Seriously, I can't thank you all enough for taking the time to leave a review telling me what you enjoyed in the last chapter. It's really inspiring and it helps to know that you all liked what you read. I'm hoping to update Love Game sometime soon, but it's possible that my new VinceYuffie fic will be updated first, so look forward to either one.:) Anyway, please enjoy the next chapter for this story!

Coming Undone

An hour later, she was wide awake and getting dressed in her normal, all black attire. She left her weapons where they were resting and stood for a moment in the dark. Her eyes weren't as mako infused as Cloud's and Angeal's were, but she did have enough mako in her own body to help her see better in the dark.

Zack was still sleeping, but now he looked much more peaceful and his little head was pillowed on Cloud's shoulder as the blond continued to doze. Trusting him to watch over her son, Tifa made her way out of the room and down towards the cockpit, hoping that she didn't encounter Vincent for a few hours.

Her fury was still boiling and she honestly did not want to fight with her brother. He had always been there for her, except—except for when she had needed him the most. If something had happened to Zack…

Her hands tightened into fists when she entered the cockpit, and she saw Vincent standing by the massive windows. He turned at her entrance and began to approach her. "Don't," Tifa started when she saw his mouth open.

"You can't blame me for wanting to see you safe as well," Vincent interrupted, annoyed.

"I value the life of my son over mine," Tifa hissed. "I would've gladly died if that would've meant his safety!"

"Don't say that," Vincent nearly growled. "I care for Zack, too, but you're my sister!"

Her fist moved before either of them realized it and Tifa stared with wide eyes for a moment. She hadn't meant to hit him, but she supposed that her subconscious had wanted her to do something to get out all of the anger and despair bottled up in her chest. She swallowed hard and stared at Vincent, shocked at what she had done. But he merely stared back at her, eyes heavy with guilt and regret.

She didn't want to drive a void between them, but there were so many feelings threatening to explode from her chest. She didn't know what to do anymore. She couldn't even think of what she would do if she lost someone else she cared about.

"I'm sorry," Tifa whispered, voice cracking.

Vincent ignored his split lip and pulled her into his arms without much warning, squeezing her just as tightly as she was clutching him. "You're all I have left. Don't ask me to just sit back and let you die."

"Vincent, my son is one of the most important things in my life. How will I be able to die in peace if I know that he won't be protected by someone I trust?" Tifa whispered, ignoring the buckles digging into her jaw and neck.

"I'll protect him. I promise," Vincent murmured, letting go; he squeezed Tifa's shoulders before she was out of his reach. "But there is no way that I'm letting you die."

He would try to keep her alive, she was certain, and she would do her damned best to get out of this situation alive, too. She'd been so close to giving up and accepting her fate, but she would not bow down. Not without a fight for a future in which her son could grow up and be happy.

"Momma?"

She was startled once more to hear Zack calling her that, and she turned towards the door to see Cloud carrying the boy on his back. The blond set him down and the child happily raced into Tifa's arms, hugging her tightly. "Hi, sweetheart," she whispered, kissing his hair.

"I'm hungry," Zack said, staring up at her with wide, blue eyes.

Tifa nodded and allowed herself a smile she hadn't tried in years. She looked up at Cloud and motioned in the general direction of the kitchen. He nodded and walked with them, silent and observant.

The eating area was empty, but food had been left prepared and in containers for whoever arrived next. She served food for all three of them and then they took a seat at one of the tables.

"Vincent must've run into the door, right?" Cloud asked in a low voice, watching Zack as the boy took quick bites out of his toast.

Tifa glared mildly as she nodded. "We settled a few things," she said evasively. She then turned to her son. "How did you know that I was your mother?"

Zack looked at her with his innocent eyes. "My daddy told me when Leviathan came to help."

Both Cloud and Tifa stared, reminded by the amazing event the night before. "Your dad… he gave you the power to raise Leviathan?" Cloud asked.

