretch of the imagination and she didn't want to force him into anything, if they couldn't make themselves fit into a conventional lifestyle – but damn it, she was a woman and he was a man and they were in love, and wasn't it the most natural thing in the world for a family to come after? Even if the man in question had strange glowing eyes.
Her thoughts were going wild now and she still hadn't got an answer from Cloud, so she took a deep breath and looked at him levelly.
"What do you think?"
He looked away. "I can't."
Two simple words and her heart came crashing down. "What do you mean?" She caught her breath. "You can't, you won't, how do you know?"
He didn't answer, just stared at the floor. She stroked his hand, edged closer so that he was forced to look at her. She gazed into those blue eyes that she loved so much… but right then they were heavy with sorrow.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
"I just… No."
She blinked, holding back sudden tears. Doubts invaded her mind. Questions. Too many questions. She had to ask.
"Tell me – why?"
He seemed to realise then the agony he was causing her because he squeezed her hand, just a little, and he shook his head. "It's not your fault, Tifa. It's me. I have Jenova cells inside me. You don't want my children – they'd be tainted. Tainted with her."
Her eyes widened. "Oh…"
He stood up and went over to the window, his back to her. The moonlight outside silhouetted his figure, its faint silvery glow like a halo around him. "And who knows – the kid might grow up to be like him. I couldn't bring a kid like that into the world."
He's thought about this before, she realised. He's already made his decision. Without me. She wanted to burst out, but what about me? What about my feelings? But no, that would be selfish. She had to think of Cloud.
She looked at him, standing there so silent and stoic. He thought he was being noble, sacrificing his own interests. But he wasn't. He was still a kid, a selfish kid. And again he was hurting her out of love and he hadn't even considered discussing this with her first.
"So that's it, then," she said, her voice trembling. She couldn't make herself shout. She kept all the anger locked up inside her. Later tonight, she would need an hour with the punch bag.
He half-turned and regarded her. "I'm sorry, Tifa."
That was it. They were playing at happy families, with pretend children and pretend lifestyles and the picture on the wall was a lie after all. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. He was so gentle and she loved him so much: her stupid, stubborn, beautiful man. He wanted her to be happy and he was making her unhappy and he hated that and she knew he would beat himself up for it so she had to smile. And smile she did: bright, cheerful Tifa, always smiling.
Then she heard the creak of the stairs and Marlene calling. Her pseudo-family needed her.
"I'm coming!" she called. She stood up. Marlene was waiting outside the bedroom for her. Tifa took the little girl's hand and they went downstairs together, to make a family meal. She sensed the shadow behind her that was Cloud, following, and she wondered how much it had cost him to tell her. And then she wondered if he knew how much it had cost her to keep up that smile. Her mouth trembled. But she did it.
(A/N: As far as I know, none of this contradicts canon, but it is possible that the entire premise of this story is mistaken. Perhaps when Cloud's Geostigma was cured, all the Jenova cells were wiped from his body. Perhaps even if they weren't, the Jenova cells won't be passed on genetically, as they may not be part of his DNA. But I still thought it was an interesting possibility to explore.
Thanks for reading. Reviews are much appreciated.)