Title: A New Promise
Rating: T
Prompt: Final Fantasy VII, Cloud/Tifa: Post AC(C)-- Cloud comes home to his girlfriend to try to fix what he's lost.
Warning: Language
Word Count: 5037
Summary: Aerith and Zack had given them a second chance, they might as well take advantage of it.
A/N: This fic was written for Springkink, and the prompt belongs to my buddy OCValk. This is also the fortieth story I post here, and it's only because I've posted my oneshots individually. Still, celebrate with me! Now this fic has no smut because, well, I imagine that when Cloud returns home after ACC, that Tifa won't just let him right into her bed and forget everything that happened. I don't think that there is a woman out there who forgives every single thing. She'll need time to trust him completely again. I hope everyone enjoys this take on what could've happened after Cloud came home. Fic was inspired by Seether and Amy Lee's, "Broken." Please enjoy and excuse any errors; there was no beta for this fic

Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII or any of the characters used in this story. I am making no money off of them!

………

He had waited long enough for the day to be over. Various neighbors, and the cured people living there in Edge had celebrated with them out on the street, and only AVALANCHE had remained in Seventh Heaven until late at night. He was exhausted down to his very bones, but there was still one last battle to be fought and won. He needed to make peace with Tifa.

Cloud couldn't help but notice that she had kept her distance from him the entire night while their friends had been present. Even when they were celebrating victory over Jenova and Sephiroth once more, he could tell that her smiles were forced and that she was just as weary as he.

Now that everyone was gone, and that the children were asleep, he would be able to talk to her about the events that had gone on and ask her how she felt about it. He found her in the bar, placing all the dirty glasses into a bucket of soapy water for the night. She looked dead on her feet, but almost the entirety of the bar was now clean.

"Tifa?" he asked her from the doorway.

She looked up with a half smile. "I'm almost done, Cloud," she said in the melodic voice he had begun to crave and miss while gone.

"It's been a long night," he said, not knowing how else to approach her but through small talk.

"I bet it has. Your bed in your office is ready for you in case you want to get some sleep now," Tifa said, focusing on setting down a rag to dry, and placing a broom and dustpan into a side closet.

"My office?" Cloud asked, confused. But before leaving they had slept in the same room… the same bed. "Tifa, I—"

"Good night, Cloud," she said, walking up to him and pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Sweet dreams."

And then she was gone, up the stairs and leaving him with so many questions that it wasn't funny. There was so much that he had wanted to say to her, but she had left him in limbo. Cloud supposed that it was fair, seeing as to how he had left her alone for so long without any answers and without someone to lean on. She had been raising two children on her own, and he… he had no right to demand anything of her. Let alone to make her allow him back into her bed.

Cloud pulled off his gloves and walked over to the sink, dipping his hands into the lukewarm water before grabbing the sponge to begin washing the glasses. It was an insignificant action, he knew, but at least Tifa wouldn't have to get up in the morning to finish the dishes. Maybe after she had gotten some rest and her mind was refreshed, she would be willing to hear him out.

………

Come morning, Tifa didn't feel as refreshed as she had assumed she would. She had thought that knowing that Cloud was alive and well would've made for a good night of sleep, but it hadn't. She had tossed and turned, feeling empty and cold without Cloud there to hold her, but that had been something she had become accustomed to after he had left. She couldn't automatically accept him back into her life. Not after all the worry he had put her through.

A part of her wondered if she was being selfish, but another part told her that maybe it was about time that she thought a little more about herself. After showering and drying her hair until it was the normal silky waterfall against her back, Tifa made her way down to the kitchen to begin cooking breakfast for the family. Yuffie, Shera, and Cid would probably show up later in the evening, so she made a note to go to the outdoor market to buy some produce. Though the battle with Bahamut and Kadaj had damaged a lot of the city again, she hoped that the open market was still setting up the various stalls to sell groceries.

