Word Count: 4723
Warnings: Some language.
A/N: First off, I want to thank: mom calling, Heroineofearth, Stryper, v-Luna, cloudlover2989, shinobinaraku, serenbach, CLOUDxTIFAforever, and Fabi-chan. I'm sorry that I haven't gotten any replies out, but I'd like to clear up a few things.
One, I discussed this with Valk and we both agreed that Tifa was acting selfish and a bit spoiled. Hopefully she'll make up for it in this chapter, which is also the last one. But she's not the only one at fault because Cloud, despite feeling inferior to her, is walking away and breaking both their hearts; he's taking the easy route and walking away from their relationship. Anyway, I'll leave you all to judge for yourselves, and hopefully the ending is to everyone's liking!
Zack watched quietly—a first for him—as Cloud finished packing up his things to move to another city, far away. "Are you sure this is the only thing you can do? I mean, I can talk to Angeal and Seph and tell them you've changed your mind!" Zack said after a long moment of silence.
Cloud shook his head and looked around his bare apartment, only the sparse furniture remaining. "You know I can't do that. Tifa is getting married today, and I can't be here when it happens."
"You're an idiot, man," Zack muttered angrily.
The blond glared. "I'm an idiot for not hanging around, watching the woman I love marry another man?"
"No, you're an idiot because you didn't have the courage to fight for her. She would've left everything for you and you threw it back at her," Zack said with a shake of his head.
"What do you care? You were the one who warned me to stay away from her, that she would be trouble and heartbreak." Cloud grabbed his duffel bag and walked out the door.
Zack followed without a word, but once they were back at HQ, which had been at a walking distance, he stopped his best friend. "At least leave her a note!"
Cloud sighed. "I already thought of that."
Zack merely sighed and nodded, punching the up button for the elevator. He didn't want his friend to go, but he knew Cloud could be as stubborn as a Chocobo—which was ironic because he looked like one. "But—you said it yourself that she doesn't love him and he doesn't love her. Can you live with yourself knowing that you're sending her into a loveless marriage? I know that if that were Aerith, I wouldn't just hand her over to another man on a silver platter."
"Well, she isn't Aerith, and I'm not you. You're a SOLDIER First Class, and I'm just a Second," Cloud said, anger beginning to taint his tone.
"What the hell does that matter?" Zack asked, beginning to lose his cool, too.
Cloud refused to reply his question and remained sullenly silent. He didn't bother to turn when Zack let out a long, irritated breath. They reached the roof after only one stop in the SOLDIER floor, and both Zack and Cloud stepped out onto the helicopter pad. There were Turks already readying the chopper. Angeal and Sephiroth were standing a few feet away, waiting for them.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready for the ceremony?" Zack asked Sephiroth.
"There's still time," Sephiroth said. "I wanted to see Strife off."
"Sir?" Cloud asked, keeping his eyes lowered.
"You were one of the best cadets. I expect that this next mission will go as planned, and afterwards, after recommendation from both Angeal and Zack, you will be considered for promotion," Sephiroth said.
Cloud's eyes widened. "T-thank you, sir," he said, torn between feeling hate and admiration for the man in front of him.
"I hope you settle in quickly," Sephiroth said before walking towards the elevator.
Cloud figured that it was the closest thing to a goodbye and a 'good-job' from the great General Sephiroth.
Angeal shook Cloud's hand and offered a pat on his shoulder. "Good luck, boy. Make us proud."
"Thank you, sir. I will," Cloud said before he turned to look at Zack. His friend had a blank look on his face, but the blond could tell that he was still angry at him. "Zack…"
"I hate goodbyes," Zack muttered, interrupting him.
"We'll see each other again," Cloud said, trying to lighten the mood. He really didn't want to leave his friendship with Zack so tense. He was having enough trouble with trying to ignore his heart attempting to jump out of his chest to race into Tifa's hands… "I'll miss you," he muttered.
That did the trick and it made Zack's mask drop. "Take care, man," he said, pulling Cloud into a short, choking hug while simultaneously rubbing his knuckles over the blond spikes roughly.
Cloud shoved him away with a small grin and saluted, making his way to the helicopter and getting in before shutting the door. He sighed to himself and swallowed back a tranq to help with the motion sickness as the helicopter began to rise. Thankfully the pill was ShinRa issue and worked almost immediately. He gazed down onto the landing pad on top of the building just in time to see the elevator doors open and see Tifa emerge from them. She raced towards the spot where the chopper had been in, but Zack stopped her, pulling her into her arms as Aerith hugged her from the other side.
