"All good things come to those who wait."

- Proverb

-. Wait For It .-

Chapter XV: Patience

The world is composed of opposites.

Positive and negative.

Love and hate.

Light and dark.

Candy and vegetables.

You get the idea.

What people sometimes fail to acknowledge is that good things cannot exist without their counterparts. It's one of those vital yet uncomfortable truths. Without the distinction of opposites, without the ability of living beings to recognize darkness and choose to embrace or to fight it, life would simply lose its meaning.

One cannot fully appreciate the glory of free-running down a hill before first experiencing the trials of a climb.

Wars lead to greater peace

Stalemates reveal loopholes.

And accidents become miracles.

Tifa Lockheart recognized and appreciated these facts better than most people ever would. That was why she couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips as she listened to the parade of feet sprinting up the long, stone pathway to the kitchen. Despite the fact that these feet in particular were twenty minutes past due.

"I know, I know! I'm sorry!" exclaimed the thirteen-year-old girl as she burst through the door and kicked her mud-splattered sneakers off into the closet. After tying her long, brown hair back into a messy ponytail, she scurried over to the sink and began aggressively washing her hands. "You will not believe the drama in school today! I completely lost track of time. I had told Rory that I was partnered with Grant for the science fair, totally Mrs. Fink's decision by the way, and then she accused me of trying to steal him away! Which is crazy because not only am I not into Grant at all, but how can I steal a guy from her that she's never even spoken a full sentence too? Urgg!"

Without missing a beat, Marlene wiped her hands dry on the embroidered towel Tifa held and then spun to bury them in the mound of pasta dough waiting for her on the island countertop. "Anyway, we're okay now. But because I was a little late to pick up Cia, she had started a game of 'dinner party', so then we couldn't leave until I sat and pretended to eat some of their play-dough mashed potatoes - which were blue by the way. What's up with that? So then I had to-"

"Did you make sure she got her proper dosage?" Tifa could not help but interrupt as she scrubbed her own hands clean. "They told us it's important she take it at the same time, every day."

"Well duh!" Marlene exclaimed with an exaggerated eye roll, as if the question were the most offensive thing she had ever heard. "Of all things, I'm not gonna let Rory's paranoia be the reason this fails."

She sucked in her breath then, realizing only a mili-second too late how pessimistic the interpretation of her words could be.

"Not that it's…gonna fail this time," she mumbled, mostly to her dough covered fingers. A mere second of contemplation was all she surrendered to the thought before it was blinked out of existence "Anyway, as I said: DRAMMMAAAA. I cannot wait until we get to senior school. Maybe then everybody will finally grow up! Yeesh."

She flashed her adoptive mother a wry grin which Tifa couldn't help but mirror. Despite the typically teenager-ish language, Marlene was still - and probably always would be - extraordinarily wise beyond her years. It was a quality that, though appreciated by family members, had led to many social difficulties. It was becoming harder and harder not to laugh and to promise discipline when those phone calls from the principal came through stating that her daughter had, for example, "taken actions which led to the injury of a classmate!" (in 2nd grade, she had convinced a playground bully that he was tough enough to run through walls) or "vandalized school property!" (in 5th grade, she had turned every second trash into a recycling bin via spray paint) or "disrespected a teacher!" (in 7th grade, she organized a boycott because the curriculum acknowledged only one of the planet's six official religions).

The girl's spirit was indeed infallible, which (despite the clashes with authority) had proven to be a very precious asset on more than one occasion. In fact, and this Tifa couldn't help but remember with slight shame, it was that very spirit that had once kept her from completely falling apart…back when their days had been the darkest. Back when she had, temporarily, lost all hope…

As if on cue, a high-pitched giggle erupted from beyond the door Marlene had entered, and the two women froze to listen with their usual reverence. It was a sound they hadn't heard nearly often enough; a fact that broke Tifa's heart on a daily basis.

Automatically, her gaze wandered to the window where she watched a little girl, still frightfully small for her five years, gleefully chasing Lucky the dog. Lucky was yet another recent addition to their constantly growing family. Denzel had adopted the once ratty, half-starved thing a few months ago from an alley behind the senior school. Now he shone with a healthy, shiny coat of black fur and a big, full belly that jiggled as he ran. One could hardly recognize him after so short a time in their care.

