A/N: Well, faithful readers, it's been fun, but this is the end of this story. Fear not though, you can expect more from me in the future. I'm currently working on another Cloti fic that will go much longer than this one. And I'm working on tuning up a story I worked on a long time ago. It's an antagonizing process, but that Kingdom Hearts fanfic should be posted relatively soon.
And of course, you can expect some random one-shots along the way. ;)
Alright, enjoy the epilogue!
2 years later...
The sound of rushing water abruptly ended when the kitchen faucet was turned off. The dishes were finally done, thank goodness. The business at 7th Heaven hadn't diminished in the past few years, and customers were never happy when things weren't perfect. They didn't understand just how much work it was to run a store, considering most of them were the lower-working class.
Tifa Lockhart sighed softly as she put the last glass away. It was already closing time; 9 PM. It seemed like an early time, but it was a Saturday night, and every Sunday morning Tifa and Cloud went to Aerith's church. Most of the time they just sat there to get away from it all. On rare occasions, they even heard Aerith speak. Or Zack, in Cloud's case. No matter what the case was, going to the church was always a breath of fresh air. Quite literally, it was a breath of fresh air.
The light reflected off Tifa's ring and she stopped what she was doing, taking a moment to stare at the diamond ring on her left hand. A smile appeared on her face as she recollected what had happened just a year ago at a new park in Edge.
"Mm?" She turned to look at Cloud, who was sitting on a bright red bench beside her. He looked as if he felt awkward, which was a bit strange for the always-confident man.
"What is it?"
"Are you going to say anything at all?"
"Whatever it is, you can say it."
"It's just, I, um....."
"Yes, Cloud?" Tifa responded, sounding patient but ready to explode inside.
While Tifa was distracted, Cloud moved down in front of her, kneeling on one knee. A black box was in his hand as well, and inside...
"Will you marry me?"
Tifa giggled at the memory, the figment of her imagination disappearing as she gazed at her ring again. That had been her reaction to the question as well. She had nearly given Cloud a heart attack; he had thought she was laughing at him, as if it were a ridiculous request. However, she was really laughing because of his adorable puppy face at that moment. But as soon as Tifa noticed the distress, she kissed him and answered with a "yes". They were married two months later.
Not taking her eyes off her ring, Tifa set her left hand on her enlarged stomach. At that moment, her expected child kicked her. The kick was nothing compared to what she'd felt when fighting crime, but it did take her breath away. She lost her breath partially because of the shock of being kicked from inside yourself and because of the awe she felt. Pretty soon, I'll get to see you face to face, she thought giddily, her smile widening at the fact. It had been eight and half months since she had found out about her baby, so he was expected to come pretty soon. Tifa and Cloud had no idea if it was a she or a he, but they agreed just to refer to the baby as a "he" instead of an "it".
A more powerful kick impacted Tifa, actually causing her to gasp audibly. No, that wasn't a kick, it was much worse than that...she set a hand on the bar counter, trying to steady herself. Ultimately, though, she couldn't keep her balance. She groaned, falling to her knees. A loud thud reverberated throughout the large room from the landing. Is it happening...? she wondered, clenching her hand into a fist. This pain....
A child ran in front of her, pulling her away from her thoughts. Marlene's blurry figure cleared up as Tifa blinked a few times. The pain was so evident in Tifa's eyes that it sent Marlene running.
"Cloud! Cloud!" the seven year old screamed, running toward the stairs.
Denzel suddenly appeared in Tifa's line of vision. In fact, he was close enough that Tifa could reach out and touch him. He had grown up in the past few years, and although he had grown in height, his cute eyes didn't change at all.
"You alright?!" he asked in concern, kneeling down in front of the pained young woman. Tifa didn't have the words to answer, so her eyes did the talking. No. No, she was not alright.
Tifa groaned again, pain clouding her senses. Without thought, she reached out and grabbed Denzel's hand, holding on tightly. The boy protested against the pain, trying to get across that Tifa was grabbing too tightly but failing. Tifa held on tightly, her brown eyes fuzzy as she tried to focus on the ground. Whatever was going on was not a good experience.
The pain stopped as abruptly as it had started, and Tifa fought to regain her senses before it happened again. "Huh? Tifa!"
The brown haired woman instinctively released Denzel's hand at the voice. Cloud. She looked up and immediately caught onto Cloud's bright blue eyes. They shone brightly with concern, even more than Cloud's body language itself screamed his worry.
"She nearly broke my hand!" Denzel cried out without thought, staring at his red, throbbing hand.