Cloud could see her mouth moving, probably begging him to come back, but it was too late now. He shut his blue eyes and leaned his head back, gritting his teeth against the pain that had roared back to life in his chest. Today she would marry another man; today she would stop being his.
"You look beautiful."
Tifa had cried herself out on her return trip back to her home in Aerith's car, but she could feel that soon there would be more tears. There was only so much that make-up could hide and the make-up artist was beyond irritated with her for ruining her face three times already with the waterworks. Now, they were both standing in the backroom of the church, waiting for someone to let Tifa know that it was time for the farce to start.
"I should talk to Sephiroth before we walk down the aisle. I can't go into this marriage and try to pass this baby off as his," Tifa said, staring down at her gloved fingers.
Aerith didn't dispute Tifa's decision because she agreed with her. This was not a secret worth keeping from such a powerful man. "Do you want me to go and ask him to come here?"
Tifa nodded, but before Aerith could move from her perch on an antique designed settee, Sephiroth stepped through the ajar door, looking highly uncomfortable in a suit. The brunette paled at the sight of him and had to lean back against a chair when she felt faint. Aerith was at her side within seconds, but Tifa thanked her and asked her to leave.
"I'll be outside," Aerith whispered.
Tifa nodded and hugged her before she walked away. She focused her attention on Sephiroth and forced a smile. "Don't believe in bad luck?" she asked, looking from his suit to her dress.
"There's no such thing as luck," he said with a smirk, green eyes glittering.
"I have—something to tell you," Tifa said, pausing to reign in her emotions and keep herself from panicking.
"I know," Sephiroth said, inclining his head once.
Tifa frowned. "You… know?" she asked, confused.
"I had tried to figure out who it was that you felt for so deeply, but you maintained your secret well."
Tifa felt her throat close up and she pressed a shaky hand to her throat. "Sephiroth, I—"
"Do not feel intimidated," he said in a low voice. "Strife has transferred, abandoning you and your secret."
Tifa began to blink rapidly, trying to relax her breathing. "You know?"
"About the child? Yes. I didn't mean to, but a few seconds ago, I heard you talking about it with your friend." He paused. "I know that this may not be what you want to hear, but I would be willing to marry you, and give that child a last name, but… I can think of something much better to offer you: your freedom."
Tifa walked over to him, her white dress—and she felt so out of place because of it—swishing around her. She took his gloved hands in hers and raised teary eyes to meet his green. "But… What if this ends up hurting your image?"
"That's not something you should worry about. But what will you do after this?"
Tifa shrugged. "I wasn't able to tell Cloud about the baby. If he wants nothing to do with us… I'll find a way to raise this baby on my own. I barely found out today that I was pregnant," Tifa said quietly.
"The child will be your freedom, whether Strife is with you or not," Sephiroth said in a quiet tone.
"What about your freedom?" Tifa asked. "My stepfather has no power over us, and it's about time that we showed him that."
"I've always enjoyed the peace that Wutai can provide," Sephiroth said thoughtfully, a smirk curling at his lips. "They also have a form of sword fighting that has always appealed to me."
Tifa smiled a little brighter and nodded. "Then go."
Sephiroth brushed his fingers over the back of her cheek. "I can request for Strife to return."
Tifa squeezed his arm and gave him a sad smile. "He'll have to return on his own."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then he will never know what he will miss out on."
She left her stepfather's home—with the wedding dress on her bed—and took only clothing and her savings. After Sephiroth had left her room, Aerith had offered to help Tifa find her way someplace far away from Midgar. She had settled on moving to Kalm, where everything was peaceful and there was no ShinRa. She'd managed to buy a small house and get herself a job at the small, local school working with the youngest children during their art time. She had decided to prepare to raise her child as best she could, on her own, and without anyone to rely on. Her neighbors were sweet people and often invited her over to either lunch or dinner, and a nice, little old lady had begun to knit her baby clothing.
The scandal of both she and Sephiroth breaking their engagement had been a big one, and a lot of tabloids had painted her as the bad guy and the one who had broken Sephiroth's heart. He had called her a few days after and had told her that he was not the emotional man some reporters had tried to turn him into, and that as long as she was fine, he was as well. He had informed her of what little he had heard of Cloud and that had been that he would be on a mission in Gongaga for a few months.
Tifa had entered her second trimester a few weeks back and there was now a noticeable bulge where there had been only toned skin before. The doctor in Kalm had told her that everything was developing quite nicely and that all she had to do was eat healthy, take her vitamins and not stress herself in order for her baby to be strong and happy.
