Only rated T due to some things shouldn't be read by those who are impressionable, plus minor language…

Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII…that privilege belongs to SquareEnix (lucky bastards – hey, a lot of you are thinking the same thing)…

Setting: sometime after Advent Children but before Dirge of Cerberus at Seventh Heaven…and Cloud and Tifa are already getting tipsy…

One Step Closer…

By SilverSquiggly

"If everything was simple...then it wouldn't be life, I guess."

"But life is simple...It's people that make it complicated."

"It's those same people who make life more enjoyable."

"It's all a double-edged sword." Cloud downs the drink that Tifa had just poured for him. "Live alone and just be content, never having to know true happiness or sorrow...or let people in and experience all there is whether it's pain or pleasure.

"Part of me understands, but the other part is still trying to figure out what you said." Tifa follows suit with her own drink. "It's quiet around here. Kind of relaxing." Although deep down inside she did miss the kids. She did not, however, miss all of her drunken patrons. "But I don't see why Barrett had to take the kids away."

"I thought Barrett told us to talk about something besides them or our jobs."

Tifa just crosses her arms and pouts, "I still don't know why he thought we needed some 'alone time'."

"Dunno. Maybe he thought we just needed a weekend to unwind."

"Unwind from what? Marlene and Denzel aren't exactly hellions, you know. And as for my customers, it's nothing I can't handle."

"Maybe he just wanted an excuse to take them out for awhile. After all, he hasn't been able to spend that much time with her, and where she goes Denzel is sure to follow. Now stop talking about them. We've known each other for how long...Is that all we can talk about now? Kids and work?"

Tifa just sighs in defeat. "When you're right, you're right."

"I know." Just as that remark left his mouth he sees Tifa's hand heading for the back of his head. He quickly ducks then jumps over the bar.

"Hey, that's sacred territory! Get out from behind my bar!" As she begins to stand, she is handed two shot glasses and some rum. With a confused look on her face she questions him, "What exactly are you planning to do?"

He jumps back over to his seat on the other side. "I have an idea."

"Oh boy. Your ideas have a tendency of backfiring when you've been drinking."

"Just hear me out. This game is an original, made up by Zack himself." Tifa's eyebrow rises as he went on. "It's a drinking game, of course, so that's why I had to go into your 'sacred territory'. The origin of the game happened during my training days for SOLDIER. The group I was in, which Zack was in charge of at the time, had some down time, but we weren't allowed out of the barracks for reasons no man should ever say. Now everyone had known each other for quite some time so there wasn't much we didn't know about each other. Then again, everyone did have their secrets, and Zack decided to make up a game to get those secrets out in the open. We would try to tell everyone something that we think that they didn't know. If they didn't know the secret, they'd have to take a drink. If they did know, they didn't drink. And the more we drank the looser our tongues would get. The last one to pass out was the winner. It was a game to see not only how well you knew everyone, but how well everyone knew you."

"But what if they said they knew but in all actuality didn't really know just so they didn't have to drink or said they didn't know just to have a drink? Or what if the person was telling a lie just to have everyone drink?"

"It's a game of honesty and trust. If you can't be honest then people aren't going to trust you. If people can't trust you then how are you supposed to fight together?"

"I guess that might work..."

"To tell you the truth, I questioned Zack's game too. Then he told me it like this, 'who cares, cuz whoever passes out first is going to wake up looking pretty, plus it's another way to get plastered'."


"That was his reason for the game. Just to have some fun and get the guys to forget about being on lock down." Cloud looks at her with a serious expression and leans in close. "So Tif, can you handle telling me your inner most secrets or are you going to make an excuse to run away? If you can't though, I'll understand."

Tifa can't help but feel trapped under his gaze. They did know a lot about each other already so they were going to have to tell each other their most embarrassing and inner most secrets. The challenge was called and she answered, "I can handle it, Strife. Bring it on."

There is no turning back for either of them now. Neither party would back down. Cloud speaks up, "I guess since this is my idea I'll go first. Remember the night when we all went to the Gold Saucer and had to stay at the Ghost Hotel..."


"Well Barret forced me to go on a date with him." Tifa can't keep a straight face, but not for the reason Cloud thinks. "Go ahead and laugh, just when you're done don't forget to drink."

"I'm sorry, Cloud...I can't do that." He looks at her with an inquisitive expression. "Well this is my secret, and it will explain why I can't drink to that." After she catches her breath she speaks, "That night at the Gold Saucer, Aerith, Yuffie, and I met up and decided to have some fun. We convinced Barret to ask you on a date. We already tried to convince Vincent, but he just ignored us. Then we tried to find Cid, but he was caught up in the Chocobo Races. We had to 'persuade' him a little, but he eventually gave in."

"And just how did you 'persuade' him?"

"He was locked in his room with Yuffie until he gave in to our demands. Then we watched your magical date unfold before our very eyes."