"Never hold the hand of a pregnant woman, Denzel." Yuffie came out of the shadows of another room and entered the main area, a smirk on her face.
"Yuffie! This is serious!" Cloud snapped.
"I'm being serious."
Cloud turned back to Tifa ignoring the ninja all together. "Is it..." Tifa nodded tentatively. "We gotta get you to the hospital. Yuffie, stay here with the kids."
"But...Cloud!" the kids protested together, their voices eventually splitting off as they continued protesting.
"You'll get to see Tifa later," he promised, unaffected from their whining. The blonde turned back to his wife. "Can you stand?"
"No," Tifa whimpered. Cloud's eyes softened at the response. "Can you help me?"
Working together, Cloud eventually helped Tifa to her feet. His arm was wrapped around her from behind, and hers was around him as well. Without a word, Cloud led her to the door. Actually, it was more like dragging her. Either way, they made it to the entrance of 7th Heaven fairly quickly. Neither of them wanted to have their child born in that bar.
I feel...faint...Tifa thought, fatigue suddenly overwhelming her. This....this can't be right...she had never felt such weakness before. The young woman leaned heavily into Cloud, actually forcing him to reset his footing to keep her upright.
"Taxi!" he cried, waving a free hand in the air. The first two vehicles drove right past them, but a kind third one stopped to assist them. Cloud hurried Tifa over to the cab, opening the door for her before gently helping her inside. Then he rushed to the other side of the car and sat himself down. "To the hospital. Quick!"
This next part is where it gets complicated. During the taxi ride to the hospital, Tifa had barely been conscious at all. And when she was, she was in great pain. As soon as Cloud got her into the hospital, the doctors had taken her away from him. When he demanded to know what was going on, they told him that they didn't know. But what they did know was that this wasn't the way giving birth was supposed to work. So they took Tifa into an operating room for an emergency C-section.
Cloud paced the hallway outside the operating room once again, that being about the hundredth time he had done so. He was so worried; the doctors still wouldn't tell him what was going on. So not only was he worried, but he was also angered. Couldn't these doctors let him know what was going on with his wife?!
"Cloud?" A hand touched his shoulder, and he turned to see who it was. Yuffie stood to his side, the kids about five feet away with Barret. "What's going on? You're not answering your phone."
The warrior instinctively touched his pocket, his phone being inside there. He hadn't even heard it ring. But then again, considering how distracted he was at that moment, he wasn't surprised. The only thing he was concerned about was Tifa, not his stupid phone ringing.
"I don't know what's going on," Cloud stated, a bite to his voice. He took a deep breath, then continued. "They took Tifa in for an emergency C-section. The doctors won't tell me what's wrong."
Yuffie gasped, bringing a hand to her mouth. "Teef..."
A doctor suddenly exited the operating room, and Cloud approached him before the man had a chance of escape. "What's going on?" he asked, his voice demanding an answer. His tone was one that said "ignore-me-and-die."
"There were some complications. We're not sure what the problem was, but we have your wife on a drug that will make her stable again."
"Is she alright?"
Before the doctor could respond, Cloud saw two doctors leaving the operating room at that moment, one of them carrying a baby wrapped up in a blanket. The baby was sickly pale. That baby was his child.
"My...." Cloud trailed off, eyes wide as he saw the doctors carry off the baby.
"He's going to be taken to a special infirmary," the doctor started gently. "He's a bit premature, and he's having trouble breathing."
"Will he be alright?" Yuffie asked softly. Cloud turned to look at her; he had completely forgotten she was there.
"With the treatment we're going to give him, he has a better chance of survival," the doctor responded. "He has a respiratory infection because an early loss of amniotic fluid compromised his immune system."
The doors opened again, this time staying open as they rolled out a stretcher. Yuffie gave a sharp gasp when she it, and the site took away Cloud's breath. Tifa was lying there, looking frail and fragile.
"Tifa," Cloud strode past the doctor and to the side of the stretcher. "Tifa...."
"We had to give her an injection so she would be unconscious during the procedure," the doctor stated. "You're welcome to stay with her; other presences won't make her susceptible to deadly germs."
Cloud nodded, not deeply assessing what he had heard. As long as he could stay with Tifa, then he knew things would be alright. He wasn't going to allow anything to happen to her. Not now, not ever. The man wordlessly grabbed onto Tifa's limp hand and walked with her and the doctors to a room.
Where am I?
What am I doing here?
What's going on?