It was after her doctor appointments when she was more emotional and prone to tears, and it honestly didn't help when she brought out the letter that Cloud had written to her, which Zack had delivered a few minutes after the blond had gone. It broke her heart all over again every time she read it, but for some reason she just couldn't stop herself. It was the affirmation that Cloud had loved her and would always love her, even when he thought himself unworthy of her. "Fool," Tifa whispered; she didn't know whether she was addressing herself or Cloud.
The creases on the letter were beginning to wear from the many times she had opened it, but she had refused to tape the small tears. Rubbing a gentle hand over her stomach, Tifa's eyes started from the beginning.
I know that you may not fully understand my reasons for leaving without saying goodbye, but it's best this way. I can't stay in Midgar, watching as you marry another man, even if I was the one who pushed you to do so. Despite feeling like the luckiest man on this planet for having someone like you, I never felt adequate enough to give you everything you would want. I know you don't want luxuries, or gil, but I had wanted to be able to have something substantial to offer you. A Second Class SOLDIER is a few steps higher from a grunt, but not nearly enough.
I'll be a First Class soon though, and you're right, Sephiroth is a good man. You will marry him and find a way to love him with that great heart that you have. I'm just sorry that I had to break it to get you to see that we weren't meant to be. I'll never forgive myself for that, or for having to leave you this way. I don't want to turn you into a woman who cheats on her husband, or a person who breaks her word. I love you, Tifa, and all I have ever wanted is for you to be happy. We'll leave what happened between us as an affair to remember many years from now. Be happy for the both of us, Tifa. Goodbye.
How could she have been happy with another man, knowing that Cloud was miserable? What the hell was wrong with him? she asked herself angrily. The next time she saw him, she'd give him a piece of her mind and… and… Well, she didn't know what else, but she would see him sooner or later. A part of her would hate him though, if he wasn't there for the birth of their baby.
Dropping the letter over the small coffee table in front of her, Tifa put a hand over her face, feeling the tears begin to leak again. She really hated pregnancy hormones. It made her far more emotional than she regularly was. The ring of her phone startled her, and Tifa grabbed it without checking to see who it was. "Hello?"
"Tifa, this is Zack. You need to come to Midgar as soon as possible."
"Why? What happened?" she asked, feeling her heart rise to her throat.
"It's Cloud… He needs you."
She had very nearly fainted after Zack's call, but for the sake of her child, Tifa had controlled her emotions and had taken a ride on an airship that belonged to a friend. She arrived back in Midgar in record time, her pregnancy making her nauseous throughout the whole flight, but she didn't stop for anything until she was standing in the ShinRa building's medical wing; in the lobby, to be exact.
She turned, her eyes settling Zack's easy smile and kind blue eyes. "I'm glad you're here," he said, pulling her into a hug.
"Where's Cloud? Is it bad?" Tifa asked, returning his hug half-heartedly.
Zack pulled back and gave her a guilty look. "Aerith nearly beheaded me when I told her what I had said to you. She said something about not upsetting pregnant women. I'm really sorry about that, Tifa," he said seriously.
"I'm fine, but please tell me if he's okay," Tifa said urgently.
"He was attacked by a powerful monster. His leg was impaled, but he's been healed. It'll take a little longer for the nerves to mend properly. He won't be able to return to Junon or go on any missions for at least a week. I called you because I figured this was the chance that you needed to tell him about the baby," Zack said, guiding her down a long hallway.
Tifa let out a long breath and touched her stomach. She looked at Zack and smiled. "He won't know what hit him."
Zack chuckled. "He was always happiest when he was with you, despite whatever other nonsense he may have said. He needs you in his life."
"Here?" Tifa asked, waving toward the closed door they had stopped in front of.
He nodded. "Bring him home, Tifa."
"I'll try," she said quietly, grabbing the edges of her coat to cover her baby bump. She then opened the door as soundlessly as possible and stepped inside.
Cloud was lying back in his bed, apparently sleeping, with a serene look on his face. Tifa approached him slowly, resisting the urge to run to his side and kiss him. The wounded part of her wanted to walk away and show him that she didn't care, but she would be lying to herself. Despite Cloud walking away from her—from them—she couldn't ignore the way her heart was beating faster in her chest. Standing next to his bed, Tifa brought her hand up to lightly brush his golden spikes away from his eyes.
That single touch was enough to rouse him, and his eyes opened a sliver, groggy but that familiar blue that she had missed so much. "…Tifa?" he asked in confusion, his hand moving up to touch hers.
She took her hand back and nodded. "I was worried about you," she said, voice light.
"What are you doing here? Who told you I was here?" he asked, his features shifting into a frown.
