Proper apology and explanation of this chapter at the bottom. Enjoy!

(ETA 09/20/11) Oh, and for anyone who feels like arguing the contents of this chapter, please read the mini-essay I have on the bottom of my bio page, please!

A Better Man

Cloud had to smile as he watched Zack pace back and forth. The month had gone by much too quickly for the both of them and all of the preparations had been done right on time for the wedding. Cloud would be the best man, and according to Zack, Elena—Shinra's ex—would be the Maid of Honor.

It had also been a month since he had last seen Tifa, and the throbbing ache in his chest had dulled only a little. They'd said their goodbyes then, but it didn't lessen the pain of not being with her. He'd waited for her to wake-up to kiss her one last time and then had gone on his way.

"Stop moping. I won't be able to enjoy my own wedding if you have that look on your face!"

Cloud glared at Zack. "What look?"

"You look as if your puppy just died," Zack said, returning the glare.

"I'm sorry, Zack. The last thing I want is to ruin this day for you," Cloud muttered, turning to glare out of the window and into the city. They had quite a view from the very top floor of one of the most expensive hotels in the city while they waited for the ceremony to start up on the rooftop. Having caught a glimpse of the arrangements earlier, Cloud had been impressed by the sheer, while tents and beautiful garden for the guests.

Zack couldn't help but feel proud of his bride-to-be and how she would celebrate their special day. Cissnei had done an incredible job working with the wedding planner, and while she hadn't turned into the dreaded Bridezilla, he had made sure to not get underfoot. All he had to do now was stand down the aisle and look good, he thought with a grin.

"Why aren't you outside with your date?"

"She's not my date. She's my plus one," Cloud deadpanned.

Zack smirked. "With those legs, I'd make sure everyone knew she was my plus one."

"Hmm, I wonder what your bride would say if she heard you," Cloud said with an evil smirk.

"She'd cut off my balls and bake them in a pie," Zack muttered, running a hand through his hair, beginning to pace once more.

"Relax, man. This should be the happiest day of your life," Cloud muttered.

"It is," Zack replied with a smile. "I'm marrying the woman of my dreams. The one person I can't live without." His face fell when he caught the sadness in Cloud's eyes. "Shit… Cloud."

"Don't. Don't feel bad for me," said Cloud, serious.

Zack patted his shoulder and nodded. "Go back to your date and enjoy her company, okay? It's time for me to take my place," he said as he steered Cloud towards the door.

On the rooftop, nearly all of the guests had already arrived and had been directed to their seats. Cloud watched everyone idly, not truly interested in the many people that had been invited. Lightning was sitting towards the back, but she had been chatting with a friend when he had shown up on the rooftop.

Looking towards the elevator as it chimed and the doors slid open, his lips parted in surprise as he watched Tifa step off. She looked absolutely beautiful, and it felt hard to just sit there and keep his distance from her. The first thing he noticed different about her was that she had trimmed her hair… The next thing he noticed—aside from the distracting pink gown she was wearing—was that her hand was held in the crook of another man's arm.

He hadn't even realized he had stepped forward until Zack's hand stopped him. "Leave it be," he said in a low voice.

"I—that's not where I was headed," muttered Cloud.

"Right. Look man, the wedding is about to start so just cool off and stand with me. I can't have you causing a scene right now because then Cissnei will behead us both," said Zack, straightening his tuxedo jacket.

"Right. Sorry about that," Cloud replied, clearing his throat and fixing his tie. Against his better judgment, he found his eyes turning back to Tifa and her date. He really had no right to feel so… irrationally angry at the fact that she had come with someone else. He had brought Lightning with him and they had already been spotted by the media together many times before; everyone thought that they were together and that she had been the cause of his and Tifa's break-up.

But seeing Tifa now, looking so gorgeous and so far away from him, it made something in him break. He sighed forlornly as she and her date were seated in his direct line of sight. The man she was with was tall and alright looking… well, more than alright, but he refused to consider the other man's looks while he had Tifa to ogle.

