Disclaimer: I don't own FFVII or anything that is associated with it. I wish, but we all can have what we want. I just borrow the characters to fit my will and hope others like what I write.
7th Heaven was roaring with noise that could be heard all across Edge, the former city known as Midgar. After the cleansing of the remaining children who had Geostigma, the whole gang of heroes had retired to the bar for a celebration that no one would ever forget. Even the Turks, minus Rufus, were there.
Music blared from the jukebox in one of the corners of the bar as laughter mingled with it. Barret was sitting with Cid at one of the tables having a very animated conversation with Yuffie laughing her head off. Each man had a mug full of beer at the table but Yuffie had been denied any alcoholic beverages. (Tifa "I'm not about to serve alcohol to a minor even with the celebration taking place!")
Vincent sat with Reeve at another table next to the one with the other three. Vincent sipped his beer silently with his arms crossed over his chest commenting now and then to the limited conversation with Reeve.
Reeve, mostly, was laughing and listening to what was being said at the other table.
Red XIII laid at their feet his head resting on his paws enjoying the conversations going on around him.
Denzel and Marlene along with Cait Sith were upstairs away from the partying though by no means asleep. It was far too loud and they were having a party of their own causing their own racket. Of course no one knew this since it was so loud downstairs it could wake the dead.
Reno was making a bloody fool of himself as he 'tried' to sing along to the song currently playing with one foot on his chair. His cheeks were nearly as red as his hair.
Rude was trying desperately not to laugh shaking his head with his sunglasses still on.
Elena was laughing so hard it was amazing that she didn't fall out of her own chair. She had had enough to drink to help her lose her balance.
Tseng sat silently smiling and shaking his head at his fellow redheaded Turk continued to humiliate himself. He was also the reason Elena wasn't on the floor, righting her every time it looked like she might topple over.
Tifa laughed and threw in her own comment or two from behind the bar handing out the drinks. She watched the whole group smiling from ear to ear unable to keep from doing so. They hadn't been able to cut back like this since the last time they had fought Sephiroth two years ago. They had gone on to do their own things in life. Of course they had kept in touch, but it just wasn't the same as now, being together and having the time of their lives. There was however, one person missing from the group.
That person was the very person who had fought and defeated Sephiroth two times, Cloud. This left some in the group wondering when he had slipped out. He had been there not long ago, but then suddenly he was gone.
Yuffie had been first to voice that the spiky blond was missing. Over all the other noise, the teenage ninja had been able to make her voice heard. "Hey, where's the man of the day?"
Barret looked around blinking a few times since his vision was already blurring a little. "He was here a minute ago. I know I saw Spiky somewhere."
In fact, Cloud had been sitting with Vincent and Reeve before he took his leave from the bar. Vincent had seen him go, but had said nothing. It had not been his place to say anything.
Tifa had thought that she saw the chocobo-hair colored man slip away. She had let him go without a word. She knew where to find him after all, what was the point? He would be at Aerith's church thinking more then likely. She knew him too well to be wrong. "I'll go check on him," she called over the loudness. "Vincent, will you watch the bar?"
Vincent gave a slight nod as he got up from the table to take Tifa's place behind the bar. He stole a glance at Yuffie, who had been listening to the conversation thinking that she might yet get a beer. Under Vincent's crimson gaze, she knew not to even try to attempt such a thing. It would be pointless and maybe a little violent.
Tifa gave the tall, dark man a small smile of thanks as she looked around the room one last time before exiting 7th Heaven herself. As she walked away from the building, the noise seemed to not have gone down one tiny bit. A smile spread at the thought of all the merriment going on just inside the walls.
The night sky was clear, a beautiful shade of blue-violet dotted with stars twinkling like diamonds. Not a cloud could be seen for miles in the heavens. The moon was full as it glowed brightly, high in the sky. A gentle breeze teased with the martial art's long chocolate brown hair. At once she thought it could very possibly be the long gone Flower girl having fun. The breeze blew one way then the other causing Tifa's hair to dance around her lightly as if the other brunette was having a bit of fun.
Tifa let out a little laugh shaking her head. She could just picture her friend laughing at her.
At the church, Cloud sat on the edge of where the pool of holy water that had just been used earlier that day to cure the remaining children with Geostigma. The broken floor boards had been cleared not long after excitement had filled the air to ensure that none of the kids harmed themselves. They were now lying in a pile over in one of the corners and the church looked a little more presentable. The blond looked skyward to find that it was a bright, clear night noting it in his mind.