"Does it really matter?" Tifa asked, tone turning cool. "Are you that much of a coward and you wouldn't have even called to tell me that you're in Midgar?"
"Has nothing to do with you and me," Tifa interrupted.
Cloud looked away from her, shaking his head. "Go back to your husband, Tifa. I don't know who called you, but you shouldn't be here."
"Well, unfortunately for you, I'm not a big fan of doing what I'm ordered to do. If you don't want to talk to me, fine. I won't walk to you, either. I'll just sit here and mind my own business," Tifa said, pulling over a chair and sitting down. She turned on the TV in the corner and put on the news, completely ignoring Cloud for the next half-an-hour.
Cloud watched her as she kept her eyes on the TV and many times he caught himself, about to ask her how she was, or how Sephiroth was treating her. Was she happy? Did she love the General now? "Tifa…"
She had wondered how long he would be able to take the silent treatment. "Yes?" she asked, not looking at him.
"I appreciate you coming to see me, but you should go," Cloud said sadly. To his dismay, tears began to fill her eyes and roll slowly down her cheeks. "I—Tifa, I'm sorry."
She stood, shaking her head. "Fine. If it's really what you want, I'll leave you alone and you'll never hear from me again. But before I go, I think you should know one thing."
Cloud sat up, his hands itching to reach for her, but he stubbornly kept them clenched and at his side. His leg was beginning to ache, but it was nothing he couldn't deal with.
"I didn't marry Sephiroth," Tifa said rapidly, wiping away her tears with her sleeve.
"What?" Cloud asked, stupefied.
"We called off the wedding on the day the ceremony was going to take place." She sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter, right? It's good to know that you're okay, Cloud. Have a good life," Tifa said before walking out of his room.
Cloud stared after her in surprise, his mind warring with his heart as she walked away from him. He had thought he had been leaving her behind to marry a man who would protect her, and… she had been alone all of this time? She had surely had to deal with her step-father's wrath and the media as well. Damn it, he cursed inwardly, wincing when he shifted his legs to touch the ground and stand up. He grit his teeth against the pain and nearly toppled over when his leg nearly gave out on him. The doctor would be angry at him for probably damaging his leg further, but that didn't matter now.
He made it out of his room in a few wobbly steps, and just as Tifa was closing in on the elevators. "Tifa!" Cloud called.
She whirled around, staring at him for a few seconds. "What?"
Cloud sighed. "For walking away." He paused and watched her as she stood in silence, down the hall. He really didn't want to make this a public conversation. "Will you come back to my room?"
Tifa hesitated before beginning to walk back toward him. She did not enter his room though, but she stood a few feet away and watched his every move carefully. "Why didn't you do it?" he asked her.
"Because I didn't love him, and he didn't love me. Neither of us wanted that marriage," Tifa said, running a hand through her hair. "But what do you care, Cloud? You walked away."
"I walked away because I wanted you to be happy!" Cloud said, frustrated that she still couldn't understand his reasons.
"Life without you in it will never allow me to be happy!" Tifa yelled, her voice echoing down the hallway, stopping a nurse who had been about to enter another room.
"We should return to my room," Cloud said, taking her elbow and pulling her a little.
Tifa struggled to push away his grip, and in the process, her coat opened to reveal the red top that molded to her curves and stomach, enhancing her baby bump. Cloud gaped, and Tifa self-consciously pulled her coat closed.
Cloud opened and closed his mouth a few times out of shock, trying to come up with something intelligent to say, but the last thing he had expected himself to say left his mouth. "Is it Sephiroth's?"
It was Tifa's turned to start in disbelief, but it was quickly followed by fury and by the sharp sting of a slap. From any other woman, he would've barely felt it, from Tifa, it actually hurt a little. "I can't believe you, Cloud. Why? Why would I sleep with a man I didn't love and didn't marry?!" she yelled again.
"You mean… the baby is mine?" Cloud asked, falling back against the wall and feeling as if the air had been knocked right out of him. "I think I need to sit down."
Tifa hovered in worry, forgetting her anger as she watched Cloud limp slowly back towards his bed, his hand holding onto various things in order to not stumble. "Of course the baby is yours. I can't believe… Wow… I never thought you'd be the one person who would hurt me the most."
"I'm sorry," Cloud said seriously. "I wasn't expecting you to tell me that you're not married and that we're having a baby."
Tifa's eyes snapped to his. "We're having a baby?" she asked him slowly.
"Yes." Cloud looked straight into her eyes, something seizing in his chest. "You… are going to let me see this baby, right?"