Zack nodded and continued to eat as if nothing was amiss. Tifa grit her teeth and stabbed at a piece of fruit violently. "I'd break his pretty nose if he was still alive…" she trailed off, tone threatening.

"I wanted to help," said the boy, honest. "It didn't hurt, but I was sleepy after."

Cloud stood to pour him and Tifa some coffee, leaving mother and son alone for a moment.

"Are you angry at me?" Tifa asked, forcing herself to look at her son in the eyes.

"Why?" the boy asked, genuinely curious.

"Because I've been away from you for so long. I—"

"But you came back," was Zack's sunny reply. "Uncle Godo, Sensei, and Chekov all told me that you would come back. Even daddy and uncle Vincent said so!"

There was another beat of silence as a heavy weight lifted from Tifa's shoulders, though the pain in her heart didn't lessen any. She'd been gone and had missed so much; no amount of apologies would take that away. "I'll have to go again soon," she said in a low voice.

Zack's blue eyes filled with sadness. "Where are you going?"

"I need to help save the world. The men killing the planet need to be stopped."

"Can't sensei do it?" Zack asked.

Tifa smiled and brushed the boy's bangs from his eyes. "We all need to fight together in order to win."

"But you'll come back?"

Tifa stared down at her plate and looked up when Cloud returned with the coffee. He gave her a look. "You'll come back. Right, Tifa?"

She nodded and felt her heart fill with a happiness she hadn't felt in years, Zack's small arms tightening in a hug around her neck. Her eyes met Cloud's over the boy's head and she nodded before closing them. She'd try her damnest to come back to her son and Cloud. To finally let go of everything that had tormented her for so long.

Sighing to herself, Tifa pushed her dark thoughts away from her mind and set Zack down so that they could continue eating their breakfast. She needed to cherish every moment with both Zack and Cloud because… she didn't know whether or not she'd live to see tomorrow.

Vincent sat quietly in a chair, mind blank and his body relaxed as he watched the slow rise and fall of Yuffie's chest. She had been sleeping like the dead for a few hours now, but he knew from experience that she would soon awaken and would need food to regain her strength.

How many lives had Hojo ruined? He wondered. Had the man's madness known no bounds? He was very glad that Tifa had taken care of him, otherwise Vincent himself would've hunted him down.

"You look so serious while you're thinking," Yuffie's scratchy voice cut through his thoughts.

His eyes shifted to her face and he nodded with a faint smile. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been tenderized by a mallet," she muttered, sitting up slowly and noting that she was dressed in an oversized shirt. "How is everyone?"

"They're fine. We lost some ninjas, but your father and friends are all alive and relatively unscathed."

"And the kid?"

"He's with Tifa and Cloud. We're on our way to Icicle Town, now." Vincent handed over a glass of water and a granola bar.

Yuffie nodded and stared down at her hands clutching the items he had given her. "What did I do?" she asked quietly.

Vincent glanced at her hands as well, before looking at her face. "You saved many lives." He paused for a long moment, watching her fidget under his scrutiny. "Can you tell me about your transformation?"

Yuffie hesitated before nodding. "I remember that when we heard Azul approaching, I started to feel this sharp pain in my head. I had made up my mind to take up my shuriken to fight and I was able to grab it and get outside, but the pain only intensified."

"What happened after you got outside?" Vincent questioned.

"I don't remember. I just know that the pain was unbearable and it felt as if something was ripping through my skin. All I could think of was blood and of fighting," she whispered the last part. "I don't remember much of what happened after that."

"Yuffie."

"What?" she asked, not meeting his gaze.

"You're not a monster," Vincent said in a low, serious tone.

Her eyes raised to his and were glittering with tears. "Yeah, well, I feel like one. Hojo was one sick son of a bitch," she spat.

Vincent grunted and nodded. "I know a thing or two about what he was capable of." He paused, debating on whether or not to confide in the young woman. Finally, he drew a breath and looked at her. "I've never told Tifa about it, but during the time I left Nibelheim and I ventured to Midgar, Hojo—did something to me. I believe it was in revenge for going after his wife, but he put something into me. A creature much like yours."