By the time the children trudged downstairs, Marlene flooking refreshed, but Denzel tired and with hair sticking out at odd angles, she had finished making their waffles. Tifa was pouring milk and orange juice for them as they slid into their seats at the table. "You could've stayed in bed today," she said to Denzel, taking into consideration that the boy was still recuperating from the Geostigma that had racked his body for so many long days.

"I was hungry," he said, scratching his head.

"Where's Cloud?" Marlene asked cheerfully.

"I don't know, sweetie," Tifa replied, taking a cup of coffee for herself.

Marlene and Denzel shared a worried look. "Well… didn't he stay home last night?" the girl asked.

Tifa paused in the process of adding milk to her coffee and shook her head. "Yes, but he slept in his office. Now hurry up, you two. Barret said that he wanted to take you both out to spend the day together," she said, smiling in reassurance.

The children did as told and offered no other questions about Cloud, though they both knew that something was wrong if Tifa had kicked Cloud out of her room. A few minutes later, Barret arrived with a big smile on his face. "Mornin' Teef," he said, giving her a hug that nearly stole her breath away quite literally.

"Good morning, Barret. I'm glad you're here because the kids are getting dressed and I'm on my way out," she said, grabbing her grocery bag from the pantry. "Please take care of them and remember that Denzel is still recuperating. Make sure to stop and rest. No strenuous activities."

"I will, Teef, don't worry so much." He eyed the bag in her hands. "Why are you still doin' the grocery shopping? Don't you have a man in the house now?" Barret asked, frowning.

Tifa pressed a kiss to his cheek and smiled before she walked out the door, leaving his question unanswered. Barret's frown deepened into a scowl when he heard heavy footsteps followed by the lighter patter made by the children.

"Papa!" Marlene yelled, running into his arms for a hug and bypassing Cloud. The blond was reaching for the coffee pot, but he gave Barret a nod in greeting.

"Hey, princess. Denzel," Barret greeted both young ones. "Go and wait for me at the truck. I'll be right out."

Marlene and Denzel said their goodbyes to Cloud before they ran out of the bar and to Barret's truck. The dark man turned to Cloud and the blond warrior paused with the mug half-way to his mouth. "What?" he asked.

"You didn't fix it," Barret said, serious.

Cloud sat down at the breakfast table and sighed. "She didn't let me."

"Bullshit."

Cloud's blue eyes narrowed. "She avoided me and made me sleep in my office."

Barret was impressed. He'd always worried about her living with a man, but time and again she proved to be able to hold her ground. "Well, it's obvious you've messed things up big time. But sitting here on your ass isn't gonna help you at all."

Cloud frowned down at his coffee mug, his spikes of golden hair hiding his face. "I feel like I don't have the right to ask her to listen to me. I was gone for so long. Even before I took off, I was rarely here anyway."

Barret sighed in pity. "But you two love each other, and if there's anyone who deserves happiness, it's Tifa and you. Make it right, Spiky. If you don't, I won't be able to forgive you," he said before he turned and walked off. "She went to the market. Maybe you can catch her there!" he yelled before the door shut behind him.

Cloud continued to stare down at his coffee in thought. He wondered how long Tifa would keep avoiding him before it all exploded. Though he knew that she was one of the most benevolent and kindhearted people, there was only so much hurt that a person could take before exploding. They both deserved it, Cloud mused. There were a lot of things Tifa had a right to demand an explanation for; he just didn't know how he would reply to those things when the time came. But he supposed that it would be better to get it all in the open, now, before feelings of resentment grew between them.

Racing up the stairs, Cloud quickly changed into regular clothing and decided to go join Tifa on her trip to the marketplace.

……

Tifa smiled pleasantly as she took in the wonderful fresh scents of the fruits that had just been brought in. The color of the fruit was better than it had been since the destruction of Meteor, but she hoped that it improved now that the Geostigma wasn't destroying the planet. Maybe she would make the kids some soup, and a big piece of roast beef for their friends.

