Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, its characters or storyline. This story is mine, as are Duke, McCallister, and Jake.
This is it, the final chapter, the big climax, the one you've all been waiting for! This story has been the ultimate ride into solidifying Leon and Tifa as a pairing. While I hope this chapter doesn't appear rushed or fast-paced, even if it does, there have been 19 other chapters and numerous prior stories to even things out. I hope you all enjoy it!
Chapter Twenty: Resolved
Despite the cheerful reunions taking place in the Allied Gummi Hangar that afternoon, the rain continued to pound down over Radiant Garden, soaking every surface and drenching every person. The hangar slowly cleared out as people went home, to houses or cafes or bars or wherever their good moods decided to take them. Not long after Leon and Tifa left in that rust-bucket of a jeep, Aerith and Cloud and Yuffie soon followed, and Cid found the sudden quiet of the hangar to be a good change from the earlier ruckus.
He sat in his office as his interns maneuvered the military Gummis into their docking stations inside the hangar. He could see the whole floor through the large window in his office wall, and he glanced up every so often as he perused the latest files in his inbox. Duke the golden retriever had quickly broken away from Yuffie and found solace in the silence too. The dog had set herself down in front of the file cabinets. Legs stretched out and her head aimed in Cid's direction, casually watching him work while she lounged. Scruffy little mutt.
Cid struck a match and the flame cut through the dreary blues and greys of the hangar. He lit a cigarette and puffed three times on it before shaking out the match and looking down at his desk. The rain pelting the flat roof of the hangar provided a thunderous background noise that was easy to drift off to. They'd be lucky if the whole damn Restoration Committee didn't catch pneumonia from loitering out there on the tarmac.
With a snort, he flipped open the top packet of papers. The first was a transfer request from Tabaeus McCallister, wanting back into Leon's department…surprise, surprise. The private was a good soldier, she'd proven that much…but she was absolutely worthless around aeronautics. She avoided all airborne missions like the plague, and she was so damn anal about paperwork and details that Cid's other interns had nearly throttled her on occasion. Why that Nestor idiot had assigned her to Cid's department—ah, to Hell with it.
Clicking his pen open, Cid dotted the I's and crossed the T's on the request before slapping his signature on the bottom line. He shuffled that file into the outbox without further thought and moved on to other papers. Ship inventory orders, a few harassment complaints regarding some of his interns, and some other miscellaneous crap that Nestor felt compelled to send his way.
He went through about half of the stack before sitting back and taking a long drag from his cigarette. He tilted his head back and exhaled smoke at the ceiling. The wisps curled up before being dispersed by the ceiling fan. So McCallister was going back to the department where the stick in her ass matched everyone else's, Leon and Tifa were getting hitched, Rinoa was staying in Radiant Garden—in Leon and Tifa's old apartment, and Aerith and Cloud were…
"Dammit." He grimaced.
Duke lifted her head, ears perked at him. Tossing his spent cigarette into a cup of cold coffee, Cid struck a match and lit a fresh one, looking at the dog.
"I had to watch Leon and Tifa beat around the bush for four damn years." He huffed, "If Aerith and Cloud are heading down that road, then I'm investing in stronger alcohol."
Duke just yawned and lowered her head back to the floor.
The jeep pulled into the small lot, and Tifa moved the stick into parked gear. Due to the odd hour of the afternoon, the parking lot was practically empty otherwise. For a beat, neither she nor Leon made any move to get out of the jeep. They both merely sat for a moment, staring through the windshield at the front of the courthouse building.
"This should only—" Leon reached to open his door.
"Wait." Tifa remained where she was, hands on the steering wheel.
Leon paused and looked at her, wordlessly asking 'why'.
Tifa looked over at him. "I just need one thing before we do this."
He shifted in his seat. "Okay. What is it?"
She bit her lip for a second. "Y'know, the old…the thing with…" She rubbed her forehead.
She had never been one for the old traditions. Hell, she was foregoing a big, flashy wedding—and months of Aerith's self-appointed wedding planning—for this…Why was tradition suddenly so important? This was the only time she was ever going to get married, and she and Leon weren't following any of the rules…So maybe following one would make up for it.
