Here iit is, the epilogue. Please enjoy.
EPILOGUE: MIRACULOUS SECOND CHANCES
Cloud was lying on a comfortable surface; the smell of flowers tickled his nose, making him smile. Where was he? All he could remember was Tifa's pain stricken face, what had hurt her? He sat up slowly and looked around. He was sitting in the middle of endless meadow covered in flowers, peaceful air covers this place, but where is he?
There's a small and quiet laugh behind him and Cloud jumps to his feet.
Aerith: Good morning sleepy head.
Cloud: Aerith? Where am I? What's going on?
Aerith: Somewhere between the living and the dead.
Cloud: Why am I here? All I can remember is Tifa crying and then…darkness…
Aerith: You died Cloud…but not really…
Cloud: No…I can't have…how long have been gone?
Aerith: Five years.
Cloud: Shit…how is everyone?
Aerith: You'll have to find out for yourself.
Cloud: What do you mean?
Aerith: You're going back.
Cloud: But how…I died…I can't go back…can i?
Aerith: It still wasn't your time.
Cloud: Then why am I here?
Aerith: You were so badly wounded; you were absorbed into the life stream so you could heal. But this time, your memories will not be affected.
Cloud: So…so I get a second chance?
Aerith: Of course Cloud, everyone gets a second chance…
Cloud began to back into conscience being. This time he was lying on a cold, flat surface. He stood up and looked around. He was inside the Nibelheim reactor and it looked as though it had fallen into disrepair. He looked down at himself; his cloths were torn and covered in dark stains.
Cloud: I can't go home looking like this.
He searched around the expansive room until he found a locker room. He pulled open all of the lockers until he found an old Shinra Guard's uniform, so much like the one he had worn all those years ago. He undressed and pulled on the uniform, which fit him pretty well, and wrapped the scarf-like piece of fabric around his face. Before leaving he noticed a SOLDIERS helmet in the lock as well, he picked it up and slid it onto his head. He then left the reactor and started down the mountain, shivering against the late fall chill. When he made it back to Nibelheim, he wasn't surprised to find that nothing had changed, except a small building at the end of the main street, a neon sign out front was flash the words '7th Heaven'.
Cloud: Tifa built another bar.
Cloud almost ran to the bar. When he got inside he was shocked, the bar matched the one in Edge. He walked forward and sat down at the long counter, he was the only person in there. Tifa came out of a back room some minutes later.
Tifa: What can I get for you?
Cloud looked up slowly, she was smiling her sweet smile, the one that had melted his heart so often before.
Cloud: Nothing yet, I just need a minute to warm up.
He made his voice deeper; he didn't want to reveal himself just yet. He began to look around the bar and his eyes soon fell upon a picture of himself mounted on the far wall.
Cloud: Who is that?
He wanted to play with Tifa. If she had moved on he didn't want to ruin it for her, as long as she was happy, then he would leave her alone, her happiness was all that mattered to him.
Tifa: That's my husband.
Cloud: How long have you been married?
Tifa: This year would have been fifteen.
Cloud: Would be?
Tifa: He…died five years ago…
Cloud: I'm very sorry to hear that.
Tifa started to wipe down the counter,
Cloud: Have you found anyone else since then?
Tifa: No, he's the only man I've ever loved, and I'll never love anyone else.
Cloud: That's beautiful, but I'm sure he's want you to move on?
Tifa: He would. But I don't want to.
Marlene walked into the bar, Junior tottering behind her. She bent down and picked him up, kissing him lightly on the cheek. Cloud marveled at how much Junior looked like him and Denzel, it was amazing.
Marlene: Do you need anything Tifa? We're on our way home and I just wanted to see if you needed any help?
Tifa: No Marlene, it's a slow day, go ahead and head home. I won't be late tonight.
Marlene: Alright, come on Junior.
She left the bar without a backward glance. Cloud eyes wandered again and his eyes fell on Tifa upper left arm. There a small cloud tattooed there, under the pink ribbon the members of AVALANCHE wore.
Cloud: Does that tattoo mean something?
Tifa: My husbands name was Cloud, everyone in family has a tattoo similar to this one, and it's a way to remember him.
Cloud: You must have really loved him.
Tifa: I did, and I still do. Everyday I keep hoping he'll walk through that door, like nothing ever happened.
They stood in awkward silence for a moment then Cloud stood up and stretched. His heart was racing, his palms were sweating.
Cloud: Do you have a restroom?
Tifa: Yeah, right over there.
He walked into the small restroom and closed the door. He leaned on the sink and looked into the mirror. Once he calmed down he left the bathroom. Tifa was behind the counter washing some dishes, her back turned to him. He ran quietly towards her and vaulted over the counter soundlessly, landing right behind Tifa. He wrapped his arms around her waist, she spun around, her fist flying at his face, and he caught her hand in his, their finger intertwined.
Tifa: What the hell do you think you're…
She stopped, her mouth hanging open slightly. Tear began to fall freely down her cheeks as she looked up into his face. She hit him in the chest with her other hand. Her tears fell more freely as she struck him again and again; they slid to the floor, where they cried together; happy to be holding each other again.