He inhaled deeply taking in the scent of the faintly scented holy water before turning his gaze skyward once more. It was over once again. Sephiroth was gone, not to be seen again. He ignored the long, silver-haired man's last words of 'I will… Never be a memory'. Sephiroth could say anything he wanted, that didn't mean a thing. He let these thoughts slip from his mind as he let his feet, without boots, dangle over the edge of the pool. None of that mattered anymore. It was over and in the past.
Moonlight shone through the hole in the ceiling lighting up the dim church. This was the place he had called home for a time, or rather, the place he stayed at. Could he call it home? He had a home and a family waiting for him elsewhere. Did that mean that he couldn't call the church home? The expression 'home is where the heart is' never sat well with Cloud because he never knew where his heart was.
It had been Aerith's death that had left him feeling uncertain and full of sin. He had let her die. He had not helped her, but had watched as Sephiroth stabbed her. That too, was in the past. The guilt, the pain, and finally being unable to forgive himself had been major issues he had to deal with everyday of his life. If this last battle taught him anything, it was that he carried far too much of the past still on his shoulders. He felt he had to carry everything on himself and he'd been afraid, very afraid.
Afraid of losing what he had, afraid of messing up. He put too much on himself and felt that he had to do it all on his own. He had others to rely on, friends that would support him. How could he have forgotten that?
Faint laughter that seemed to surround Cloud could be heard, a feminine laugh. "Because it's always like you to be a little narrow minded."
A little smile formed across his lips. He knew that voice from anywhere, it was Aerith. "Don't you grow weary of listening to my thoughts?" he asked.
Again laughter met his ears. "It can be a full-time job, but it helps when you have a little help."
The next voice was male, one that he hadn't heard often at all. He had been fortunate to hear the man speak when he had 'died' and had been brought back to life. "Bet you can't guess who the special helper is!"
"It is a little tough…" Cloud let his sentence trail off as he stared into the pool. He reached out a big toe to touch the surface to find it was cool and highly refreshing against his skin. Slowly he let both feet sink under the surface.
"Aw come on man, don't tell me you've forgotten who I am already!" Zack's voice held a tiny bit of fake hurt as if he were offended at the young blond man. "Or is it that you still haven't let go of it all? You still sound a little unsure."
Cloud gave no reply simply staring into the water's depths. He didn't want to give the spirits of his friends the true answer. He hadn't fully moved on yet.
Aerith sighed and he could just see her shaking her head at him.
He was a disappointment to them, he knew it.
"No, not a disappointment," Aerith said, "You just need a little help it seems. Or maybe not, maybe you just need to think things through."
Still he gave no reply. He didn't know what to say. Most of the time he didn't know what to say and that made it all the worse.
"Hmmm," Zack started, "What seems to be the issue friend?"
Cloud placed a hand over his face rubbing it hard with his leather gloves not even sure himself.
"You're still not blaming yourself about my death are you?" Aerith asked him.
Cloud shook his head, "No, it not. It just that… well…"
"This wouldn't happen to deal with your family would it?" Zack chimed in.
"I… suppose it does…" Cloud replied faintly with his gaze still on the water. His two friends weren't there standing around him, but he felt as if they were and he couldn't look them in the eye. So he kept them as low as possible.
"Hmmm," Zack said again, "Is it Tifa?"
Tifa again turned her dark eyes to the sky smiling. Was Aerith watching? And what about Zack, the friend from ages past? She hadn't thought about him in a long time. Then again, she hadn't known his long. A week tops, about six years back at Nibelheim. Four men from ShinRa (two SOLDEIRs and two infantrymen) had come to the little village to inspect the Mako Reactor there. It seemed a life time ago to her.
There was a small twinge of guilt in her heart. When Sephiroth had burned down her home, she had blamed it on all of ShinRa, Sephiroth, and even Zack. He had never done any wrong to her. He had protected her while she had shown them around. He had always been nice. He hadn't deserved her rash words of hatred. She hoped that he could forgive her.
She pulled in a deep breath and let it out continuing her way. It was a walk to get there after all. She had to go under the city after all since it's in the slums. She didn't mind, Cloud was worth it. He may not love her, but she would give him all of her love and support. She knew him too long to not give him everything she had to offer. Her love ran too deep to throw it away. He had issues, who didn't? She had her own before the threat of the remnants. She needed to stay strong and stand tall.