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue." She recited.
Leon's face said 'seriously', but he verbally said: "Done."
She quirked an eyebrow, "What?"
Leon reached out and tapped the dashboard. "This jeep is clearly really old." He gestured to the steering wheel under her hands. "The steering wheel is brand new." He flicked a finger at the pliers that worked the radio. "I borrowed these pliers from Cid." He pointed a thumb toward one of the replacement doors whose color didn't match the rest of the jeep. "And that passenger side back door is blue." He smirked. "I think you're all set."
Tifa couldn't help from smiling at his logic. "Well, that's efficient." She peeled her hands from the steering wheel. "It works for me." She beamed at him. "Let's go get married."
He bobbed his head and they got out of the jeep, quickly moving out of the rain to the front door of the courthouse. They stumbled in out of the rain. She noted that Leon's limp was getting worse, but he covered it well as the door closed after them.
"Oh crap." She exclaimed, slapping at her pockets.
"Don't tell me you need a bouquet now." Leon snorted.
"No, I don't have my ID. I think…" She thought back. "I left it at the old apartment."
"You've been driving without a license?"
She shot him a sideways look and dug out her cell phone. "I'll just call Yuffie and have her bring it down here." She got an idea and snapped her fingers. "She can be our witness too!"
"Works for me." Leon shrugged, leaning against the wall to take the pressure off his knee. "Just…be careful how you phrase it."
If no one was going to join her, then Yuffie would make her own party.
Skipping haplessly through the puddles that dotted the cobblestones streets, Yuffie waved cheerfully at a passing couple who were huddled under a large umbrella. Honestly, it was just water. She would never understand why people were so averted to playing in the rain…
The cell phone ringing in her pocket caused her to slow in her skipping. Tugging it out, she answered without checking the caller ID.
"Y'ello?" She greeted.
"Yuffie! Hey, where are you right now?" It was Tifa, and she sounded…breathless.
Yuffie had slowed to a stop and paused, looking around, as though she expected to see Tifa huddled behind a bush on her cell phone, watching her. "I'm near the Marketplace. Where are you?"
"Something has…come up and I need my ID card. I left it in the old apartment—"
"How did you manage that? You haven't lived there in over a week…"
"Could you just go to the apartment, get it, and bring it down here for me?"
"What came up?"
"I'll explain when you get here."
" 'Kay…Gonna be hard to find you if you don't tell me where you are." Yuffie snarked.
"…You know the old bank museum?"
"Ew, why in the world are you there?" Yuffie grimaced.
"I'm not. Leon and I are at the building across the street. You'll see the jeep."
"You bet I will. That is a really ugly jeep."
"All right, all right. I'll bring it. Is the spare key still behind the name plate?"
"If not, I'll just have to use my mad ninja skills to bust down the door!" Yuffie did an air kick from where she was standing.
"Please don't. Rinoa is moving in there soon."
"Fine." Yuffie turned her feet toward the apartment building where Tifa and Leon used to live. "You could have called Aerith. She and Cloud were going back to Merlin's, much closer to the apartment."
"…but Aerith doesn't like to frolic in the rain like you do."
Yuffie was pretty sure that Tifa was poking fun at her there, but she didn't mind and just snorted. "A'right. I'll be there in two shakes." She hung up the phone and resumed her skipping.
Tifa was so weird sometimes.
Leon watched as Tifa hung up the phone and looked at him.
"She'll be here soon." Tifa reported, pushing her wet hair out of her face.
"Rinoa's moving into our old apartment?" He lifted an eyebrow. "That's a little bizarre."
Tifa shrugged. "She was having problems finding a place in Radiant Garden. Since we're moving into the new house…I figured…why not?" She tilted her head. "Does that bother you?"
"No." He answered honestly. "Just…bizarre."
She chuckled and clasped her hands behind her back. "Just think: in an hour, we'll be married and then we get to go home."
'Home' had to be one of the greatest words ever created, in Leon's opinion. They were both soaked, freezing in the intense courthouse air conditioning, his knee felt like it was being stabbed whenever he put weight on it, and now Yuffie was going to crash the party. He understood that weddings were a big deal to some: the idea of throwing that big ceremony and party together with loved ones was a huge emotional…thing.