"You can transform, too?" she asked, voice laced with horror.

Vincent nodded. "I've had years of practice with it, so he doesn't get the jump on me anymore."

Yuffie's eyes widened. "You can control it?"

"Somewhat," Vincent said evasively. "Galian Beast cooperates with me when it suits him. Other times, when he's feeling excessively restless, I lose most of my control and the body count rises." He raised his eyes to look at her and found her staring. "Yes?"

"It has a name?" Yuffie asked, incredulous.

Vincent nodded once. "He also speaks to me when he's in the mood to do so."

Yuffie pursed her lips and looked away from him. Hojo had been more twisted than she had thought. To put into someone's head a… demon, for lack of a better word, who could talk… it was just cruel. The thing inside of her head wasn't coherent enough to talk to her, and if she thought hard enough, she could feel it there in the background. It didn't sound as bad as Vincent's though. It was probably like having a psychotic voice in your head…

"I've grown used to it over the years," Vincent said to her silence. "But I won't lie to you; it was hard to do so."

"Yeah, I figured as much. It's disturbing and I don't feel human anymore, but if it helps us win then it's something we can live with, right?" she asked, faking cheerfulness.

Vincent had to admire her but he merely nodded. "I never would've wished something like this on you."

"Hey, I feel the same way about you. I guess life just thought it would be funny to screw with us, huh?" she asked, her smile turning watery.

"I won't tell you to see this as any kind of blessing, but… maybe we have these creatures placed in our heads for a reason. If we can succeed in saving the planet and the remaining people in it…" he trailed off in a low tone.

Yuffie smirked bitterly and nodded once, understanding what he was getting it. They could live with their curse and help Tifa and Cloud in their battle if it meant saving what remained of their home and the human race. She looked up at Vincent and slipped her fingers over his. "Thanks, Vince."

"Vincent."

"It'll be either Vince or Vinnie," she muttered.

Crimson eyes narrowed dangerously, but when he caught the clear teasing glint in her eyes, he knew that he had helped her darkness fade away for now. He let out a heavy sigh of surrender and looked away from her.

Yuffie smiled slightly in pleasure and leaned back against her pillows. Her happiness wilted some when she thought of not seeing her father and old friends for another stretch of time. "I'm so tired of hurting… and of being alone."

"We all are," Vincent replied in a low voice. "But we have to… believe that it'll be over soon."

Yuffie wondered if he had been about to say 'hope,' but changed his mind last minute. She could understand how hard it would be to hope that they would survive, or that the whole world would be saved. It was even hard to think of a world without the pain that Weiss had brought upon it.

Both lapsed into a comfortable silence, and Yuffie basked in the fact that Vincent hadn't yet left. Maybe she wouldn't be alone anymore, and maybe there was still some hope left in their world.

Icicle Town was one of the many places on the planet that had remained the same. Snow was falling in thick clumps when The Shera finally touched down in the outskirts, and Cid set about to making sure that the ship's parts wouldn't freeze too badly in case they needed to take off in a second.

"I'm going into town to buy a few things," Tifa said, donning the black cloak she had been wearing when Cloud had first met her. Along with a pair of black, knee-high boots, and a special outfit to keep away the cold, she was ready to risk the negative digit weather.

"I'll go with you," Cloud said, giving her a stubborn look.

"Stay with my son. Please, Cloud," Tifa added when he began to protest. "Vincent and Nero can come with me if you're worried about my safety."

Cloud tried to ignore her wink, but she looked so… playful, and beautiful. He wanted to curse himself for being such an idiot. They had no time for love, but he got the feeling that he was too late to try to avoid falling in love with her.

The others in their group dispersed; some to continue their coming assault against Weiss and his reactors, others to get some rest, or to grab something to eat. Tifa paused in front of Cloud and placed a small peck on his lips.

"I'll be back soon," she said, voice dipped low.