She could do that just so long as Cloud stood by her along with the rest of their friends. They meant the world to her. The bar was nice, but she could live without it very easily. There were plenty of other jobs out there she could get. However, she still was unsure if Cloud was going to come back to their home and family. He hadn't given an answer, but she had her hopes hope. Maybe he would. Maybe she would find out in the next few minutes it took to walk down to the church.
Cloud didn't answer.
Aerith said, "What's wrong with Tifa? I didn't think there was anything wrong." Other then the poor girl took too much on herself. Other then that, Tifa was fine health wise that she could tell.
"She's fine…" once again Cloud kept his answer short by not finishing his sentence.
"Are you sure?" Zack asked.
Those words made Cloud look up suddenly, unsure if his answer had been right. Was something wrong with his childhood friend?
"Zack Fair!" Aerith's voice took on a whole different tone. Cloud could just see both her hands resting on her hips giving the tall ebony haired exSOLDIER a hard look. "Don't you make him think there's something wrong with her! She's healthy Cloud, I promise."
Cloud's body visibly relaxed letting out a breath he didn't remember holding in the first place. He had been scared. He didn't really know if Tifa was healthy. He had thought so. She hadn't contracted Geostigma, so naturally he thought she was fine. Trust his friend to give him a scare. He did deserve the scolding Aerith gave him.
"You're so mean to me. I died for your ass man," Zack once again sounded hurt, but he really wasn't.
A faint smile crept across Cloud's face as he watched the ripples spreading over the surface of the water. Ripples his feet caused from them moving back and forth.
"You'll get over it," Aerith said. "However, we're supposed to be helping Cloud. I don't think you're being productive."
"Alright, alright," said Zack. "Into business then. Like I said before, what seems to be the problem friend?"
Cloud thought it over. He wasn't fully sure himself. No, that was a lie. He knew exactly what the problem was. It was himself, he was the problem. With Aerith's encouragement earlier that day, he was forgiving himself for her death. She didn't blame him and it was high time he forgave himself.
"That's right," she said, "It is time to forgive and let it go. My death happened for a reason. It was part of the bigger picture that brought peace to Gaia. One positive thing did come from Sephiroth's actions on my half. I'm finally with Zack again. I missed him terribly over the four years you both had been in ShinRa Manor. Yes, Zack told me all about it."
Cloud wasn't surprised that Zack had told her. He had never told him Aerith's name before, but he had known years ago he was crazy for a girl in the slums. It just turned out that the very girl had been Aerith Gainsborough. "I'm glad," and he was.
"That's two then, that gave their lives for you. Don't disappoint us!" said Zack.
Disappoint? Cloud's heart sank at the thought. He was a disappointment though even if he saved the planet. He was a disappointment to Tifa.
"So it is about Tifa," Zack's voice floated around him with a small breeze. The breeze seemed to wrap around him gently.
Only a small nod was answer to Zack's inquiry. It was about Tifa. His childhood friend, loyal friend, and long-time love interest. He had had two love interest at one time, but that had been two years ago. Everything had been different then. That was part of the problem, his past. He had forgotten himself and took on Zack's life.
"I understand, I know I'm great," Zack said in a joking manner. He was trying to lighten his friend's spirits, but he had a feeling it was going to be tougher then he thought. Cloud was in a right state it seemed.
That had been the whole reason there had been two love interests in Cloud's life from the start. Forgetting who he was, brought forth Zack's feeling for Aerith which Cloud thought were his own. As time passed, he came to see that he didn't feel that way about the flower girl. "Are… you mad at me?" he asked softly looking skyward.
"I couldn't be mad at you Cloud. I've realized this myself after a time, that what I felt for you before was because I thought of you as being Zack. I still love you, but not in the same manner as before. You'll always be my friend."
Relief unlike anything he had ever felt before rushed through Cloud. Aerith didn't hate him because his feelings weren't as strong as he first thought. No, strong wasn't the right word. His feelings are different, the right feelings. They didn't mask how he truly felt anymore. He cherished her as a friend. "Thank you," again his voice was so soft that could be easily missed.
"We are very understanding people up here after all," Zack said, "But I think you've got one thing left to do."
He didn't mean… he couldn't possibly do it. If Zack meant what he thought he meant…
Laughter filled the air. "Of course he means that you need to talk with Tifa," Aerith said.
"No… there's no way I can," said Cloud shaking his head. He could stand and fight Sephiroth, but he couldn't confront the girl he has loved nearly all of his life. That took courage he simply doesn't have and never did.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Zack said. "You don't plan to let her slip away, are you? Because you do know that the bald Turk Rude has his eyes on her."
