A/N: Thank you to those who reviewed: Kisdota-The Freak Gamer, sweet. sonata, San Hayashi, Valentine's Ninja, smiley, crystalstars88, NailoSyanodel, cloudlover2989, Kally-Annie777, serenbach, Calenlass Greenleaf1, Creative Spark, Sigbru, P.P.V.V, Sorrelstar, koalababay, vx-Luna-xv, Nympadora, midnitestarz, Iskra revoir, MyfinalfantasyVII, Diamond, CrimsonPromise, iRathiest, tifa07, Amos Whirly, DJ, goatgod, Adel Damon, and kissychan.
Thanks to Drink. Juice for all the time she spent listening to me rant and brainstorm about this story from start to finish, and for proofreading a lot of this story and helping me make it better. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to you, DJ!
Thanks also goes out to my ever-patient husband for being understanding of my writing, and for listening to me ramble about plots and always being a sounding board for me.
Thank you so much to everyone who read this story, especially to everyone who reviewed, whether it was from the beginning or right at the end. You guys helped so much in keeping me motivated. For all the fanarts, the favorites, the story alerts--thank you. I'm so very glad people enjoyed this. You guys are awesome.
They spent a quiet day at home on their next day off. A lot of times on Thursdays, Cloud and Tifa would wait until the kids came home from school and had finished their homework, and then they would go out and do something as a family, but there were always days where they opted to stay home. This particular day had been one of those freezing, gloomy days that had made Tifa just want to curl up on the couch with a steaming cup of coffee. It had been a long couple of weeks anyway, what with the illnesses that had bounced around.
It was just her and Cloud until the kids came home from school, and she had enjoyed having time to just spend with him. They got a couple of projects done around the house; Tifa finally had time to frame some recent pictures. There was one taken from their recent trip to Costa del Sol, with Cloud half-buried in sand, and this one she placed on her dresser. The others she hung in the stairwell.
When the kids came tromping in from school, Marlene shivered and shut the door against the cold outside. "Are we going somewhere?"
"No, I think we'll stay home today," Tifa replied.
"I have a lot of homework," Denzel said glumly. "I have to put together a science project tonight. Our teacher didn't give us any time at all to work on it; she just wants to see what we can come up with on short notice."
"I don't have any homework!" Marlene said happily.
"You don't have to rub it in," Denzel grumbled.
"Do you have any ideas for what you want to do for a project?" Cloud asked Denzel.
They spent the afternoon in the living room, Denzel working on his science project and Marlene doing a gigantic floor puzzle. Cloud and Tifa helped with the puzzle or offered advice to Denzel if he asked until Tifa went to make dinner. After they ate, Cloud brought his delivery slips and maps down to the counter to sort through them, and Denzel moved his science project out to the bar. "Tifa, will you help me finish my puzzle?" Marlene asked as Tifa stacked the dirty dishes beside the sink.
The dishes could wait. "I'd love to."
It took a while to finish Marlene's puzzle, and when it was put together in all of its many-pieced splendor, Marlene declared, "Perfect!" and then promptly began disassembling it to put it away. Tifa helped her clean it up, and then went out to wash the dishes. She was halfway through them when Marlene gave a sudden shout from the bar window. "It's snowing!"
Denzel ran over next to Marlene, and Tifa quickly dried her hands and went to join the kids at the window. It hadn't snowed in Edge since last winter, and there was always something so magical about the snow--especially the first snowfall, when the ground and roofs were first coated with white. Even though she knew it was polluted and dirty, it looked clean and lovely and sparkled under the lights left shining in the evening. She looked out the window over Marlene and Denzel's shoulders, up at the snowflakes dancing through the light from the building across the street, a smile curving on her lips.
Marlene's fingertips grazed the window. "I hope it stays on the ground so we can play in it tomorrow!"
Denzel looked at Tifa hopefully. "Maybe we'll get to stay home from school."
Tifa's smile became wry, and she looked out at the snowfall for another moment before turning to go back to the dishes. "School's only two blocks away. I don't think we'll get so much snow that you can't walk two blocks."
"Yeah, I guess," Denzel said with a resigned sigh.
Tifa also hoped the snow stayed for a day or two, for different reasons than the kids. There were some painful memories about snow, because it always made her think of Nibelheim. At the same time, though, there was something cleansing about it. When she was a little girl, her mother had once told her that the snow had to come so all of the plants and trees could have a chance to sleep. "Winter gives them the rest they need so they can wake up in the spring," her mother had said.
Through her life, Tifa had come to understand a lot more than her mother had said. The winter, the snow, had become such a metaphor for her own life. There were periods of time where she felt so frozen, so numb, times when she had lost so much and didn't know what she was doing or she was struggling to find her own feet. There were times of winter in her life, but whenever she came out of them, she realized that they had been there to help her learn how to breathe again.