"That's too cruel...for both him and me. No wonder he didn't look like he was having fun." Cloud picks up his drink, "Down the hatch." Cloud decides to change his strategy or he would end up losing to her. "My turn. When I was training to be in SOLDIER, Zack and I put a snake in our commander's sleeping bag without ever being caught."

Tifa can only scowl to his statement as she drinks her shot. The tables have turned. She had no idea what happened during his training days and he knew it. So she says the first thing that came to mind that she managed to hide from everyone in her "family". "I flashed Reno."

Cloud can only sit there and stare at her with his mouth hanging open. After a few moments he drinks the shot and manages to get a single, brainless word out of his mouth, "Huh?"

"The kids were away with Barret, and he decided to stop in for a drink that night. After awhile he was drunk and kept running his mouth on how my boobs weren't real. Then the whole bar got in on it. I was starting to lose my temper. He told me if I could prove that they were real then he'd kiss Rude. So I lifted up my shirt and started to explain the difference between silicon breasts and mine. It wasn't for long, but it ended up feeling like an eternity because everyone went silent. After I put my top down everyone started cheering, and Reno frenched Rude. For the rest of the night people were buying drinks for them both and tipping me way better than usual." The shade of bright red fills Tifa face.

With the drinks starting to take their affect, they try to duel each other with their stories. "I'll see your flashing story, and raise you a streaking story. I went streaking around Midgar."

"Eh? When was this?"

"Again, during my SOLDIER training days. We were allowed out for the holidays. Later that night, I lost a bet to Zack and had to go streaking in the Sector 7 slums."

"What bet was that?"

"It was stupid."

"What was? Tell me." Tifa leans in closer to him, giving him puppy-dog eyes. "Pleease."

"You didn't drink your shot." Tifa grabs it and swallows without any problem while keeping her eyes on Cloud waiting for an answer. He looks away from her and spits out, "I couldn't get a date before the end of the night, and he was able to."

"You couldn't get a date? I mean, I knew you were shy when it came to the opposite sex, but still."

"It was my first New Year's Eve away from home. He said that we needed someone to kiss at midnight. I didn't want to go along with it so he decided to make a bet out of it. I just wasn't trying hard enough because I knew I would never find anyone that I wanted to kiss."

"Well if it makes you feel any better, I didn't kiss anyone that year either." There's a bit of silence between the both of them as Cloud looks at her with confusion. She clears her voice and goes on, "I guess it's my turn. There's a reason why I took martial arts. It was my dad's idea for me to learn how to fight just in case any of the guys I was threatening ended up fighting me."

"Wait. I thought it was your idea. And why were you fighting with anyone? Everyone liked you."

"Yeah, well..." It is Tifa's turn to look away as the heat starts to rise in her face. "I threatened to kick anyone's ass that was bad-mouthing you after you left. It wasn't their place to say anything ill about you. Thus, I ended up spending New Year's Eve alone because every guy was scared of me."

"I didn't know that. Thanks." He feels a little embarrassed as he drinks. He feels the need to lighten the mood so he quickly blurts out, "I kissed Zack."

Tifa forgets about her story in an instant. "Explain..."

"Well I told you that I didn't get a date for New Year's Eve. Well what I didn't tell you is that Zack ended up dumping his date before midnight. He only went for her just so I'd lose the bet. We were both pretty drunk by midnight and he said something about it being bad luck if you didn't get a kiss so he kissed me before I could react."

With a smile playing on her lips, Tifa takes a drink.

The stories went on and on and so did the time. Without anymore stories of embarrassment and liquid courage stirring in their systems, it was time to confess their inner most feelings...the things that they never quite knew how to say, and some that they never wanted to admit.

Cloud is now at bat. He is a little more alert than Tifa only because he had his stories of his training days, but even those were starting to dwindle. After a brief pause he starts a new tale. "There's a reason I never made it into SOLDIER." Tifa always wondered what happened but thought it wasn't her place to ask. "I was never well liked…only one person befriended me and that was Zack. He was already in SOLDIER, but in order to get promoted he needed to prove that he could lead. He was then put in charge of my group. He had seen that I distanced myself from the group so he took me under his wing and got me to lighten up. We might have caused a lot of trouble together, but he also kept my temper in check. Months have passed since I joined. One day, I came back from the showers to find someone going through my things. He found a picture of the person who was my inspiration. As you already know from when we were in the Lifestream, you were the reason I decided to join SOLDIER. He paraded around with your picture making lude remarks. The other guys got into it as well. I didn't want to hear anyone talk like that about you. So I ended up giving in and letting my temper get the best of me. Zack heard yelling and ran back from the shower area to find me fighting with everyone. Before he could get things under control our commander walked in. People quickly pointed their fingers to me. Zack was the only one who stood up for me and tried to explain if that bastard hadn't gone through my things then we would have never fought. Unfortunately, in SOLDIER one wasn't allowed to give into anger...we had to deal with every situation in a collected manner...or at least that's what our commander told us. I couldn't go back to Nibelheim being a failure. I would never be able to look you in the eyes again because I would never be able to keep our promise. I was able to be in the military because of my fighting ability, but I would never be able to join SOLDIER due to my short temper."