Tifa: Where have you been?
Cloud: I died, but it still wasn't my time, I was sent back.
She hugged him, tightly.
Tifa: I'm never letting you go again, ever, you're mine forever.
Cloud: No arguments here love. What have I missed?
Tifa: Denzel and Marlene got married a few months after you…died, and Marlene's pregnant again. Vincent and Yuffie got married last year.
Cloud: And the kids?
Tifa: Typical teenagers.
Cloud: Perfect. How do we tell them I'm…back?
Tifa: Do we have to right away? I want you all to myself for a few hours.
She kissed him lightly, informing him of her intentions.
Cloud: Tifa, I want nothing more than to make love to you, to have your sweet lips on mine, but shouldn't we tell everyone else first?
Tifa heaved a deep sigh.
Tifa: You're right, but how do we tell them? We can't just let them see you, it would scare them, and there's no way to talk to them about it…
Cloud: Where are they now?
Tifa: Still in school.
Cloud: Then let's not worry about it now, let's just go home.
Tifa finished cleaning up and closed the bar. They left and went around back to a small parking lot, and there, parked in the last spot, was the Fenrir.
Tifa: I've been driving it….as a way of…
She broke down into tears again; she collapsed against his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. She cried into his shoulder, he wrapped his arms around her, pulled her tightly against him.
Tifa: Do you know how much I've suffered, how much pain I was in when you…
Her voice broke.
Cloud: I never intended to die that day; I never wanted to leave you. The place I went…afterward…it was beautiful Tifa, but I wasn't happy, I couldn't appreciate the beauty of that place because you weren't there. But let's not talk about this now, let go home, and tonight we'll talk about this more. I want to hear everything, every complaint, anything you have to say, I will listen.
She kissed him softly and he swept her feet into his arms. He carried her to the Fenrir and set her down gently on the seat then climbed on himself. He kicked the bike into life, the familiar roar of the engine thrummed in his ears as Tifa wrapped her arms around his waist. When they reached the mansion Cloud drove the Fenrir into garage and climbed off, he leaned against. Tifa got off as well and stood in front of him.
Tifa: What wrong love?
Cloud: Nothing's wrong, I'm still trying to understand what going on.
Tifa: It's in the past, so let's look ahead to the future.
She gripped his shirt pulled him closer, and crushed her lips against his. Cloud heard faint footsteps approaching, but made no attempt to break away from Tifa.
Denzel: Mom? What are you doing home so…early…? What are you doing?!
Tifa: What does it look like I'm doing?
Denzel: How can you do this? It's only been five years and you're already moving on? Are you that….
Cloud: Denzel, stop berating your mother and shut up.
Denzel: Who are you to tell me to shut up?!
Cloud broke away from Tifa and rolled his eyes. He moved Tifa aside and sat her on his knee, his gaze fixed on Denzel's.
Cloud: I'm your father, that's who.
Denzel's face went slack in surprise.
Denzel: It's not possible…you can't…but you're…
Cloud looked at Tifa.
Cloud: I think we should have found a subtle way of telling him I'm back from the dead.
Tifa: I think you're right; this might've been too much of a shock.
They laughed quietly together as Denzel continued to stare.
Tifa: We should probably go tell the others.
Cloud pushed himself off the Fenrir, wrapped an arm around Tifa's waist and walked out of the garage, clapping Denzel on the shoulder as he past.
Cloud: We'll be in the house Denzel.
They walk to the mansion was short and they walked in without hesitation. They went straight for the living room where Marlene and Junior were watching a cartoon, they paused in the doorway, and only Junior turned to see who it was.
When he saw Cloud his eyes lit up, he jumped off the couch, ran to Cloud and hugged him around the knees.
Marlene turned to look at her son.
Marlene: Junior, what…are…you.
Her eyes slowly made their way up to Cloud's face; she burst into tears and ran to him. She slammed into him and gave him a hug that could crack ribs.
Marlene: Welcome home dad.
Cloud: Thanks Marlene. How does Junior know who I am?
Marlene: He's always is asking about you. Tifa tells him stories about you everyday, you're his hero.
Cloud looked up at Tifa, she was smiling.
Marlene: Have you seen Denzel yet?
He tore his gaze away from Tifa and looked back Marlene.
Cloud: Yeah, but I think I scared him a little bit.
Marlene: How did you come back?
He looked past Marlene to look at Tifa, locking his eyes with hers.
Cloud: I don't really know Marlene, but the point is I'm back; I don't care how it happened.
Fresh tears started to fall down Tifa's face. Cloud broke away from Marlene and embraced Tifa tightly in his arms, reveling in her presence; his senses were lives wires set off by her touch, the smoothness of her skin, the smell of her hair; the softness of her lips as she kissed him
When they broke apart he took her face in his hands, and traced her lower lips with his thumb. He slowly pulled her face closer to his, their foreheads pressed together and they stared deeply into each other's eyes. He gently pressed his lips to hers, a shiver ran through his entire body, making his hair stand on end. Her lips started to crush harder against his, making it impossible for him to think straight.
It was Tifa who ended the kiss, although very reluctantly.
Tifa: If we go any longer I won't be able to stop.