Though she has originally been hesitant to take him in due only to her lack of time, Tifa had hoped, had prayed, that perhaps he could serve the family as some sort of muse. That everyone witnessing, first hand, a being once so incredibly frail now completely rehabilitated…it could remind them that nothing was as dire as it seemed.

It didn't take her long to deduce that Denzel not only realized this, but he needed it. They all needed it. His name choice was most definitely not random.

"She's getting better." In her daze, Tifa hadn't noticed that Marlene had joined her by the window. They shot each other another smile and returned to studying Cia. "Putting her back in school was a good idea. She's happier. And the new treatment…she looks…"

"I know," Tifa whispered, before taking a deep, shaky breath for courage. It has only been a few weeks and already the little girl's dark brown hair suddenly became thicker and shinier, in stark contrast to the lifeless strands she donned in the many family photos that dotted the house's walls. Her skin too, it actually flushed pink as she ran, far longer than she ever had been able to in the past. The most notable change though has been her eyes…those beautiful, bright, blue-green eyes…they had finally begun to lose that haunting glow that made everyone around her tense.

It was still early in the treatment though. There could be consequences that they had yet to discover. But for today she decided not to dwell on it. Today they were all not only alive but extremely comfortable and happy in their new country cottage and it's adjoining, roadside restaurant.

Life wasn't perfect and it never would be, but as she watched Lucky and Cia rolling around the lush green grass of their backyard, both smiling so widely it had probably long since begun to strain, Tifa knew that everything, somehow, would be alright.

The chime of the restaurant doorbell yanked both of them out of their thoughts and into the present, Tifa cursing lightly under her breath.

"I thought you were closing early?" Marlene asked, bewildered.

"I am. Well, I was about to," she sighed while wiping her hands dry on the towel.

"Want me to-"

"No. No. It'll be fine. The others won't be showing up for another hour anyway. Please just finish what you can here and I'll be back soon."

"No problem! I'm gonna make this pasta my b-!" Tifa choose to ignore the last word, smirking as she noted that Barret's influence would never completely leave the girl.

After snatching her apron off its hook, she began the short trek between the family's modest kitchen and the restaurant's larger, more industrial version. On a typical weekend, they were at their full capacity of thirty patrons with a lineup out the door. It was just the right amount for Tifa and a small staff of servers to cater to with great care and a constantly fluctuating, seasonal menu. It had been a rough first year or so until word of mouth spread and the new roads became safe enough to ensure a relatively constant flow of traffic, but the household could now confidently state that they had been wanting for nothing for quite some time now. And it certainly didn't hurt that Cloud had joined Reeve's new venture of Gaia Industries as a full partner just after Cia's birth.

If only out of habit, they still only purchased the cheaper, local produce, all still wore clothing until it was either too small or threadbare and they preferred to upgrade appliances and machinery rather than purchase new. Too great a percentage of their lives had been spent stretching a gil as far as it could go, that they saw no reason to stop. And it was beginning to look like they had good reason, as Denzel was about to enter advanced math, biology, chemistry and physics classes as well as an internship at the research facility where she and Cia were being treated. Though Tifa was happy to support him in whatever endeavor he choose to pursue, it thrilled her to know that should he wish to study medicine or engineering, they would be able to fully support him. Not that long ago, having a friend or family member attending one of the planet's rare Universities had been a laughable concept.

Needless to say, things had changed.

"Hi there!" Tifa greeted the well-groomed couple standing restlessly by the doorway. "Welcome to 8th Heaven. You can sit anywhere you like."

The woman, a tall and impressively bejeweled blonde, only smiled awkwardly, obviously having noted the completely empty space. "Are we…too early for dinner?"

"Oh, well, no. It's just I was planning on closing early for a family event and warned all the regulars and took no reservations. But I forgot to put the sign up for drop ins. Silly me! But it's no problem. You've come all this way and we're still fully stocked. I'd be happy to make-"

"Mommy! Mommy!" A petite, mud covered figured suddenly barreled into her knees, decorating her white apron with brown streaks as she tugged at it. "Look what Lucky found. A fwrog! A big one! Can we keep it pleaasseeeeeee!"