His blue eyes watched her lips intently before she sidestepped him and walked out the door. He sighed to himself and saw Angeal watching him in amusement from where he stood hovering over Zack protectively.

"Interesting thing, love is."

Cloud rolled his eyes. "You're not going to get philosophical on me, are you?"

Angeal grinned and shook his head. "I'm just… glad that it's something that can still flourish, even in the world we live in now."

The blond was silent for a moment, eyes darting to Zack, who was on the floor, laying on his stomach as he colored into an old, tattered notebook. "I've been meaning to ask you. What happened to Sephiroth and Genesis?" Cloud asked, tone careful.

Angeal sighed heavily, forlorn. "We were separated during the battle for Midgar. The three of us were able to hold the front line against Weiss and his people, but the other SOLDIERs began to fall before we could call a retreat. We were overwhelmed by the attacks of both Azul and Rosso. Genesis died then… but Sephiroth just disappeared. I searched for him on the battlefield but found no trace of him."

Cloud had the feeling that this piece of information would be answered for them sometime soon. "He disappeared while you were fighting on Midgar ground?"

The taller man turned to look at Cloud, a calculation glint in his eyes. "Are you… thinking that he could've stayed in Midgar?"

"If Weiss is as powerful as we all think he is, then maybe he either killed Sephiroth, or took him in for one of his experiments. Especially if Hojo had been around at the time." Cloud paused. "Have you considered the fact that Weiss might have him under his control?"

"He would've sent him to attack us and bring us down by now," Angeal replied, shaking his head.

"Weiss likes to play dangerous games. Maybe he's just waiting for the right time to strike us down," said Cloud in a detached tone. Even if that did happen, he would lay down his life save Tifa and her son. If that wasn't love, he didn't know what was.

"We'll both protect them," Angeal said quietly, as if reading his thoughts.

Cloud managed a very small smile and nodded. He moved over to Zack's side and sat, cross-legged, in front of him as Angeal left the room. "What are you drawing?" he asked.

"Everyone!" the child replied happily, showing off the stick figures on the drawing of their mismatched family. "That's you, and mommy, sensei, uncle Vincent and uncle Nero, Cid and Barret…" and he continued to even name a few of the people Cid had brought with him to help with the airship's maintenance.

"It looks good, kid. And what's this?" Cloud asked, pointing to two blurry shapes in the distance; one blue and the other green.

"They watch over me," Zack said. He pointed to the green. "I don't know her name, but she has pretty green eyes. And this one is my daddy."

"Green eyes?" Cloud murmured.

Zack nodded. "Before my mommy came back, she would sometimes sing me a lullaby."

Cloud brushed his thumb over the green shape and smiled inwardly, happy that at least she wasn't alone in the afterlife. "How about we go see if we can have some hot chocolate?"

"Okay!" Zack said, jumping to his feet. He handed Cloud the picture. "I want you to keep it, so that you can see us if you ever get lonely."

"Thanks," Cloud said, folding the picture carefully and then slipping it into a hidden pocket of his pants. "Hopefully we'll never get separated again."

Together the two made for the door, Zack's little hand slipping into Cloud's much bigger one. And for the first time in a long time, Cloud felt a small amount of peace in his heart and mind. He knew that the end of their war was coming up very soon, but for now he would enjoy the time he could with the people he had come to care for so much.

After searching for them for nearly an entire month following their last battle, Weiss had been close to losing the small amount of patience he'd had. Until finally, one of the soldiers he had sent out had caught them.

He had to admit that hiding out in the middle of the freezing cold had been a good plan, but had they not angered him by killing two of his best soldiers and oldest companions, he probably wouldn't have found them so quickly.

Now he was determined to tear them apart and bring down their little resistance, and after what the soldier had discovered, well, he had the perfect way to bring them down. His sweet 'Locked-heart'had spent too much time running around on her own and he wanted her back.