It took Tifa a moment to realize that she had paused in the middle of reaching for a cup on the shelf. Her fingers were resting on the cool glass, and she quickly grasped it in her hand and turned to see Marlene watching her with a small frown on her face.
Tifa smiled. "Sorry, Marlene. What were you saying?"
Marlene set an empty tray on the counter and hopped up onto the barstool beside one of Tifa's customers. The customer was talking animatedly to someone next to him and didn't pay any attention to Marlene as she said, "I said it's snowing, and then you kind of froze."
"I was remembering." Tifa poured some Corel wine into the glass she had retrieved and took it to a patron at the end of the counter before returning to Marlene. Out the windows, she could see the snow falling.
Marlene tilted her head to the side. "Remembering something new?"
"Yes." It didn't happen very often at all these days. It had been two years since Tifa had woken up in the hospital with amnesia, and most of her memories had returned within the first year. Still, every once in a while, she would find herself pulling up some memory that she hadn't yet recalled. She wondered if it would just be like that for the rest of her life. But wasn't that how it was even with people who had never had amnesia? Weren't there memories that they hadn't thought about for a long time, and suddenly something happened to trigger the memory?
"That's great!" Marlene said. "What was it?"
"I remembered the night before I got amnesia. It was snowing."
Marlene's smile turned wistful and a little sad, and she nodded slowly. "It was." She reached over the counter and put her hand on Tifa's. "Are you okay?"
"I'm just fine." Tifa squeezed her hand reassuringly and then picked up the empty tray Marlene had set down. "Are we all set for everyone right now?"
Marlene's eyes swept the bar. "The corner booth's probably going to need more juice."
Tifa glanced over at the table, where a family with three small kids was sitting. The youngest child was seated in one of Tifa's two highchairs, happily smearing his dinner all over his face. "I'll grab some more juice," she said with a laugh. "Have you finished your homework yet?"
"I'll take that as a no. Thank you for helping with the dinner rush. Why don't you grab some food for yourself and you can do your homework after you eat?" Tifa glanced at the clock. "Cloud should be back soon."
"But the juice--"
"I'll take care of it. Dinner, Marlene."
"All right." Marlene slipped around the counter to help herself to some food, and Tifa grabbed some more juice to take over to the corner booth.
She greeted the customers--she didn't recognize them, and quickly found out they were visiting friends. Seventh Heaven had been recommended as the place of choice for dinner in Edge. One of the children started tugging on her mother's arm and whispered loudly, "Look at her tummy! Does she have a baby in there?"
Tifa smiled at the child. "Yes, I do." She finished pouring the juice, and then set the rest of it on the table so the family could help themselves to it.
"Thank you," the woman at the table said. "Is this your first?" she asked, with a nod to the small swell of Tifa's stomach.
"No, this is my second. Well, my second pregnancy, but the fourth child I'll raise." Tifa nodded at Marlene, who was now sitting at the counter with her own meal, chatting with one of the regulars. "She's mine, and my other two are out with my husband right now." The familiar roar of a motorcycle caught her attention, and she said, "Actually, I think they're back. Enjoy your dinner. Let me know if you need anything else." She glanced around the bar briefly before stepping through to the hallway and opening the laundry room door and then the garage door.
Cloud was already parking Fenrir and cutting the engine. Directly behind him, fastened into a car seat, was their sixteen-month-old. She could just see his small nose poking out from the layers of jacket, hat, and blankets bundling him in his seat.
Denzel slid off the back of the bike and pulled off his helmet. "Did you see the snow, Tifa?" Having just turned thirteen, he was just as tall as Tifa now, and she still sometimes found it odd staring at him at her own height. It wouldn't be long before she was looking up at him.
"I did." Tifa nodded toward the door. "Dinner's ready. Why don't you go grab some?"
At the mention of food, Denzel vanished through the door toward the bar almost before she'd finished speaking.
Cloud smiled a greeting her way as he pulled off his goggles, shaking the snow out of his hair and unbuckling the car seat. "I guess this will be the last trip on Fenrir for Zack until spring," he said. He unwound the blankets from around their little boy's face, and then lifted him up out of the seat. He only ever took Zack on Fenrir if he was staying in Edge, but Tifa had a feeling that when their son was older he would take after both Cloud and Denzel in their love of motorcycle riding.
Zack wrapped his arms around Cloud's neck and yawned hugely before spotting Tifa. His bright blue eyes lit up and he let go of Cloud to hold out his arms to her. "Mama!"
Tifa took him from Cloud and carried him back inside while Cloud shut the garage door. She set him on top of the dryer and pulled off his hat, gloves, jacket and shoes. Cloud walked past her, squeezing her shoulder as he headed out into the bar. Tifa lifted Zack off the dryer and smoothed his dark hair out of his face. "Did you have fun with Daddy?" she asked, following Cloud back into the bar.