Her luminous eyes lifted and settled on him and Cloud felt his heart ready to jump right out of his chest and fall right into her hands. He swallowed hard and had to tear his eyes away when a more instrumental version of the wedding march began and the guests stood to look at the bride. Cloud could practically feel Zack's giddiness as the redhead began to walk down the aisle. She looked beautiful, Cloud noted, dressed in a gown that flattered her figure and with her hair pulled up. He could see what attracted Zack to her, but more than that, Cloud knew that his brother loved everything about the woman's personality.

His eyes landed on Tifa against his will and he found her staring back at him. She offered him a small, sad smile and turned to look at the bride, too.

The rest of the ceremony went without a hitch and Cloud provided the nice looking rings Zack had entrusted to him, while he wondered what it would've felt like to marry Tifa. He knew that he needed to stop pining over her, but he just couldn't. Even seeing her with another man was doing nothing to make him stop thinking of her.

When the ceremony was finally finished, the guests quickly moved over to congratulate the newlywed couple. Cloud stood back and watched as his parents were the first to hug the new Mr. and Mrs. Fair, but he stepped away and moved slowly through the stream of guests, heading towards the general direction Tifa had been.

He found her with her date and talking to Vincent and Yuffie. Up close she looked even better, he mused, coming to a stop behind her. He took in the slight wave to her hair and her bare, smooth shoulders and sighed. "Tifa." He nodded in greeting at Vincent, Yuffie, and Tifa's date.

She whirled around at the sound of his voice and smiled. "Hey, Cloud."

"Can we… talk for a minute?" he asked, eyes darting to the man standing next to her.

"Oh, Cloud, this is Kain Highwind. Kain, this is Cloud Strife," Tifa introduced, motioning from one man to the other.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," said Kain in a polite, business-like way.

Cloud nodded. "You, too." He turned back to Tifa and gave her a look.

She finally nodded and excused herself from her friends and date, following after Cloud as he led her away from the crowd and towards the edge of the roof. The view of the city looked even more impressive from there, but the cool breeze made it a little harder to enjoy. "Cloud…" she started, breaking him out of his scattered thoughts.

"I know I shouldn't feel the way I do when I look at you with him, but I do," he muttered.

Tifa let out a humorless laugh. "Cloud, you're here with your own date. Don't think I haven't seen those pictures of you with Lightning. She's a beautiful woman and there isn't a person in fashion who hasn't heard her name. Are you dating her now?"

"Are you dating that man?"

"He's a business partner and an old friend," Tifa replied. "Besides, you were the one who broke up with me. I don't think you're in any position to feel jealous here."

"Lightning and me are just friends. She's been the shoulder to lean on now that I don't have you," Cloud replied, sighing when she flinched at his words.

Tifa bit her lip and looked towards the city. "You're lucky you have someone like that. I stopped having my shoulder to lean on when I lost you."

Cloud rubbed an agitated hand through his spikes. "I thought we agreed that we would move past this."

"Past what? Our love?" Tifa asked, incredulous. "If you've managed to do that in the span of a month then tell me how it's done. It's not that easy for me to move on."

"Does that mean it took you a long time to forget Shinra?"

Tifa scoffed and shook her head at him. "I can't believe you're bringing him up now."

Cloud knew it had been uncalled for to mention the other blond, especially during a semi-argument between himself and Tifa. "I'm sorry."

"So am I," Tifa said quietly before walking away, unwilling to keep arguing over nonsense with Cloud.

Cloud stood there for a moment and let the cold air cool him down before returning to the tent that would now hold the reception party. He could see Tifa smiling at something Highwind was saying to her, but it was too painful to watch. He should've been happy that she had said that there was nothing going on between them, but the jealousy was there. It was there when he thought of Tifa being in the company of any man. What was wrong with him? He had been the one to insist that they needed the distance.

"Something wrong?" asked Lightning's low voice from behind.

Cloud shook his head. "Just getting my thoughts in order."

Lightning hummed and nodded. "Exes seem to have that effect on people. Come on and get a drink with me," she said, pulling at his arm until he began to move with her.

Tifa watched them return together and had to admit that it wasn't pleasant at all to see him so at ease with another woman. She let out a slow breath and walked with Vincent, Yuffie, and Kain towards their table.