"He does…" Aerith trialed off to reinforce the meaning behind it.
This of course brought about a frown from the blond spiky haired male. He had forgotten that Rude liked Tifa. However, that didn't mean he had the courage to confess his feelings. What if Tifa didn't feel the same way?
"Oh Cloud…" Aerith sighed. "How could she not love you? She's so loyal to you. She stands behind you all the way. She put up with you leaving her without explaining because she loves you."
Could she? Could Tifa love him?
Zack said, "There is only one way to find out and that's to ask her."
"She's right outside," Aerith said.
That was when he heard quiet footsteps at the entrance of the church that stopped suddenly. She must have stopped as soon as she entered.
"Cloud?" Tifa called watching the blond man sitting by the pool of water. He looked so alone, but she knew that he wasn't. It wasn't possible when Aerith was always around. She was glad for that.
Swallowing hard, Cloud turned enough to look all the way into the back of the church. It might be late, but he could see her perfectly. Like an angel, she shone brightly in contrast to the night. She stole his breath away just looking at her. He loved her dark, chocolate almost black hair and those dark eyes. Smooth skin that caught the light and made it seem like she was glowing from the inside out. She was so strong and caring. "I'm here Tifa."
A smile lite up the young woman's face as she walked up toward him brushing a few bothering strands of hair behind her ear. She knew that those simple words meant that he didn't mind her joining him. He must be done wanting to be alone. She took a seat on his left crossing her legs still smiling at him. "Hey," she said softly. "What made you want to leave the party? You're the man of the day."
Cloud switched his gaze to the water unable to keep looking at Tifa without bursting into flames. He knew that his cheeks were burning. "Just wanted alone time," he answered.
Tifa nodded already starting to stand up, "In that case I'll leave you."
"No!" he suddenly burst out.
Tifa froze, halfway to standing up staring at him. She gave a nod as she sat back down.
He had to be as red as a beet now fumbling over his words, "I… it's just that… I'd like you to stay…"
"Then I'll stay." A small smile graced her lips.
That was when they sat there, saying nothing and enjoying the silence along with each other's company. Neither one knew what to say. Cloud most of all.
With this silence, restless spirits began to become even more restless and playful. A light wind picked up tossing Tifa's hair around causing the woman to smile. It had to be Aerith. That was when things went up a notch. It felt like someone was gently nudging Tifa toward the water. Still she laughed as Cloud began to smile when suddenly Tifa felt like she was shoved and falling toward the pool.
Cloud grabbed Tifa with strong arms pulling her into the safety of his body. It had been natural and instinctive thing for him to do. He felt his heart pounding as he held her for mixed reasons.
Tifa blinked as color flushed her face finding herself in the arms of Cloud Strife, the man she had loved since they had been children. Her heart skipped a beat. Slowly, she turned to look back at him.
She looked beautiful, he couldn't get over it. He was near the bursting point. Had this come about because he had not paid this feeling as much attention as he should have? Aerith and Zack were trying to help him to be able to tell Tifa how he feels, but words failed him. That was when he remembered what she had said two years ago to him. He took the chance leaning forward and capturing her lips with his own.
To say that Tifa was surprised was a major understatement. Words couldn't even begin to describe it. After the initial shock had worn off, her whole body relaxed into the kiss.
It was chaste, but by no means short. Cloud had been just glad Tifa returned the kiss to be able to do anything else. After he pulled back, he felt breathless staring into Tifa's large brown eyes. He could get lost in them very easily. Then, three words tumbled from his mouth before he even had time to think, "I love you."
There they were, the three little words Tifa had only dreamed of him saying to her. She had heard them with her own ears. "I love you Cloud Strife," she answered laying a hand on his cheek softly, stroking it.
One arm still holding Tifa around the waist, Cloud got to his feet bringing her with him. He quickly slipped on his boots as Tifa smiled shyly at him. He took her hand once he had finished a little blush across his cheeks. They walked out of the church together as Cloud looked up into the night sky. Thank you he said in his mind to his friends watching over them all.
Feminine laughter filled the air inside the church as two figures appeared, watching the new couple walk back home together. "I'm so happy for them."
A smile crossed Zack's lips as he crossed his arms over his chest. "That's my boy, he's got nothing to worry about anymore."
"They look so happy together, don't they?" Aerith asked.
"Yeah, they do," Zack agreed putting an arm around her shoulders smiling. "Everything's going to be alright."
Aerith nodded a little smiling herself. "It's time we're on our way."
It was Zack's turn to nod as the two spirits faded together into the night.