Tifa lay still on a cot, a million questions running through her head at that moment. She wanted answers, and she wanted them now. Mustering all the strength she could, she opened her eyes. The room wasn't empty as she had suspected; people were scattered throughout the area. However, none of them were looking at her. Yuffie, Barret and the kids sat by the window with Vincent standing right behind them. Cid was standing a few feet off, just staring at the ground.
To her right, another man sat. He had one hand on Tifa's and the other over his eyes. Although she couldn't see his entire face, she could still see the tenseness of his features. Her brown eyes flickered down to the hands. She curled hers around his and gave it a gentle squeeze. The silence in the room was so heavy that Tifa didn't dare speak anything audibly. Besides, she could convey her message without words anyway.
Cloud looked up at Tifa, his muscles relaxing a tad when he saw that she was awake. He moved his other hand on top of Tifa's so both were gently resting on hers. "You're awake," he stated softly, holding Tifa's gaze now.
As if on cue, everybody else turned around and stared at the two. The kids rushed forward, cries of joy escaping their lips. They had bad experiences in the past with family and friends being injured, so their excitement was understandable. Marlene jumped up on the bed right away, followed by Denzel, who was a bit more timid.
"I'm alright," Tifa reassured them, making eye contact with each of the children. Both looked a little frightened, but they smiled faintly at the sound of Tifa's voice. Perhaps they didn't believe her just yet; after all, she was still lying in a hospital bed. But why am I here...?
Suddenly she remembered.
"Our baby..." she started softly, changing her focus to Cloud. She became afraid at the grave facial expression he wore.
"He's being taken care of. He...has a respiratory infection....and he can't fight it off."
Tifa's heart broke. She had never met her child, yet she still felt this unfathomable love for him. My child....how could this happen?
The door suddenly opened, the hatches creaking slightly as a doctor entered the room. All eyes shifted to him and the air held an awkward and heavy silence. What news could this doctor possibly bring them? Was it good news or bad news? What about her baby? Was he alright?
A soft cry suddenly echoed through the room. Tifa gasped as the doctor turned around; he had a baby in his arms. A little baby boy, wrapped up in a blue blanket. Not just any baby boy; it was her baby boy.
"My child," Tifa breathed.
The doctor chuckled. "Would you like to hold your baby?" Tifa nodded wordlessly. She anxiously watched as the man came over and gently laid the baby in her arms. He was so tiny, so vulnerable...so loved. Did he know what he meant to her? Did he know just how precious he was?
"It's a miracle," the doctor was saying. "We gave him a small dose of medicine and he's already recovering. If we send home some antibiotics with you and you give them to him once a day, he'll beat this infection in no time."
A miracle. When was the last time I believed in miracles? Tifa thought back, lost in her memories as she gazed at her precious, irreplaceable child.
"It's a miracle that you survived," the kind nurse said, tears filling her eyes. "You shouldn't have survived that attack, but you've had a miraculous recovery." This was back at the hospital months ago, when Tifa had first been there for the injuries of a Yurak ambush. That was the day that she had nearly run into Cloud outside the hospital.
At the time, Tifa had nearly laughed at the idea. She had wanted to tell that nurse that miracles simply didn't exist. If they did, maybe her father would have gotten his miracle. Or Aerith. But no, they had both died. There were no resurrections to bring them back to life; they stayed dead. Was that reflecting the impossibility that miracles existed?
That was how Tifa had thought before, but now she knew better. Aerith had gotten her miracle, and that was Zack. He loved her and protected her while she was alive. Now they were together in the lifestream, having their "Happy Ever After." Although Tifa didn't know what her father's specific miracle was in his life, Tifa guessed it was her mother. Though she had never met her, Tifa knew that her father loved her. They were together now too, probably contently watching over their daughter.
Not only that, but Tifa had gotten her miracle. Or miracles. She had rediscovered herself; she had found joy in the fact that her family and friends were happy despite the fact that they were no longer with her. However, her greatest miracle was Cloud. He had helped mold her into the person that she was today. On their wedding day, he promised to always love her, cherish her, and be her guardian angel. Tifa promised the same for him, and it was then she knew that miracles existed. Looking back through her life, there was no way she and Cloud should have been together. But they were. And they always would be. Not just today, not just tomorrow. Forever and always.
"What're you going to name him?" Yuffie asked, breaking through Tifa's thoughts. Tifa pondered the question. She wanted a name of importance; she wanted it to mean something. At that moment, she knew exactly what she would name him.
"Mathew." God's gift.