Author's note: Well guys, I'm posting this chapter pretty early! You wanna know why? It's because it's the last one! Unless people bring up questions that still need answering, in which case perhaps I'll do an epilogue. But as of now, the story is completely. Thank you everyone for reading and reviewing. And if you haven't reviewed yet, do it now! I LOVE reading your thoughts.

Thanks once again, and now, enjoy the chapter!

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Chapter 24: Peace

Cloud found Tifa outside by herself after her encounter with Rude, and he didn't do anything to try and comfort her. He wanted to kill Rude for making her this upset, but he wasn't going to have the chance to do that. Rude was being taken away right away to go to a real jail because of the confessions that he just gave Tifa. Surely that man would be locked away for the rest of his life for his crimes. It was sad, but it was even more sad that Tifa would forever blame herself for what happened. Or would she?

He hoped not. Rude was clinically insane, according to Reeve. Fortunately, none of them were close to Rude in the first place. Except for Reno, who came to talk to his friend earlier. That was a sad sight; Reno tried saving his friend by turning him in, but Rude was beyond saving. And so the friendship between the Turks was over.

Cloud didn't try to say anything to comfort Tifa because he knew he couldn't take away her pain. Not right now. He just set a hand on her shoulder and led her to his motorcycle, which she climbed into behind him in silence. There was nothing left to say, but then again, there was so much unsaid at the same time. So much had happened…

The young man found himself wishing that he never left Tifa. He "ran away" from home because he believed that he was keeping her from living her life. But that was a great error, because Tifa actually loved him. And how could she go on with life without the person that she loved in her life?

She tried replacing him and finding love elsewhere, since she was bitter about him leaving her anyway. But that love ended up betraying her—Rude tried to kill her when he realized that she was in love with another man. Cloud found it extremely sad. How could a man so calm and serious turn insane like he had?

Rude thought that he had nothing, but he didn't. He had Tifa's friendship, at least. And Cloud knew from past experience that her friendship was something one should never take for granted. Reno…he was Rude's friend too. Rude lost sight of all the blessings he had.

Tifa and Cloud arrived home a little later, the blond pulling his motorcycle up in front of the bar. Seventh Heaven hadn't had much business for a while now; they had never really gotten a chance to open it and run the business with how crazy things had been. Cloud had it open perhaps a day or two, but it was only because he was already in the house taking care of Tifa. Perhaps in a few days, she would be able to function at work again. Cloud didn't know for sure.

He watched Tifa walk inside the bar, and he lingered a little to give her room. But then he started forward, feeling hope in his heart.

Tifa, I hope you'll find some peace.

.

Tifa Lockhart thought she sensed Cloud walk a little behind her when she went through the door to their home and the bar, but she wasn't really paying attention to Cloud. It wasn't because of anything that he did (because, in fact, he had been extremely kind to her). It was because of her thoughts concerning Rude. She really did blame herself for his corruption. She turned away from his love and then ran into Cloud's arms when he returned home. Rude was a rational person, at least in knowing that what she did with Cloud was irrational.

But she did it because she loved Cloud, and she always had. She'd always give him a second chance. Rude could never understand that kind of commitment. He had the mind of a Turk; if somebody betrays you, you don't let them get away. You kill them before they can stab you in the back again.

"Tifa!"

The young woman looked down when she felt a little girl collide with her, a pair of small arms wrapping around her lower waist.

"Hello, Marlene," she greeted softly, a faint smile on her lips. She looked up from her adoptive daughter and saw another boy standing nearby. "Hi, Denzel." The boy smiled shyly and nodded, staying away from the hug. That was typical, since the tough boy wouldn't want hugs. He's so much like Cloud.

Marlene snuggled closer to Tifa, making her laugh. "Marlene, what're you doing?

"I'm just really glad to have you home, Tifa," the girl said softly. "I missed you so much when you were gone, and all I wanna do now is hold onto you."

Tifa smiled softly, lowering a hand and setting it on Marlene's head as she looked at the younger girl. She was too sweet.

"Cloud wants to do the same thing, you know," Marlene continued. "He said he wants to hold onto you so nobody can ever take you away from us again."

Tifa turned to look over her shoulder at Cloud, seeing him leaning against the door. "Oh he did, did he?" she asked, amusement in her voice. It was a bit affectionate, too, her brown eyes locked onto Cloud's bright blue ones.

Cloud only smiled to Tifa, nodding faintly before he looked to the little girl clutching her. "What else did I say, Marlene?" he asked softly.