"Dada!" Zack exclaimed. "Bike!" He yawned again, still looking sleepy.
"You need some dinner before bed," Tifa told him.
"I'm done eating, Tifa; I can help." Marlene quickly ate her last two bites of food and jumped off the barstool, coming around the counter and holding her arms out. "Come on, Zack. Let's get some food!"
Zack willingly went to Marlene's arm, and she situated him in the other highchair. Tifa fixed him a small plate of food and passed it to Marlene.
Cloud came into the bar as one of the regular customers asked for a refill on his drink. As Tifa began mixing the drink, she asked Cloud, "Did you get the parts you needed?"
"Yeah. I should be able to fix the car tomorrow afternoon. Denzel's volunteered to help."
Denzel nodded, his mouth too full to actually say anything until he swallowed. "Izzi's gonna come--he wants to learn how to do this stuff, too."
"I've got a few deliveries in the morning, but I'll be home before the kids get back from school," Cloud said.
Tifa finished mixing the drink and carried it over to her regular, who grinned at her. "Thanks, Tifa. Though you know, you shouldn't be on your feet so much."
Tifa waved dismissively. "I still have four more months until this baby's due. You really expect me to stay off my feet for that long?" For her second pregnancy, she was having to get the same injections that Shera and Elia had had to get during their pregnancies, both of which had been successful. The immunoglobulin they had been given had continued to improve so that it was now possible for parents with Geostigma to have children with hardly any complications.
He laughed. "Nah. I remember how you were when you were carrying little Zack over there. I don't think you would've been able to sit still if we'd paid you to."
"See? No need to worry. Besides, who would mix your drinks if I wasn't on my feet?"
"Me," Marlene called instantly from where she was scooping a spoonful of food into Zack's mouth.
The customer laughed at that and said, "You've got good kids."
"Yeah, I'm pretty fond of them myself," Tifa said with a wink at Denzel, who grinned at her.
The rest of the evening went by pretty quickly. Zack was tucked into his crib in the old guest room, which had been converted into a nursery, and Marlene and Denzel did their homework before they, too, headed for bed. Once the bar was closed for the day and cleaned, Cloud went to shower while Tifa checked up on the kids. Denzel's bedroom door was closed, and she didn't touch it. He was getting to be more of a light sleeper everyday, and he was at an age anyway where he didn't want parents opening his door to check on him.
Marlene's door was open and she had Mouse tucked under her arm. Tifa stepped in to kiss her forehead and pull the covers up over her shoulders, and then moved on to Zack's room. He was sleeping soundly, his little chest rising and falling and one fist curled up over his head. Tifa brushed her fingers down his cheek and whispered, "Good night, little one."
It was still snowing when she went back downstairs and looked out the window. The snow was steadily piling up on the rooftops and street edges, still mostly untouched by the muddy boots of pedestrians. Tifa unlaced her sneakers, pulling off her socks and setting them on top the shoes, and opened the front door. She stepped barefoot through the thin layer of snow on the steps and sat down; her toes were already going numb, but she would give herself this moment to sit outside and to remember.
To remember because she could simply think about the event that she wanted to recall and have it there in her mind, not because they were missing and she had to wait for them to come to her.
The door opened and she knew without looking that Cloud had come outside. He sat down behind her and wrapped his arms around her, pressing a kiss to her hair, one hand resting lightly on her stomach. She could almost feel him smiling when the baby in her womb bumped against his palm. "You okay?" he asked her quietly.
"I'm fine. Just thinking." Tifa leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Memories." She was quiet for a moment. Memory was a precious thing--she knew now that it was possible to have a life without it, but actually having it made everything so much richer. The past, the present, the future. There might have been bad memories mixed in with the good, but even the horrible memories had helped her learn, had made her stronger.
Tifa squeezed Cloud's knee and pulled herself to her feet. He rose with her and they went back inside to the warmth of Seventh Heaven...a place that was full of memories past, a place where she made more memories everyday. But the memories were nothing nothing without her family, without the people who loved her and who she loved, who she would give anything for, who had never let her go.
With them, this was home.
Author's Final Notes: I was going to avoid naming Cloud and Tifa's son after Zack, because it is something that is done all the time, but I really couldn't avoid it. It just makes sense to me that they if they ever had a boy, they would use that name. Also, the name Zack is a variant on both "Isaac" and "Zachary/Zachariah." Isaac means "laughter" and Zachary/Zachariah means "remembered by God." The combination of "laughter" and "remembered" was just too much to pass up on this particular story. ;)
The idea of a car seat on Fenrir came from comments from and conversation with vx-Luna-xv. :)
I hope you all enjoyed the story. :)