After dutifully inspecting the remarkably large amphibian being presented to her, Tifa dared to glance back at her clients. The woman was pulling her fur shawl further up on her shoulders as if for protection and the man's mouth was set into a sneer of disgust. As often occurred before actually tasting the food, these privileged tourists sometimes found 8th Heaven to be a little below their standards despite the rave reviews. In the past, this may have upset Tifa. She may have insisted they stay and exhausted herself putting extra effort to ensure they have the most fabulous meal they'd ever eaten so that they'd feel shame for days regarding their initial reaction.

Present day Tifa, however, had other priorities.

"He's beautiful sweetie," she assured, giving the frog a pat on its slimy head. "But I think he'd prefer to be with his family in the stream. Don't you think?"

Cia took a moment to think about it, her slightly sun burnt face scrunched up in concentration, before coming to a conclusion. "His brother and sister may get wherried," she explained with a self-assured nod. "I'll take him home."

Without further ado, she span around and sprinted back into the yard, with the hem of her blue cotton dress barely avoiding getting caught in the door.

In addition to questioning the health codes of the establishment, Cia's presence also seemed to have charmed the customers, as it always did. Their faces had softened into easy smiles and their shoulders had become slightly less tense.

"Your daughter?" the woman asked, eyes still locked on the door she had disappeared through.

Tifa nodded. "My miracle, yes."

"She's beautiful. Those eyes. So unique."

"They're her father's eyes."

"How lucky to have inherited such an attractive abnormality," added the husband.

Again, Tifa smiled, but this time unavoidably strained. "Thank you."

"Her name?"

"Paciencia. It means patience, in the language of the Ancients."

The couple shared a brief, skeptical glance. "That's…original. You and your husband must be so proud."

"My partner and I consider ourselves very blessed, indeed."

Another disapproving look was shared, but Tifa was as indifferent as always. She and Cloud had never, officially, gotten married and had long since decided that they probably never would. Outsiders beyond their circle of friends would be forever confused by the choice, especially upon seeing them together with the three children and still so (apparently obviously) enamored with one another. But after all the tense run-around of officially adopting Marlene and Denzel, additional government paper work was the last thing they felt they needed to bring the family closer to an expected social standard.

They were who they were: a hodgepodge of people thrown together by fate, who happened to love and respect one another. Marlene had decided to keep her 2nd last name, Wallace, after the adoption had been processed and Denzel had chosen to add Lockheart-Strife to his. Each of the family members had their completely separate history and they chose to acknowledge that out of respect for those they had left behind. All any of them cared about, was the intention - the promise - of a future together.

Nothing else mattered. Especially, she suddenly realized, her odd obsession with impressing strangers.

As if to support this verdict, the low rumble of a motorcycle engine began to fill her ears. Still about a minute away, she guessed thanks to her enhanced hearing, but close enough.

"I…I'm sorry," Tifa muttered, eyes on the door as she began untying her mud splattered apron. "We actually are closed for the night. Please feel free to call for a reservation tomorrow."

"But…but you just said-"

"Sorry." And with nothing more, she swept past the glamorous couple out onto the restaurant's carved wooden balcony, taking a moment to smooth her hair flat and straighten the hem of her long, loose shirt.

Down the road she watched him approach, gradually taking shape from a blur of blue and black into the defined silhouette she knew so very well. The sight never failed to get her heart racing with anticipation, though today was somehow worse. Today, she sprinted down the stairs and across the expansive lawn in order to greet him. Standing still any longer was suddenly impossible, though she knew he'd chastise her for it. Women in her condition shouldn't move so fast, he'd say. She laughed at how well she had come to know him over the years.

They slowed down simultaneously a few meters from the garage door and she arrived by his side just as he swung his leg over Fenrir to disembark.

"You're late!" she noted breathlessly, though the wide smile on her lips told him she was far from upset by the fact.

After removing his helmet, it was revealed that he too was smirking defiantly. "And you shouldn't be moving so fast."

She laughed again. How gloriously predictable!

"Did you get it?"

He nodded before flicking the switch that opened one of the bike's hidden compartments and revealing a large, baby-blue pastry box.

At the sight of it, Tifa's brow furrowed in confusion. She had been expecting a signature orange box with gold ribbon. "I thought you were going to go to Casey's? It's on right on your way home, isn't it?"