"Is something the matter?" asked Kain, noticing her gloomy disposition.

She shook her head and smiled. "No. I'm just thinking of the past," she replied.

"Hmm, maybe it is time for you to look towards the future," he said, moving to pull her chair out for her.

"I think it is," Tifa agreed with a smile. "You'll be joining me for a dance later, won't you?"

"I wouldn't deny such a beautiful lady anything," he replied, lifting her fingers to his lips.

Against herself, Tifa found a blush covering her cheeks as she turned away from him and looked at Yuffie. The shorter woman was smirking in amusement and Vincent was pretending that he had not heard the other man.

"Hey, have you seen Elena? She looks like she's about to pop," Yuffie whispered, motioning towards the blonde on the other side of the room.

"I had originally thought that the both of you were close in your pregnancies, but she looks more far along," Tifa observed.

Yuffie gave her a look. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Tifa hummed to herself and then nodded. "It certainly is possible. My only question would be if Rufus knows."

"Maybe you should ask her first," said Yuffie, rubbing her stomach on the spot that was getting kicked.

"I'll do it once everyone is done eating and has started dancing. That way it won't be too quiet if she reacts loudly."

After dinner was done, both women looked up when Vincent excused himself and moved off to talk to some acquaintances he had spotted across the room. Amongst them was a tall, slim brunette with amazing legs and sharp facial features. They seemed to be really familiar with each other, and this was not a pleasant surprise for the shorter woman.

"Cloud has been watching you the entire time we've been here," Yuffie whispered after the plates had been cleared and champagne had been passed out accompanying the wedding cake.

"And I've been trying not to watch him," Tifa muttered, taking a longer sip of her champagne flute.

Yuffie offered no words of comfort—because she knew there wasn't really anything helpful she could say to ease Tifa's hurt—and found her eyes narrowing when she spotted Vincent at the bar with the brunette in the five inch heels that Yuffie herself would've face-planted in… had she been allowed to wear them. "Do you know the woman chatting up Vincent?" she asked Tifa.

Her friend looked over and nearly shook her head in exasperation. "That's Felicia. She's the new Head of Digital. She'll be managing everything that has to do with our website from now on. She's nearly at my level, but I'm still the one who gets the final vote over what goes and doesn't go on our site."

"Huh," said Yuffie quietly, watching the woman take a seat at a barstool and cross those killer legs. Yuffie sniffed, annoyed.

"You're not going to start doubting my brother, right? He wouldn't cheat on you. He never even cheated on Lucrecia," Tifa muttered.

Yuffie rubbed a hand over her itchy belly and the baby pressing against her, as if she were reminding her that she was there. "She's pretty."

"Kind of bitchy, too," Tifa added, hoping to get a grin from Yuffie.

"Doesn't seem like Vincent agrees with you," said Yuffie darkly.

"They're just talking. Why don't you ignore them and have another piece of cake, hmm?"

"I've never turned down cake…"

"I'm sure my niece or nephew agrees with you."


Tifa smiled and signaled over one of the waiters passing out the cake. When she was sure that Yuffie wasn't too moody, and the dancing started, Tifa made her way over to where Elena was standing, admiring a lovely flower arrangement.

"You look beautiful," Tifa said, and meant it.

Elena looked up and smiled, patting her stomach. "Thank you. It's been so long since we last spoke, hasn't it?"

"It has. And, well, I found my son since then," Tifa said with a smile, motioning for Elena to sit so that they could keep talking.

The blonde sat and took Tifa's hands. "That's wonderful news. How did Rufus take it? And where did you find him?"

"Rufus is still assimilating," Tifa started with a sigh. "And… it turns out that our son is the boy who we thought was Lazard's son."

"Denzel?" Elena gasped in shock.

"Yes. It took a long time to find him, but we did. Now we—I'm working on gaining Denzel's trust. He was the one who didn't take it so well."

"I can certainly understand why he didn't. Why did you say that you're the only one trying to gain his trust?" Elena asked with a frown.

Tifa sighed and shook her head. "Rufus has refused to tell him that he's his father. I don't know how aware you are of Rufus' condition," she murmured.

Elena shook her head. "I'm not sure I follow."