Yuffie had claimed to turn vegetarian, but Tifa had seen the young woman digging into a plate of steak and eggs a few minutes ago in the restaurant she had passed. Surprisingly, Vincent was sitting with her, nursing a cup of coffee and just watching Yuffie in bemusement as the ninja talked her fill without neglecting her breakfast.

Tifa had kept walking and left the two on their own, since she knew how much Yuffie treasured each moment she spent in Vincent's company. Her steps had then taken her to the outdoors marketplace. She passed the fruit section and walked right into the flower section, which was right before the vegetables. Tifa stopped to smell the small selection and hoped to see more blooms available in the next few years.

A gust of wind made her gasp and a few petals fluttered away from one of the already drying flowers, tangling them in the long strands of her hair. She turned to smile at the woman selling them, and stopped when the little old lady handed her a red blossom. Tifa reached for her gil, but the woman shook her head. "Thank you," Tifa said before beginning to walk off.

Taking in the scent of the flow the woman had given her, Tifa felt a shiver run down her spine, which usually meant that someone was watching her. Turning slightly to take in her surroundings, she spotted him by an alley, all dark suit and straight posture. His sidekick was nowhere to be seen, and for that Tifa was thankful.

Rude straightened his tie and approached her, inclining his head politely in greeting. "Tifa."

"Hello, Rude. Starting off the day by following me?" she asked, pleasant.

He cleared his throat and shook his head. "I just wanted to know if you would mind some company."

Tifa stared. "I think that's the most I've ever heard you say," she said, smiling. "But I'm here to grab a few things before I have to go. I guess it wouldn't be too bad to have someone to talk to."

Rude nodded and offered a small smile, reaching for the bag of groceries she had already purchased.

But Tifa moved and shook her head. "I can carry the bag myself. I'm not physically incapable," she said lightly.

The Turk just nodded and walked by her side, noticing how people seemed to jump out of their paths when they saw them approaching. Tifa was a renowned fighter, loved by almost every single person in Edge, and he… well he was a Turk and the complete opposite. Rufus was trying to rebuild and right what his father had destroyed, but people still held fear when it came to the black suit and anything to do with ShinRa.

"How is the job going?" she asked, pausing to take a look at a crate of tomatoes.

"Fine. Uneventful."

She smiled as she turned to look at him. "Not a man of many words, are you?"

"Never have been."

"So… why did you want to keep me company?" she asked, moving on to prod and turn some carrots. He remained silent for a long moment, and Tifa looked at him again in curiosity.

Rude cleared his throat and took off his sunglasses to momentarily fiddle with them. "Strife is back, I know, but I wanted to…"

"Yes?" she prodded, a sinking feeling in her chest. Tifa knew what he wanted to ask, but it seemed like an impossibility. Despite not having allowed Cloud to give her an explanation of his actions yet, he was still the man she had fallen in love with, and even with the pain he had caused her, she still loved him with all her heart. She appreciated having the attentions of a man like Rude, but she wouldn't lead him on.

He remained silent as he reached a hand up, sifting through the dark strands of her hair. Tifa let out a little sigh when the tips of his gloved fingers brushed against her jaw very brief and light, pulling out a flower petal when he drew away. "Rude," she started, voice low. "You know that I can't."

"He's not good for you," Rude muttered, voice nearly carried away by the bustling marketplace.

Tifa smiled, her eyes softening. "But I can't force my heart to stop loving him."

Rude expelled a resigned sigh and nodded once. This time, he brushed the backs of his fingers across her cheek and nodded once. Tifa parted her lips to offer an apology, but something golden made her turn to her left. Her breath left her in a rush as she spotted Cloud standing by where the flower vendor, watching her. He was an amazing sight, and like every time she set eyes on him, he took her breath away.

His usually faraway blue eyes were there, in the now, burning with something she hadn't seen since before the Geostigma episode. Standing there, all black, gold, and blue he was a contrast to the variation of colors that the marketplace had to offer. Tearing her eyes away from him, Tifa looked back at Rude, who was already moving away. "I'm sorry," she said.