"I know…I just…" he scratched at the back of his neck, embarrassed. "It's an important day, so I went up to the North Sector. Reeve told me about this new, artisanal place. It's why I'm late. But look…"

Eagerly striding forward, he flipped open the box's lid to reveal its contents. Leaning over to take in the view, Tifa feasted her eyes upon the most elaborate cake she had ever seen. Three tiered and massive, the visible top layer was covered in green frosting molded into individual blades of grass which surrounded a perfectly scaled marzipan model of a motorcycle; an exact replica of the one currently hidden in the garage that Cloud had been building for months. The words "Happy 16th Birthday Denzel!" stood out proudly as 3-dimensional, decorated, chocolate lettering. It was quite literally the most awe-inspiring, edible thing she had ever seen.

"So…" Cloud prompted, made nervous by her silence. "What do you think? Worth waiting for?"

At this, Tifa's eyes instantly flicked up to meet his. She saw there are the usual suspects of his eternally shaky confidence; hesitation, fretfulness, worry that he's upset her, regret that he didn't simply follow her suggested instructions. She wanted to say something, wanted to assure him that his decision was not only appreciated, but perfect. She wanted to let him know, yet again, how much she loved him and how great a partner and father he was, of how happy he made them all. But the words wouldn't come out. A sudden, overwhelming swell of emotion had rendered her mute.

"Teef?" he asked, placing a leather-gloved hand onto her cheek. "Are you okay? Are you sick? Is the baby…"

"I…We're…" she forced herself to formulate words knowing he was close to having one of his internal panic attacks. Cia had just started to get better but Cloud had spent the vast majority of her life till now, including the pregnancy, in a constant state of anxiety. They had known since the first ultrasound that she would be different and there had been no similar cases of mako-infused men being able to produce children, so they were going in completely blind. Every time Cia cried, he had sprinted to her room, fearing the worst. If she refused to eat her vegetables or tripped and scrapped her knee, he had been convinced it was a terrible side effect. He had been torturing himself for six and half years and now, by another unexpected twist of fate, it was going to happen all over again.

When she had found out the previous month, she had actually burst into tears, unsure if she could go through with it all once more. Scared out of her mind that this new child may end up even sicker; of Denzel, Marlene and Cloud having to continue to put their lives, their passions, on hold in exchange for doctor's appointments, administration of medicines, living in perpetual fear of watching someone they loved slowly wither away and being powerless to stop it.

But he had held her that night. As soon as the confession escaped her lips, he had swept her into his arms, nearly crushing her to his chest. And then he had laughed and he had kissed her and he stated again and again how happy he was, how amazing the opportunity was to expand their family even further, how excited Cia would be to get the chance to be an older sister, how much easier it would be this time around now that they were financially stable and Gaia Industries had made such progress with their mako research and Denzel and Marlene now being teenagers and able to take care of themselves. "A cakewalk," he had deemed it while brushing the errant tears away from her cheeks. "You'll see. Easy."

It was just what she needed to hear, though both knew most of it was but a beautiful lie. The plain fact remained that Cia's birth had almost killed her and Cloud would never be able to forget that. However, he also knew very well than nothing on this planet would be able to coax her out of it anyway. Her persistence, her refusal to give up, was one of the many reasons he fell in love with her. And Cia…despite the terrifying beginning, he could not imagine a life worth living without their daughter. He had never been loved by anyone as intensely as that little girl and the feeling was completely mutual. So much so, that when the question came up "would you do it all again?" the answer was a clear and resounding: "Yes. Gladly. A million times, gladly."

Positive and negative.

Light and dark.

Good and bad.

Tifa and Cloud had been to hell and back, so they were two of the few people on this planet able to recognize heaven when they came upon it.

It was a little messier than expected, and included a lot more blood, sweat and tears than advertised. Still, all in all…there was nowhere else either of them would rather be.

"We're fine," Tifa was finally able to get out through a tight throat, covering his hand with her own. "It's a cakewalk, remember? Easy."

Cloud sighed with fake exasperation. "I remember. I'm glad you do too."

"DADDY!" Cia came bounding through to front door with the enthusiasm of a wildcat chasing its prey. Actually, to escalate the comparison, she was also as saturated with mud and grime as such an animal chasing its prey…through a swamp. Despite this, Cloud didn't hesitate to lift her into his arms and plant a kiss into her hair.

It was the same thing every day. The girl could never sit still once hearing the sound of his engine pulling in. No matter what she was doing or who was insisting she stay put and wait, she always managed to escape and run out to greet him. Funny that, contrary to her name, impatience ended up being the quality she and her mother most closely shared.