Then that meant that she didn't know that Rufus was dying… "It's not my place to tell you, but maybe you should speak to Rufus."

Elena began to fidget with the napkin in her pale hands and wouldn't meet Tifa's eyes. "About what?"

"Now would be a good time to tell Rufus if there's a chance that your baby is his," Tifa whispered.

Elena shook her head and got to her feet. "No, Tifa. I have nothing to speak to Rufus about."

Tifa nodded and stood with her. "I know I have no right to push you on this, but maybe you should still find some time to speak to Rufus about… his life, and how he's been faring since your divorce. He hasn't been well," she said quietly.

Elena stared, rubbing her stomach gently. "What—what are you not telling me, Tifa?"

The brunette sighed and shook her head. "I can't tell you that because it's not my place. Speak to him. Give him some hope to keep moving forward," she said, glancing at the other woman's baby bump. Squeezing her hand in goodbye, Tifa walked slowly away, hoping that she hadn't made a bad move in approaching Rufus' ex this way.

The blonde woman stared after her and felt a shiver race down her spine at Tifa's words. What the hell was going on?

"You're drunk."

"Yesh." He cleared his throat. "Yes."

Lightning was not amused. "Maybe you should think of going home now. The party is almost over anyway and all you've been doing is getting sloshed. Besides, you can't keep your eyes off of Tifa."

Cloud's eyes narrowed at the mention and he shrugged one shoulder. "It's not like I'm harming anyone by lookin'."

Hmm, a sarcastic drunk. Lightning patted his shoulder and pried his hand from the glass of some foul smelling liquid. "Let's go. How about I treat you to some good coffee and a greasy burger?" she asked with a little smile.

"Extra cheese?"

Lightning had to admit that he had a nice smile, even if he was drunk. "Extra cheese."

"I should say goodbye to Tifa," muttered Cloud, pushing away from the bar and swaying sideways a little.

Zack approached him right at that moment and rolled his eyes. "Look, maybe it's time for you to go get some rest. Take a room here in the hotel and sleep off the alcohol," said Zack, trying to maneuver the blond toward the elevator.

"I'm fine. Light's taking me to get somethin' to eat," Cloud said, eyes still set on Tifa, who was currently picking up her purse and was speaking animatedly to Highwind.

"Now would be a good time for us to leave," Lightning said, heading towards the elevator; Zack nodded and grabbed Cloud's shoulders to steer him.

Unfortunately, the elevator seemed to be taking its sweet time, and that meant that Kain and Tifa had to stand right behind an inebriated Cloud. "Keep looking forward, man," Zack muttered.

"It's alright. There's no need to worry about me," Cloud replied, equally hushed. "It's not like Tifa's involved with him, right?" The last was asked in a much louder tone.

Tifa frowned and looked up. "Pardon?"

"You told me you're not involved with this guy, right?" Cloud repeated.

Tifa gave Kain an apologetic look. "He's not usually this impertinent," she murmured.

Blue eyes darkened in anger at having been ignored. "I asked you a question, Tifa."

"Cloud, shut up, man."

He seemed to sag a little against Zack. "I was just curious. Just wanted to know if she was able to afford him." Cloud chuckled bitterly and stared down at the ground.

"What the hell do you mean by that?" Zack asked, eyebrows forking down in annoyance.

Tifa caught wind of what Cloud had just said and she shook her head. "He doesn't know what he's saying," she said, hoping the blond wasn't in a talkative mood while under the influence. She knew Zack had enough to dislike about her already, but if he found out about the way Tifa and Cloud had gotten together, he would have plenty to say to her.

"Maybe we should take the stairs so that we can catch another elevator?" Kain suggested, noting the tense silence between the group.

Tifa nodded, understanding Kain's suggestion. Only two elevators made it to the roof, while the other two reached only the top floor, which was below them. She glanced momentarily at Cloud and found him glaring at her. She began to walk away from him and thanked Kain when he opened the roof door for her.

"I'm really sorry you had to see that," she said to Kain once they were waiting for the other elevators.

"He was the one making a fool out of himself, Tifa. Not you."