Tifa bit her lip and looked away from him. "Cloud, you walked away from me. How can I possibly trust that you won't walk away from our child if you get an idea into your head that you don't think yourself a good enough father?" she asked him, somber.
Cloud swallowed hard, staring down at her stomach. "I… I remember what it was like to grow up without a father. I want to be there for this baby. I want to be there for you. I'm a First Class SOLDIER now," he said in a low voice.
"And this makes you worthy of me in your eyes?" Tifa questioned, stepping closer.
"Cloud, to me, you were always worthy of my love. It was something I wanted you to see from the beginning," Tifa murmured, reaching hesitant fingertips to brush over his cheek.
Cloud's fingers closed around hers and pulled her closer so that she could stand between his knees. "Can I…?" he asked, his eyes darting to her stomach.
Tifa nodded, feeling her heart beat painfully in her chest. His hands were careful as they settled over her stomach, over the place their son or daughter was growing. He placed a hand flat against the upper curve of her stomach, a look of wonder crossing his face.
"Do you know what the baby will be yet?" he asked quietly.
"Not yet. But… at my next doctor's appointment, she can tell me," Tifa said.
"Can I come with you?" he asked, eyes bright and shining in his face.
She shook her head and his face fell. "Cloud, you're stationed in Junon, and I've been living in Kalm."
He entwined their fingers over her stomach. "Can we compromise?"
Tifa looked at him in curiosity. "Come back to Midgar?"
"Live together here in Midgar, or… get married and live here in Midgar?" Cloud asked, her fingers tightening around his in surprise. "Damn it," he muttered, staring down at his bare feet. "That's not how… I always imagined I'd have a ring, and now I've ruined it—"
He was silenced by the press of Tifa's lips against his, her taste like something he had unknowingly been craving for months. She drew back, and the tears were back. "Hey…" Cloud trailed off, smoothing away the tears with his thumb.
"Pregnancy hormones," Tifa said with a watery laugh. "Cloud, all I wanted was you. All I wanted was to be with you this whole time. I just—you need to give me some time to regain the trust I had in you. But… I wouldn't be opposed to having a small ceremony with just Zack and Aerith present."
Cloud's smile was a wonderful sight to behold because of its rarity. "Zack had been hounding me to transfer back. I don't know how long it will take though," he said, rueful.
Tifa sighed. "I think we can ask for a favor."
"From Sephiroth?" Cloud asked skeptically.
She nodded. "He feels bad that the media painted me as an evil woman who broke the great General's heart. I think he'll be able to expedite the transfer if I asked him to."
Cloud was a bit unwilling to ask Sephiroth anything at all, but if that meant being closer to Tifa and their baby as soon as possible, then it really didn't matter who she asked. "I guess we could do that. Zack didn't sell my apartment the way I asked him to, do you want us to live there while we find a bigger place?"
Tifa's hands cupped his cheeks, and she leaned forward until the swell of their baby pressed lightly against his chest. "Are we seriously doing this? Finally?"
"Yes. I'm sorry it took me so long to just… feel adequate enough for you."
Tifa leaned in to kiss him again, her fingers combing through his golden hair. "Just promise me you will never walk away again," she pleaded.
Cloud sighed. "I promise, Tifa," he assured her, his hands circling her waist as their lips sealed together once more. "Will you stay with me for a little longer?"
"I'd love to," Tifa replied, watching him as he scooted on the bed until he found a good position for his leg. He then patted the space next to him with a small smile. Tifa pulled off her coat and slipped into the bed, curling up into his side and wrapping an arm around his waist. His arms were so familiar and warm that her eyes quickly began to droop.
This was the man she had been willing to give up everything for. He was a wonderful, tiring, pain in the ass, but she wouldn't have him any other way. He loved her just as strongly and he was willing to be there for her and the baby. "I missed you," she whispered.
"I missed you, too. It was like a piece of me had died when I walked away," he said honestly. Cloud let out a deep sigh and listened as Tifa's breathing became even, her eyes fully closing, their baby safely between them. He relaxed back into his bed and curved his arm around Tifa.
A part of him still felt like he didn't deserve her—or their baby—but he had made a promise to her to never again walk away, and he would keep it. He would work hard, provide for them, and love them both with every fiber of his being. Cloud pressed a gentle kiss to Tifa's temple and smiled to himself. Today was the start of a new life and he was not going to waste it.
Before I go, I do have to say that before this story was completed, I had started to write something entirely different for this prompt. Thanks to Valk's awesome help with that one, too, I will hopefully find some time to finish it and post it soon. I hope everyone enjoyed this story and thanks for reading!