Guilt starts to weigh Tifa down. It was because of her that he tried to join SOLDIER, and it was because of her that he was thrown out. She stands up and starts to speak while walking away. "I'm sorry. It was because of me that you had to endure so much. If I wasn't so self-absorbed, you wouldn't have felt you needed to join SOLDIER. If I didn't come up with that stupid promise then you would have been able to come back home. You wouldn't have had to join the military. You wouldn't have ended up being Hojo's experiment. You wouldn't have had to see your best friend die. You wouldn't have had your mind messed with." At this point Tifa can no longer hold back the tears. "I just trapped you when Aerith was the one who seemed to set you free. She saw the real you. I could only hide the truth from you. You suffered because of me. No wonder you loved her, but could never love me. I wish I could have taken her place...maybe then you would be truly happy."

Cloud stands there in a daze as he hears her confession. He races over to her immediately sobering up, and embraces her. As the tears fall on his shirt, he speaks up. "You're not making any sense." He tries to calm her down. "It wasn't your fault. I acted of my own free will. I could have walked away at any time if I wanted to." Cloud takes a deep breath and continues on, "Yes, I loved Aerith, but not in the way you think…and you loved her too. I also know she could never love the real me. She saw Zack, not me. Zack was the one who was open and honest. He was the one who was full of energy. He was the one who was cool and confident. I envied him. I was the exact opposite of him. You took me in after you found me at the train station. You were the one who stayed with me while Aerith went on to the Forgotten City. After the confusion in the Northern Crater, you searched for me. Even with Mako poisoning, you stayed by my side. You risked you life to save me after Weapon attacked Mideel. We fell into the Lifestream together, and you found the real me. We fought Sephiroth together, and you were still worried about me when everything was collapsing. When I had geostigma and had given up on myself, you were still there. During all the pain I put you through, you were still willing to stand beside me. Even though she was kind, I don't think she could ever be strong enough to do what you did. I; I know she wouldn't have wanted to see you die in her place. Just like Zack wouldn't have wanted to see me die in his. And I don't know what I would have done, or where would I be, if you were the one I lost."

Tifa's grip on Cloud tightens. "I know I shouldn't have felt like that, but I did. I can be so pathetic and weak at times."

Cloud gently cups her chin and forces her to look him in the eyes. "How do you think I felt when I was looking into your window when we were kids? I was envious of your friends. I had those lost moments of self-doubt too. I'm sure that even Aerith had them too. She could never live a normal life like other kids, but despite that she always smiled."

Cloud can see Tifa's tears drying up although her eyes were still red and puffy. In that moment he can only think about taking away all of the pain she was in. He wanted to wipe away her doubts and fears. He leans in closer to her as she leans closer to him. Then their lips touch. A few moments pass and their lips part from each other.

Tifa speaks up, "I think the game is over. I can't think of anything you don't already know now."

"I agree. I guess it's a draw."

"You realize that if you picked out something stronger then there would have been a winner by now, right?"

Cloud nods at her question. "Zack told me one important thing about his game. He told me the more you want to know about someone, the weaker the drink should be. It keeps the game going longer."

"You rigged the game...Cheater." Tifa wraps her arms around his neck. "I think having to carry me up to my room would be a suitable punishment."

Cloud agrees and sweeps her off her feet. He doesn't know where this night will go, but at least they are one step closer together than what they were before.

Side Notes: Yay…My first story. Hope it didn't bore you too much. Questions/comments are welcome. Flames…I don't care cuz I'm flame-resistant. Oh and in no way do I condone underage drinking…or anything else that takes place in my fictional world… I know that there are similar drinking games out there, but I'm not sure about the one presented in the story…there probably is though.

Since I have not had the pleasure of playing Before Crisis or Crisis Core (except I did see Last Order – what do you want? i'm a poor ff fan…), I decided to make up how Zack and Cloud met. All I really knew, from what I could find, is that Zack was already in SOLDIER before he met Cloud. And I know Cloud at least tried to be in SOLDIER, but didn't make. Also from what I read is that Zack didn't start out as a SOLDIER 1st Class…so I made up a history between them based on that. And since Cloud never did say why he never made it, I made that part up too (he was built like someone in SOLDIER – especially to be able to kick the original Sephiroth's butt – and wasn't too social and had anger issues when he was younger). And if you decide to comment on the underage drinking, question this first – why are 13/14 year olds allowed to leave home to join an elite fighting group…and why is a little girl helping out in a bar full of drunks...So you can either take it as illegal under-age drinking without anyone being caught (which does happen), or the world of FF7 just has no alcohol and child labor laws (which somehow wouldn't surprise me).