"You said that you wished Tifa would stop blaming herself for everything bad that happens," Marlene answered.

"And that a person can only control their own destiny, so they need to stop focusing on how they affect others," Denzel added. "Because in the end, they choose their own paths and do what they want. Right, Cloud?"

The blond nodded, smiling faintly and shifting his gaze to Tifa. "That's right," he said. "The only thing you can do is focus in your own path and make a positive influence when you can. You screw up, but you can't ruin another person's life. In the end, they ruin their own life by choosing to go down a dark road. That's something nobody is expected to change."

Tifa felt her eyes get a little moist, her gaze locked on Cloud's. He was…right. She made mistakes with Rude, but in the end, he chose to set everything with Kadaj in motion. He was the one who chose to follow his own schemes and he lost himself along the way. It was a sad fate, but one that she had to accept. Rude had to accept it, too.

Cloud stepped forward and set a hand on Tifa's shoulder, gazing at her in silence. Eventually, he moved that hand so that it wrapped around her shoulders in a loving manner. Tifa responded in a gentle way, lightly leaning her weight against Cloud and setting her head on his shoulder. She didn't pay attention to Cloud telling Marlene and Denzel to go into another room and play, her heart finally feeling at ease.

She turned a little and wrapped her arms around Cloud from the side, her eyes shutting in comfort when she felt Cloud's cheek rest on the top of her head. She finally understood now…What happened with Rude wasn't her fault. And it wasn't her responsibility, so it was time to stop worrying about it.

It was time for peace.

A flash of light appeared in the room, something Tifa was able to recognize even with her eyes shut. But they bolted open at the faint clicking noise and landed on a certain person standing a few feet away with a camera.

"Ooo, that'll be great on your Christmas card!" Yuffie said in excitement, lowering the camera that she just used to take a picture of Tifa and Cloud.

Cloud made a sound that showed he was startled, but Yuffie only giggled at the cute couple in the room. Unfortunately for her, they released each other from their embrace because of how shy they both felt.

"Aw, come on," the ninja whined. "You guys'll thank me for this someday. Don't you want a good Christmas card?"

"Since when do we do Christmas cards?" Tifa asked, though amusement shone in her eyes and came through in her voice.

"You guys are no fun!" Yuffie whined yet again. She turned to look towards the hall behind her, camera lowered to her side. "Vinny, help me out!"

Tifa and Cloud both shared a look of humor, seeing the vampire come through the hall to stand next to the girl he recently started referring to as his girlfriend.

"Since when have I ever been one to endorse fun?" Vincent asked in his usual monotone voice, his gaze on the shorter girl.

"Since you're with me!" Yuffie responded, tugging at his arm. "Fun's a big deal now, mister. Especially with Christmas cards."

"It's nowhere near Christmas."

Yuffie huffed, tearing her arm off Vincent's. "But you know we're going to make one too, so you should start getting excited about it now!"

Tifa cracked up laughing when she saw Vincent Valentine's horrified expression, though she tried to quiet her laughs to be polite. The vampire wasn't scared of much, but apparently Christmas cards was one fear of his.

He ran out of the room with Yuffie right on his tail, telling him to stop being a baby and think of poses for their card.

The two remaining people laughed to themselves, the situation extremely humorous. Yuffie and Vincent were an odd couple for sure, but opposites did attract, so they'd see how that relationship went.

"Where were we?" Cloud asked softly, opening his arms up for Tifa to step into.

The brunette only smiled, setting her hands on Cloud's shoulder and tilting her chin up so her face was right by his. "I think we were right about here," she said, in a position where they could kiss.

"You sure about that?"

"What, you wanna go against my memory?" Tifa asked in amusement. If he would rather just hug her than kiss her, then she supposed that would what they would do.

"No way," Cloud said with a faint chuckle. He'd be happy to kiss Tifa; both of them knew that. The two of them inched closer to each other, Cloud's arms gently wrapping around Tifa then. Their eyes shut and they kissed each other gently, love coming through in the action.

But that wasn't the only thing that Tifa felt through the kiss. For the first time in a long time, she felt hope and peace. Hope because she knew that her future could involve peace now that she didn't hold herself responsible for the actions of Rude.

She had a bright future ahead of her. With Cloud. She didn't know what would be in her future, but she wasn't going to worry anymore. She wasn't going to use her today to dwell on her regrets of her past and miss out on what the present could give her. And she wouldn't focus on tomorrow, either, because the unknown could create so much worry.

She'd live for today. Starting now.