She smiled slightly and nodded. Before she could start another conversation with him, the door leading towards the roof banged open and Cloud marched in, Zack following closely.

"Damn it, Zack, I don't need a fuckin' guardian!" Cloud exclaimed.

Tifa nearly slapped herself on the forehead. This was just perfect, she growled to herself. "Kain, I'm sorry for asking this of you, but would you mind if we take that glass of wine tomorrow evening? I have some unfinished business here," she said, apologetic.

Kain didn't look keen on leaving her in the company of the drunk and the groom, but he finally caved at her pleading look. "I really enjoyed myself tonight. Thank you for inviting me," he said, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. He looked at Zack and offered his congratulations before completely ignoring Cloud and getting into the elevator.

"How much did you pay him to go out with you, Tifa?" Cloud asked venomously.

She froze at his words and turned to glare at him. "It would be best for you to watch what you say at this moment, Cloud."

"What the hell is he talking about?" Zack asked, dragging Cloud over towards the far door down the hall and using a keycard to open it. They walked into a honeymoon suite and Zack pushed Cloud onto the couch.

"Tell him, Tifa. Tell one of the many guys whose heart you broke," Cloud hissed from his slumped position, eyes half-closed.

"Tell me what?" Zack snapped.

"He's talking nonsense." She shook her head at Cloud. "I'm leaving now and I will overlook this because you're drunk."

"Must've cost you quite a bit, since he looked so classy and shit," Cloud muttered.

Tifa scoffed and made her way towards the door. She didn't want to end up hating Cloud for something he said when he wasn't in his right mind. He should've watched how much alcohol he was taking in, but she couldn't deny that she'd wished she could do the same; just not in public.

"She fuckin' hired me to be her boyfriend, you know," Cloud said, matter-of-fact.

Tifa paused with her hand on the door handle when she sensed Zack's quiet fury from behind her at those words. She turned around slowly to look at him and saw incredulousness and anger reflected in his blue eyes.

"What the hell is he saying, Tifa? Is it true?" Zack asked.

The brunette sighed and shook her head. "Ask him anything you want once he's sober. Maybe he'll feel like telling you then."

"So that's it, huh? Do you see what the fuck you've done to my brother, Tifa? I wanted to have faith in you, to trust you again, but this—"

"Now hold on!" Tifa raised her voice as she rounded on Zack. "It wasn't my fault that you lost trust in me in the first place, so don't you dare throw that in my face again!"

Zack grit his teeth and bit back the retort he'd wanted to hurl at her. "Fine, but there's still the matter that you fucking used my brother!"

"That's between him and me," Tifa said lowly, trying to get herself under control. She would not get into a screaming match with Zack. "He's a grown man who made the decision to go along with my plan. I never forced anything on him."

"That still doesn't mean that you didn't damage him in some way, Tifa," Zack spat.

"He broke up with me!" she yelled, tears coming to her eyes as her voice cracked horribly. "I love him with all my heart and I would've been willing to continue our relationship, but I understood why he broke up with me. I understood that it wouldn't be fair for Cloud to suffer while I searched for… for…" She swallowed the words back and looked away. "Never mind."

"What could've been so important for you that you had to break my brother's heart?"

Tifa shook her head in disbelief. "Don't you get it? I didn't break his heart, Zack! I have issues in my life right now that would make a relationship with Cloud unfair to him. I wouldn't be able to commit myself one-hundred percent even though I really want to. I came to your wedding tonight with Kain because he's an old friend and a potential business partner, not because I want to start dating again. And it sure as hell doesn't mean that I want to stop loving Cloud!"

Zack ran a stressed hand through his hair and stared at the form of his passed out brother, his friend. He knew Cloud had been suffering for weeks now, but he'd never realized that it had been his decision to keep himself in that kind of agony. "Look… do each other a favor and walk out of his life now. You're right and this isn't fair to him. Cloud is a good man and he deserves to find woman who will love him the way he needs. You aren't that woman, Tifa."

His words managed to wound a part of her heart—possibly the same part he had hurt years before when they had been together—and a few tears escaped her hold.

Zack felt like an asshole upon seeing her reaction, but he cared more for his brother than he did Tifa, as callous as it sounded. "I'm sorry, Tifa, but we both know that I'm right."