"You're late!" accused the little girl with an exaggerated, deep frown. Denzel had recently taught her how to read a clock and the whole family was now apparently on a strict schedule. For Cloud especially, she counted down the minutes until his expected arrival which was traditionally right on the dot.

"Sorry. Today I had to buy a special cake for Denzel," Cloud explained matter-of-factly, to which Cia's strange eyes lit up. That is, figuratively lit up.

"Really? Do I get some! Is there ice cream! Can I-"

"Shhh!" Marlene had come out of the kitchen with frantically waving, flour-covered hands, Lucky nipping playfully at her heels. "Denzel just called!" she yelled toward the group. "He's going to be here any minute!"

"Oh!" Tifa smacked a hand to her forehead, unable to fathom how fast the time went. "I still haven't finished the sauce for dinner! Hurry, let's get the cake-"

"He's here! He's here! Denzel's home!"

Too late.

Cia scrambled out of Cloud's arms and took off down the pavement just the school bus pulled up to the edge of the field. There, a lanky teenage boy with his uniform fashionably disheveled exited with his arms up, mock defending against the torrent of exploding confetti and silly string that rained down on him from friends.

Only after they had run out of ammo did he dare to reveal his face and give a bow of surrender/appreciation, which was answered with hooting, waving and (this Tifa couldn't help but notice) a few blown kisses as the bus pulled away. Just when he thought the coast was clear, he was assaulted again; this time by a little body latching onto his knees and jumping up-and-down like a…well, like a little girl with normal amounts of energy should, her far-away voice distinctly yelling something about "cake".

"Well," Marlene sighed with her typical dramatic flair as she watched her siblings race one another back up the driveway, Lucky cantering off to join them. "Nothing's ready. The surprise is ruined. May as well get my present ready. HAPPY BIRTHDAY GREMLIN!" She yelled toward her brother, earning a small slap of joking disapproval on her arm before she returned to the house. They all knew it was nothing but a crass though loving (most of the time) nickname they shared with each other, usually reserved for when out of the elders' earshot.

Up the drive way, Denzel and Cia were followed by three cars turning in, each jam packed with family members and friends arriving to celebrate. Most notably was the frantically waving Yuffie's in her new lime green convertible, decorated with animated flames and an embarrassed-looking Cid riding shotgun. Tired of the instability with trickster professions, the ninja had eagerly bought out the original 7th Heaven for much more than it was worth back when they were experiencing the worst of their financial woes and she had since turned it in to the most popular night spot in Midgar.

It was amazing how much had changed over the years, as well as how much had managed to stay exactly the same.

Once parked, a flood of well wishers engulfed the children, Cia heard happily shrieking as she was tossed in the air by her uncle Barret and Denzel getting slightly more adult pats on the back and handshakes befitting his entrance into manhood (except from Yuffie of course).

Watching the scene on their lawn with a warmed heart, Tifa suddenly felt Cloud's eyes on her and turned to meet them.

He nodded. Only once.

She nodded back.

Between them, their hands found one another's and squeezed.

Definitely worth waiting for.

-. THE END .-

Author's Note: After 10 long years, I finally have a completed story on . (Deep breath) This is awesome.

Thank you everyone for sticking with me to the end of this. It was a fun story to write and though I've sadly slowed down a lot due to life, I hope to forever keep writing in some form...as long as there's people who enjoy reading my stuff :).

In case you're curious about my future plans: though it hasn't been touched since 2003 (gah!), I'm planning to re-edit and finalize my most popular FF10 fic "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" so that I can focus on my long-term FF8 one "Possession". I do hope that I get inspired with Tifa and Cloud a bit soon, as they are definitely a pleasure to work with creatively. I now have this "closing existing stories" bug and I cannot stop!

I hope the ending was satisfactory for everyone with a combo typical fluff and realism that I love so much.

To note, I am getting married at the end of this month (June 30th) so it was funny to write that line about government documents not being important lol. It should be good times and I'm very amused by all my FF subtle insertions, like the table names are all towns like "Eden", "Macalania" and "Midgar" hahaha. Such geeks we are. I definitely attribute whatever romance exists in the story to my future husband Mathieu and all he is to me.

Again, thank you for sticking around. I hope it was fun.

- Mayonaka (Nancy)