Cloud: Same here love.
A sudden commotion in the kitchen drew their attention, Cloud heard Yuffie's loud, shrill voice erupt as she entered the house.
Cloud stepped away from Tifa and flattened himself against the wall. Tifa cocked an eye brow and half-smiled.
Tifa: What are you doing?
Cloud: Having a little fun.
Yuffie: Tifa! Tifa, I have great news!
She burst into the room and threw her arms around Tifa's neck. Yuffie hadn't changed much in five years, which mildly surprised Cloud.
Tifa: Yuffie, what's wrong?
Yuffie jumped away from Tifa, her face aglow with euphoria.
Yuffie: I'm pregnant!
Her voice was a high pitched squeal, Tifa hugged her again.
Tifa: Yuffie, that's great! But where's Vincent?
Yuffie: He's still in the kitchen; he didn't want to get caught up in the excitement.
Tifa: Well, call him in.
Cloud heard the faint 'click' of boot heels approaching. Vincent entered the room, a huge smile on his face. Vincent's hair was now shoulder length and tied back. He wore all black, the only color was a pink ribbon tied around his wrist, a cloud tattoo was visable underneath.
Vincent hugged Yuffie and laughed lightly; Cloud couldn't help but laugh himself.
Cloud: I see being married agrees with you.
Yuffie spun on the spot, her face alight with surprise. When she saw him her mouth dropped open to form an 'o' and she walked forward to stand in front of him. She looked up into his face critically, then shifted her weight to her right foot and crossed her arms over her chest. She pursed her lips in concentration, and with lightning speed she flung her hand out and smacked him with all the force she could muster.
Cloud doubled over, holding and hand to his stinging cheek.
Yuffie: You ass! Where in the frickin hell have you been?! Do you know how much Tifa has suffered, how it was for her after you died?!
Cloud was silent, he didn't have an answer.
Yuffie: Answer me you bastard!
She shoved him against the wall. Vincent came forward and grabbed her arms.
Vincent: Let the man breath Yuffie.
She struggled against Vincent's grip, but he spun her around and planted his lips against hers. She stopped fighting.
Yuffie: Why do you always do that?
Vincent could only shrug.
Cloud: Anyway…I don't have an answer for you Yuffie, I'm still a little confused about it myself.
Yuffie: What's there confused about? You left and now you're back, how hard is that to understand?!
Cloud: I was dead Yuffie, but I'm back and I don't know how exactly. And as for Tifa, I don't know what she went through.
Yuffie: Well, let's just say you have a lot to make up for.
After a few moments of silence, Vincent exploded with laughter.
Vincent: You should've seen your face!
He pointed at Cloud and threw his head back, laughing even harder.
Cloud: Hey Vincent, you want to know something even more funny?
Vincent finished laughing and looked at Cloud, wiping a tear from his eye.
Vincent: What's that Cloud?
Cloud: You get to live with that for the rest of your life, and she's pregnant.
Vincent face turned white with grim realization.
Vincent: Oh crap…..
Yuffie punched him on the arm and everyone laughed.
Zack: What's going on in here?
Cloud turned to face his children, he couldn't speak, and they looked so much like him and Tifa at that age. Zack had his hair and eyes, while Aerith looked exactly like Tifa. The kids shifted uneasily under his gaze and dropped their faces to the floor. Cloud walked forward and kneeled down in front of them, he laid a hand on both their shoulders, and they slowly raised their faces to look at him.
Cloud: Hi guys.
The twins stood still for a long time, their eyes searching Cloud's. Then they both hugged him.
Zack: Hi dad.
Aerith: Welcome home.
Cloud: Thanks guys.
Aerith started to cry into Cloud's shoulder.
Cloud: What's wrong Aerith?
Aerith: I just missed you…
Cloud: Well I'm here now, I won't leave again. I promise.
Cloud: Now, I hate to do this, but do either of you have homework?
They nodded their heads.
Cloud: Well, I suggest you go get it done; we have a long time to catch up.
They both ran for the staircase and thundered up it.
Cloud laughed lightly and turned around, Tifa was standing right behind him.
Cloud: That went well.
Cloud: What's wrong?
Tifa: I just can't believe you're back.
Cloud: I'm back love, for real, for good.
She smiled slyly and grabbed the waistline of his pants, pulling him against her. She laid her hands on his chest; he placed his hands on her waist and kissed her.
Yuffie: Um…we're still standing right here.
Cloud broke away from Tifa and back at Yuffie.
Cloud: You know what Yuffie, you're right.
He swung Tifa up into his arms.
Cloud: We'll go somewhere a little more…private.
He walked out to the staircase and ascended it, kissing Tifa the whole way. When they reached their room, five years of untapped passion erupted.
This is where he was supposed to be, here with Tifa. He had missed out on a lot, but it was worth it. He had a second chance, a miraculous second chance. He could live out his life with the women he loved, the family he would die for.
This is how it's going to stay, forever.
That was a REALLY long epilogue, but I don't think anyone is complaining. I hope you've enjoyed reading "Aftermath" as much I enjoyed writting it. Thank-you for reading and, as always, please review.