"I wish you the best in your marriage, Zack. I honestly hope that you trust her far better than you did me," Tifa said quietly before turning and walking away for good this time.

Zack rubbed a hand over his face and groaned in frustration, knowing that Cloud would feel like a real jerk if he woke up and remembered all that he had said to Tifa. But then again, his brother would rip him a new one if Zack told him all that he had just said to Tifa, too. He just hoped that this would serve the both of them to see that maybe they just weren't meant to be together.

Sitting quietly in the backyard of Rufus' home instead of Lazard's, Tifa sipped silently at her cold lemonade, watching her two children splash around in a small kiddy pool. She smiled to herself when she remembered that Rufus himself had provided it for both of the children, who were not yet allowed to use the deeper pool on their own.

Rufus himself was having a home visit from the physician Lazard had flown in from another continent and who had been doing extensive research on the sickness he suffered from. It gave Tifa hope that Rufus would be okay and that her son would not lose a father, even though he wouldn't know the truth.

"Do you want some of my cookie?"

Tifa's eyes focused on the hand holding out half a crumbled cookie in front of her before she looked up into Denzel's sweet face. "I'd love a piece, sweetheart." She took it from him and smiled after taking a bite. "Thank you."

"You look sad," the boy said softly.

"I'm not, Denzel, because you and Marlene are keeping me company. And this makes me really happy."

"But you're not smiling. Not really."

Tifa took a giant leap forward and reached up to brush Denzel's fringe out if his eyes. "I just need you and Marlene to be happy."

Denzel did not pull back for a few long minutes before he nodded and ran off to rejoin Marlene where she was splashing around.

"He's warming up to you," said Rufus from behind her.

Tifa looked up and nodded. "It makes me really happy that he is."

"But you're not really happy," said Rufus, taking a seat on the wooden deck chair beside hers. "Denzel was right in that observation."

"I'll be alright, eventually," Tifa said, adjusting her sun hat so that it could shield her face better from the sun. "And you?"

"What about me?"

"What news did the doctor have for your today?"

Rufus sighed and poured himself a glass of lemonade, adding more ice. "She said that her research for a cure is looking promising. That I should be patient because she'll find that cure any day now. I don't believe her."

Tifa gave him a look. "Why not?"

"It's too good to be true," Rufus said with a small shrug. "I could be dead in a few weeks with the way this condition is progressing."

His words made her feel even more down, and he noticed the unhappiness instantly. "We have to resign ourselves to that fact, Tifa."

"You're taking this far easier than most would."

"What would you expect me to do? Waste away my fortune on women and entertainment? I think not. I would rather spend my last months with you and our son."

Tifa swallowed hard. "Just… promise you'll hang on for as long as you can. Please, Rufus," she whispered, taking his hand and squeezing it tightly.

Rufus stared down at their fingers and felt his heart thump painfully in his chest. "I'd be more than willing to live if I had someone with your strength by my side," he murmured.

Tifa shook her head and smiled ruefully. "You have to be willing to live for yourself, too, aside from our son and myself."

"Without either of you, what's the point?"

She released his hand and put distance between them again. He was being deliberately stubborn, and even though she and Cloud were not speaking for the moment, she couldn't bring herself to accept Rufus' advances.

"What would be the point of being with someone who doesn't want to be with you?" she asked him eventually.

Rufus had no reply for her, but he sighed heavily and glanced toward his son and Tifa's adoptive daughter. "You loved me once."

"And you think that'll be enough for me to love you again?" Tifa asked gently. He remained silent and Tifa shook her head. "It doesn't work that way. The only way I can love you now is as a friend, but I don't think that you're willing to settle for that."

Rufus frowned to himself. "Is it so distasteful for you to feel anything romantic towards me?"

Tifa shook her head. "Of course not. But you should know that the heart loves who it loves. We can't change that no matter how we sometimes want to."

He watched her closely after her words and wondered at their meaning. Did this mean that she wanted to stop loving Strife? If so, why?

"Uncle Rufus, come swim with us!" Denzel called, breaking through their silence.