Sitting on what could only be described as a white stone throne, under what had once been the heart of Midgar, he watched images of Tifa as she tended to a child. He couldn't have been more than five, and despite the color of his eyes and shape of his hair, everything else was Tifa's. From the way be squinted when he was upset, to the way he frowned in confusion or frustration. There was no doubt in his mind that his little pet had a son she had kept well hidden until now.

During the time he had had Tifa under his care she had never smiled; she had sneered, grimaced, flinched, and scowled. As much as he had enjoyed bringing about her pain, he had always been curious about the other side of her. In the surveillance that he had received, he had seen the twitch of her lips into a smile many, many times.

If the boy brought about that reaction from her, then he'd just have to bring him with Tifa when she was returned to him.

"Release Hojo's little pet—" Weiss said to one of his soldiers as he sat watching a frozen video of Tifa, her eyes staring into the distance but her flawless face clear. "—and bring him to me." Unfreezing the video, he watched the rest of it and his suspicions were correct when he saw the child jump into her arms.

Tifa hugged him as if the boy was her entire world. Weiss smiled to himself.

The heavy echoing of footsteps reached his ears and he looked up and into cold, emotionless green eyes. He was the perfect, empty, soldier Hojo had always dreamed his son to be. And now he would serve Weiss in his plans.

"Are you ready to follow my orders, son of Hojo?" Weiss asked, eyes glowing faintly with mako.

"Sephiroth."

Interesting, Weiss mused, even after all of Hojo's conditioning, the man still offered some resistance. He'd been in isolation, the same as many of the other test subjects, but Sephiroth's humanity had been successfully erased, whereas Tifa's had only been strengthened. "Bring me the boy. Kill whoever gets in the way. Except," he stressed, "her." He froze the image of Tifa on the screen once more. "You may hurt her, but do not maim her or kill her or I will make you regret ever being born. Understood?"

"Yes," was the monotone reply he received.

"Good. Now go to Icicle Town and search for the boy. Nothing more."

Sephiroth said nothing to the orders he had received and quietly accepted the familiar steel of Masamune. Pulling it from its sheathe, the sound of blade singing through air reached Weiss a second before the wet squelch of it meeting flesh. The soldier that had released Sephiroth and had brought him before Weiss fell to the floor in two sections.

"Have fun," Weiss said with a dark smile, before Sephiroth made his way out.

Leaning back in his throne, Weiss replayed the video of Tifa, eyes narrowing with hatred when he spotted the blond man in the background. He vowed to himself that if he ever encountered the man in person, there would be nothing left for Tifa to cry over.

Smiling to himself once more, his mind began to conjure up all the things he would do to her once she was back under his control. This time, he knew she would be much more compliant.

"You have so many scars."

Tifa nodded, prodding at the new ones from over a month ago. "They add character, don't you think?" she asked with a wry smile.

Cloud's thumb brushed over one that curved around the shoulder-blade that had been tattooed. "Were these from after your time with Weiss?" he asked, cautious.

Tifa shifted at his side and turned so that they were both sitting on the cot, backs against the wall and their bare sides touching completely. "He gave me plenty that I ignore now. But I remember some from my childhood," she said, touching her knee. "That one I got for running down a hill when my father told me not to," she said with a faint smile.

"And this one?" he asked, tapping a faded scar on her chin.

"From the same fall," Tifa said with a small laugh.

Cloud echoed her and felt his eyes get drawn to her own. They were shining with mirth, and her face looked so young in that moment. It was easy to forget how young they both were during a war. He leaned in to touch her lips and his heart soared when she met him halfway, her scent surrounding him as her hair tumbled around his face. "Think we have time for another round?" he asked against her lips, hands smoothing urgently over her ribs towards her waist.

Tifa followed him as he fell back against the bed and shrugged. "It depends on how patient Yuffie and Vincent are feeling. Zack has taken to asking 'why' for every little thing this week."

"We should be quick then," Cloud said, pulling her down for another kiss, fingers tangled in the chocolate dark strands.

Tifa smiled into the kiss and stopped Cloud's warm hands from wandering lower than her waist. Slowly, she pulled them up until she could press them back against the small bed.