"I hope he finds a way to make you happy," Rude said before walking away.

Tifa watched him go, a frown marring her face. She really hoped that happened, too. But it surprised her that someone like Rude, a veteran Turk, would have a bit of faith in Cloud, when she found that her own reserve of faith was nearly depleted.

"Tifa." His voice was close, alerting her to his presence once more. "Is there anything more you need from here?"

Tifa didn't meet his gaze and nodded. "I need more vegetables," she said, beginning to walk off.

When Cloud took the bag from her, she stubbornly held it for a few seconds before letting it go without a word. Cloud watched her with a frown, wondering how much longer she would give him the cold shoulder. He also wondered how long his own patience would be able to take it. Putting his own thoughts aside, Cloud remained quiet as he watched her pick through the vegetables. When they returned to the fruit section, she gave him a short look. "What would you like for dessert?"

Cloud tried not to let his exasperation take hold, but some leaked through his control anyway. "Tifa, I don't want anything for dessert. Can we just go home?"

Her eyes narrowed slightly, but instead of listening to him, she began to look through the fruits, having in mind a jello made of fruit for the children. After picking out three variations of fruit, she placed them inside of the grocery bag and turned to Cloud. "I'm done."

His inward "finally" could've been said out loud by the look she shot him, but they stayed in silence on their walk back to their home. His fingers brushed against her hand accidentally and he wondered if he had imagined her flinch away from his touch. It made something inside of him die, to see her turn away from his touch that way.

By the time they arrived in Seventh Heaven, it was nearly eleven in the morning, and Cloud was hoping that Tifa would keep the bar closed for the day. There was no better day to talk to Tifa than that day, when no one was home. He leaned back against the breakfast table and watched her as she began to put away her purchases, humming quietly to herself. Once she was done, she grabbed a bucket and cleaning supplies from under the sink, but it was the last straw for Cloud.

Tifa nearly jumped when the bucket was taken from her hands and slammed down on the counter far more forceful than was necessary. She placed her hands on her hips and turned to Cloud, ready to give him a piece of her mind, but he stopped her by snatching up her hand and pulling her out of the kitchen. "Cloud—I need to start cooking," she protested, attempting to pull back.

Cloud's grip was like iron and unless she wanted to punch him—which deep down she probably did—she wouldn't be able to pull away. He nearly dragged her up the stairs and to her bedroom, sitting her down on the bed and standing before her. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her, watching her hands fidget with the edges of her shorts. "I—Tifa, there's a lot I want to say."

She wouldn't meet his gaze and instead kept her eyes on the ground. "You've never been much for words."

He didn't know whether she was throwing that in his face or not. He didn't know where he stood with Tifa, now. "Tifa, I don't expect things to automatically go back to normal, but I need you to talk to me," he nearly pleaded, voice low.

She looked up then, her gaze soft but showing him nothing of what she was thinking. "I understand why you left, okay? I do, but this isn't something I want to talk about right now. Maybe another day, but not today." She stood and made for the door, surprised when he didn't move to stop her.

"I never imagined I'd see the day you would turn your back on someone. The Tifa I know wouldn't give up," he said, appealing to the fighter side of her.

Tifa stopped before reaching the doorknob and turned briefly. "Is there anything here—" she motioned between them, "—to salvage, Cloud? Think about that and let me know," she said before walking out of the bedroom they had once shared, missing the shattered look on his face.

Maybe she was being unfair, but she didn't know if she had the strength to continue with a one-sided relationship. She didn't know how Cloud felt after the battle with Sephiroth and Kadaj, she had barely known had he felt before the Geostigma, and it scared her to hear what he had to say because if he decided that he wanted to leave permanently… he would well and truly break her heart.