Rufus cracked a small smile and shook his head. "I doubt that I will be able to fit in your pool."

Tifa smiled as she watched the interaction between them, wondering how her son would've grown up had he remained with them. "Do you think we would've been good parents to him?"

Rufus glanced at her and smiled a true smile. "You would've been an excellent mother. You still have the chance to be."

She sighed and stared down at her hands. "If given the chance, I think you would be a good father, too."

"I guess we'll never find out," Rufus replied calmly, staring down at his bandaged hand.

Tifa remained silent and sat back to watch the children. Denzel met her gaze and she caught her breath when he smiled at her. She returned it, feeling her heart lighten, and turned to look at Rufus, who was watching her now. She didn't know that look in his eyes, it was different than how he had looked at her when they had been teens, but it made her heart twinge uncomfortably in her chest.

"We can be friends."

"What?" he asked, raising a pale eyebrow.

"We can be friends," Tifa insisted, smiling a little.

He gave her a skeptical look. "Why would you want to do that?"

"Most importantly, because you are my son's father," she murmured. "But second of all, you'll need a friend in these coming weeks. Someone to keep you strong and to remind you that you need to survive for many reasons."

Rufus nodded once and took her hand in his, giving her pale, soft fingers a squeeze. "And if there's no cure?"

Tifa grit her teeth at the thought and shook her head. "Then I'll be here to hold your hand through it all."

He gave her a strained smile and sighed. "You continue to surprise me."

"Why?" she asked, curious.

"Because a few months ago you couldn't stand to be in my presence, and today you're offering to be my friend," he said, letting go of her hand.

"It's the only thing I can offer you from the heart," Tifa replied.

Rufus watched their son play in the kiddy pool and knew that if he had a chance to wear her defenses down, this would be it. Many people started as friends, and he had damaged his relationship with Tifa long ago. Maybe there was some way to mend it now. He nearly sneered to himself, since it meant that he would have to start being honest, and less selfish.

"Would you consider coming to live here for a week?"

"What?" Tifa asked, bewildered.

"If you and your daughter come to live here, I may be able to persuade my brother to allow Denzel to stay here for a few days. You can… bond with him, and with me to a lesser extent," Rufus offered.

Tifa was floored by his offer, and she was even more shocked that she was considering it. "I—I'll have to think about it before making that kind of decision," she murmured.

"Take some time to do that. I won't press you, and I don't want you to think that this will be a way to pressure you into accepting me again. Outside of here, Denzel will not spend more than a few hours in your presence and he will not go to your home. Here, you can spend a few days getting to know each other better."

"It sounds like a wonderful offer. Just give me a few days to consider it, okay?"

"Fine." Rufus smiled and nodded, already knowing that she would eventually crack and give in. While he wanted Tifa to develop her relationship with Denzel, this would also give him a chance to show her that he could be a better man for her.

He watched her stand up and approach the children with a bottle of spray-on sunblock, and nearly chuckled when Denzel and Marlene attacked her with splashes of water. Their laughter made a deep, dark part of his heart lighten, and he found that he could easily picture them as his family. Something he had wanted for a long time, but especially now, with death looming over him so closely. If he played his cards right, he would have it.

I really don't have an excuse for taking this long to update, but I do apologize for it. This story is not discontinued, and I'm not dead, but I was going through a big case of writer's block, and add school to that… Hopefully I can get back into writing. Also, I have a Vince/Yuffie fic in the works for Megaflare, which is a big bang, so hopefully I'll have that one up in a few weeks.

Also, before you guys start cursing Tifa out for the end of this chapter, stop and consider things from her point of view. She's trying to win over her son, and he's proving to be a tough cookie. While Rufus might be doing this for ulterior motives, Tifa just wants her son to love her and is willing to do anything for him. Also, Cloud acted like a jerk in this chapter, and we'll see what he has to say in the next.

The chapter was a bit uneventful, and most of you were right when you said that this couldn't end in thirty chapters. I think that the most will be thirt-five, give or take. But we are beginning to wind down for the end. Anyway, please let me know if you liked or hated this chapter. I promise I won't cry.:D But anyway, hope everyone enjoys the coming weekend!