Cloud opened his eyes to watch her, curious as to what she was doing. At the close proximity they were in he could catch the darker glints of red in her eyes, and he could admire her dark lashes against pale skin.

Ever so slowly, she leaned into him, lips a feather caress against his own rougher ones, their noses brushing before she angled her face more to the side. His lips parted of their own accord and Cloud shuddered when her tongue slipped into his mouth, tracing his upper lip and then the lower one. When she coaxed his own into her mouth to suck on, his fists clenched and he groaned into her mouth. "Tifa…" he said coarsely, pulling at his hands.

"Cloud," she mimicked, smiling pleasantly. Her hands released his and she allowed him to roll them over so that she was on her back, staring up into his soft face.

"What are you doing to me?" he murmured.

Tifa swallowed hard, unable—or unwilling—to place the emotion she could see in his powder blue eyes. "Don't fall in love with me, Cloud," she whispered.

"I think it's a little too late for that," Cloud said honestly, cupping her jaw and leaning in to slide his lips against hers again.

For some foolish reason, she felt her eyes filling with tears that began to fall one by one. She missed the frown on his face when he pulled back. "Tifa? Is it that awful to have me love you?"

She shook her head and shoved the tears away roughly. "It's just that… the last man I loved and who loved me back is dead. I don't want the same thing to happen to you. And I'm crying because it's too late for me now, too!"

He wanted to laugh at the way her last sentence trailed into a whine, but he knew it would be a bad thing if he did that now. Especially since she had pretty much told him that she loved him, too. His heart was beating erratically in his chest and he wanted to wrap her in his arms and never let her go.

Moving to her side, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly to him, running careful fingers through her hair to soothe her. "This is what we both need, Tifa," he assured her, kissing her forehead.

"I get the feeling that something bad will happen to us if we allow even a shred of happiness to enter our lives," Tifa whispered against his collarbone.

"I won't try to convince you that nothing will happen, especially with Weiss out there, but we need the companionship and love of another human being. Now that I know that you feel the same way, we can enjoy the time we have left together. Whether it's a month or five years."

"But that's the thing," said Tifa with a sigh. "I don't think I'll be able to handle it if I lose you, too."

"We've both felt that kind of loss before, Tifa. I can't be the only one who wants to have that love in my life once more," said Cloud.

"It'll hurt more in the end," Tifa replied.

Cloud kissed her cheekbone and wrapped the blankets around their naked bodies. "I'm willing to take that risk. Will you?"

She wanted to, Leviathan, she wanted to. But what if she lost him tomorrow? How would she keep going forward in this way without him?

"If… you do lose me, then you'll have your son to keep fighting for. Always stay strong for him, Tifa," Cloud said with a small sigh.

He was right. Even if she lost everything, her son would always be her strength. She wanted to give him the love and the family she had previously denied him. To make Zack happy, she had to be happy, too. She smiled against Cloud's skin, her own fingers rubbing over the slippery scars on his back. "I'm not going to go easy on you."

Cloud chuckled in a low tone, causing a shiver to run down her spine. "You've made everything difficult between us from the very beginning. I think I can handle it."

"Good," Tifa said, pushing Cloud onto his back once more, tears completely forgotten. All of her doubts and fears were being replaced by thoughts of what it would feel like to love another man, and for the first time in a long time, she wasn't afraid to let go. She had been guarded for so long that it would be a little tricky to start anew, but she had the feeling that with Cloud everything would be a little easier.

So, she kissed him and let herself enjoy the moment.

Poor little Zack. What lies in store for him? I can't say much, except that he won't get hurt, but we'll see how everyone takes seeing Sephiroth again. I hope it wansn't confusing, but there was a month long time skip to move a few things along, and that'll show up more in the next chapter. Again, thank you all for reading and for being patient with me for taking so long to update. This story is really closing in on an end, so it won't be long. I need to get some sleep now, but everyone take care and I hope you had a pleasant week!