While she began to peel vegetables and get everything ready for dinner—even though she knew it was fairly early—Tifa didn't bother to wipe away the silent tears trailing down her face.

………

After the goodbye dinner she had made for their friends before they left for their respective homes, Tifa was thankful that Cloud and Barret offered to take care of the dishes. It gave her a chance to soak in the tub for a good hour and relax her aching muscles. She still remained distant from Cloud and she knew that their friends had noticed that something was off between them this time. Soon, Cloud would run out of patience and would force the issues, especially now that a fraction of the burdens over his shoulders had been washed away.

The change may not have been apparent to all their friends, but they had lived together for so long that she had come to know him quite well; at least she thought she had known him well before the Geostigma. Still, she had seen the relaxed set of his shoulders, the way his lips quirked more often, and the way his eyes settled on each of their friends without getting that far-off and distracted look in his eyes. Maybe he had come back a different man, but that didn't make his abandonment any less painful.

After pulling on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, she towel dried her hair and sat on her bed for a couple of long minutes, trying to figure out what to do. Cloud was right, she had never been one to run away from anything. She had always been a source of strength for their friends, and she had tried for Cloud, but… but she was tired. So tired of fighting and of trying to keep together a family that had been unstable to begin with. She loved the children and would never give up on them, but she didn't know where she stood now with Cloud healed.

She wanted to allow her heart free reign to love him completely, but up until that moment, Cloud had proven to her how unreliable he could be when it came to their relationship. She was happy that he was alive, but that didn't take away from the many times he had put distance between them. He hadn't even trusted her enough to tell her to her face that he had been dying, and…

Tifa choked back the tears at the memory and let out a slow breath through her mouth, gathering her courage and feelings for one more confrontation. Standing, she made her way out of her bedroom and to his, noting that the bathroom in the hall was occupied by Barret, since she could hear his off-key singing. She stood in front of Cloud's office, but before she even had a chance to knock, it opened. Her eyes zeroed in on the fact that he was only wearing a pair of sleeping pants, before she realized that his upper body had more scars than she remembered. The battle had been a difficult one, but the marks on his chest did nothing to hide what an attractive man Cloud was. The scattered beads of water on his body also let her know that he had just left the shower; his spikes still damp.

Cloud moved aside without a word and let her into his office, a grateful look on his face, as if he had known that she would come to his old room. He didn't have to wait long for her to speak, since she did so as soon as the door was closed.

"I can't go on pretending that I'm okay," she started. "I understand that you left to find a cure for Denzel, and then for you. What I… what I can't forgive is you not telling me that you had contracted the stigma, too."

Cloud nodded, swallowing hard. "I didn't want you to suffer."

"Did you think it would've hurt less if I had gone on without knowing you were sick, just to get news that you had died?" Tifa asked, voice cracking. "How was dying away from your home, away from you family, alone, better?"

"I was wrong, and I'm sorry," Cloud replied, not knowing what else he could say.

"And then you died anyway," Tifa gasped out, chest heaving with the words as she turned away from him.

Cloud could feel his chest constrict at the raw pain in her soft voice. He had wondered what would've happened if Aerith and Zack hadn't sent him back. He owed them his life, and he no longer wanted to waste another minute filling it with regrets. Approaching her from behind, Cloud wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tightly. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me," he murmured into her hair.

"Is the guilt gone, Cloud? I can't keep competing with that as well. It's too tiring," Tifa whispered, slow tears dripping onto the arms wrapped around her.

Cloud swallowed hard when he felt the wetness on his skin, hating himself for making her cry, but this was what he had wanted, right? He had wanted her to talk about it, to tell him how he could make everything right again. He slowly turned her around in the circle of his arms, his eyes locking with hers. He had known that he would risk losing her the moment he had walked out of their home and had taken residence in the church, but he honestly hadn't wanted to burden her.

"I'm home, Tifa. There's nowhere else I would rather be," he murmured, his hand reaching up to caress her cheek, to clean her tears away. Tentative, he closed the space between them and brushed her lips with his, feeling her breath shudder out.

He started when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him to the point of making it hard to breathe. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he whispered against her shoulder.

"You died in that explosion, and all I could think of in that moment was what I would do without you. You died, Cloud," she said, voice choked.

It was that fact that had made her so distant, Cloud finally realized. It wasn't so much that he had walked away—though he knew that that was in there, too—but that he had died in that battle. Before knowing that Zack and Aerith had sent him back, there had been a moment when Tifa had thought that she would never see him again, that he had permanently left her. He couldn't even remember the last thing he had said to her before leaving those weeks ago, but he did recall an argument and the pain in her eyes. He would've died and the last thing he would've said to her would've been anger-filled words.

Cloud's grip tightened around her at the memories; he never wanted to leave her like that again. He had been so focused on Denzel's pain and his own, and all he'd initially wanted was to find a cure, but he had put aside Tifa's own pain. He had been selfish. "I won't be leaving again, Tifa. I promise," he whispered, voice rough and oddly choked against her ear.

She finally drew back, eyes red rimmed but the maroon hue was clearer, not so hurt anymore. "We love you, Cloud, and we're your family."

"We're not a family yet, Teef," he murmured, holding her hands in his.

Her eyes lowered in disappointment as she nodded. "Okay," she muttered, heaving a tired sigh and beginning to pull back.

"You didn't let me finish," Cloud said, blue eyes clear as he lowered his face so that he could meet her eyes. "We won't be a real family until I ask you to marry me."

Tifa straightened and looked at him in shock. "What—Cloud, what are you saying?"

"I think I'll need a proper ring first," he grumbled, blushing.

She shook her head as a smile began to curl uncontrollably at her lips. "Are you… asking me to marry you?"

His cheeks were still stained a light pink, but he nodded once. "I didn't want to make it so… boring, and without a ring." Cloud stared down at their linked hands and saw that despite all that he had put her through, she was wearing the wolf ring on her right hand. The ring he had given her.

Tifa looked down, too, and smiled, pulling the ring off her slim finger, handing it over to him. "That ring means a lot to me," she whispered, watching as his eyes lit up and he gave her a small smile. He looked so much like the boy that left Nibelheim that it made her heart skip a beat.

Cloud took the ring from her and nodded once. "Tifa, will you marry me?"

She smiled. "This is forever, Cloud. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I'm sure, Tifa," he replied, leaning closer to kiss her cheek. "I never thought I'd get to see 'forever' with you, Tifa Lockhart, but I want to."

"And you'll be okay if we take this slow?" she asked, tentative.

He knew the reasons behind her question: she needed time to trust him again with her heart, and to see if he wouldn't walk away once more. He understood completely. "Slow is good," he said with a nod.

"Then yes, Cloud. I'll marry you," Tifa replied, chest catching in a small sob when he slipped the ring onto her left hand. She was the one to move forward then, to seal their lips in a long, emotion filled kiss, running her hands through his hair.

Cloud rubbed along her arms and down her back to circle her waist, tasting her tears on her lips. It was… incredible that he had found someone like Tifa in his life, and he had been stupid enough to walk away, but that wouldn't be happening ever again. "I love you, Tifa."

She smiled against his neck, taking in his clean scent. "I love you, too."

She knew that they had a long way to be completely and utterly happy, but this was a start. Cloud was alive, and more importantly, he was home and missing some of that guilt he had always carried with him. Her heart hadn't failed her yet, she thought with a slight smile. She hadn't been wrong about Cloud, and with her help, he would get better and he would hopefully be happy. Aerith and Zack had given them a second chance, they might as well take advantage of it.

Later that night, though he hadn't made a move to touch her in more than in a calming way, Tifa fell asleep to the beat of Cloud's steady heart, his arms around her, and the comforting feel of the ring on her left hand. Cloud had made her a new promise and in her heart, she was certain that he would keep it.

...........