But to him, this was just the next step. Simple as that. The bells and whistles and doves and hordes of flowers could be just as meaningful as the rainy afternoon in a local courthouse, but he preferred it this way. He and Tifa were always planning something. Overanalyzing. Overthinking. To just up and get married, in the moment, outside of the norm: it was a relief. And Tifa could never look more beautiful in a big white dress than she did as a rain soaked mess right then. She caught him looking at her and smiled.
"What?" She asked.
Instead of answering, he just smirked and looked down the hallway. Things were going to change. They had already changed. Something else that had been said during Tifa's conversation with Yuffie recurred to him.
"What did that mean, that you hadn't lived in the apartment for a week?" He prompted.
Tifa leaned against the opposite wall. "I've been staying at the new house."
"But it was empty when I left."
"And that was a few months ago." She teased.
Leon tilted his head. "You moved in without me?"
"Relax," She laughed. "I just moved in the new furniture that we ordered after it arrived, and just the odds and ends and…boxes of stuff and…"
"Basically everything?" He pressed good humoredly.
She shrugged. "Good thing I did too…because there's no way you could lug anything around with that leg."
"Hmph." He folded his arms. "Just for that, I'm not carrying you over the threshold."
"We had sex in the study room, Leon. I doubt there's really a threshold anymore."
The woman at the front desk looked over abruptly at them upon hearing that.
The apartment was empty.
Technically she didn't live here yet, but Rinoa had thought that coming here would provide some solace, some sense of belonging, some place of her own to be during this eventful afternoon. The bare walls and the empty rooms hardly provided such a place.
She thought that she would be okay. That she was over it, over him. In a way, she had to be. He was with Tifa: as blind as Rinoa wanted to be, she knew. They were engaged now, had a house together. She was happy for them. Really, she was. But she was absolutely miserable otherwise. What had she done to deserve this?
Holding her arms around herself, Rinoa stood in the vacant living room just inside the front door of the apartment, her new apartment. This was her new beginning. This was her fresh start. It had to be all uphill from here.
She thought that she would be okay…but seeing him there, after so long…
The tears came then. A stinging moisture springing to the rims of her eyes. She exhaled and lifted one hand, drawing her thumb across her eyes to clear the tears before they could break free. Looking sideways to try and curtail the emotion, her eyes found the only two pieces of furniture left, still waiting for Tifa or Leon to move them to the house: a coffee table and a cardboard box half-filled with magazines and books. The coffee table was clear except for the chess set resting on the left side of it.
She had walked in on the middle of the game: story of her life.
Still trying to fight the emotion clogging her throat, she took two steps over to the coffee table and looked at the chess set. The black team was in check by the white queen. She had never been an expert in chess. She knew enough to competently play, but strategy meant nothing to her. She had never been able to plan her moves ahead of time. She just never thought about 'ahead of time'.
That was why she had fallen into this mess. What had she been expecting? Leon to be waiting for her with open arms, open heart? Unchanged and blissfully forgiving of her long absence? It wasn't realistic and she felt a fool for falling prey to it. And the only person she felt close enough to talk to was Tifa…and…God…she couldn't do that.
A sob escaped before she could stop it, and the action rolled through her shoulders and made her spine quiver. Buckling, Rinoa turned and slumped to sit on the edge of the coffee table, holding her arms around her ribs and bowing her head. The tears rolled free and true, cutting tracks down her cheeks and dripping from her chin.
During all those years of navigating the worlds, of making allies and being betrayed, of fighting her way back home, of long, cold nights just trying to stay alive…and she had never felt so alone as she did in this moment. She had never let it sink in either. Now it was finally sinking in…like talons through her chest.
She shook her head fiercely to try and make it stop, but the tears kept coming and she continued to choke on them, eventually dissolving into a mess of sobs and pitiful hopelessness.
Just as she gave into it, however, the front door knob turned and opened.
Yuffie knew immediately that the apartment wasn't empty, but by then it was too late to try and be sneaky. So she just opened the door wide and stepped in.
"Hello?" She greeted the semi-darkness of the vacated apartment.
A whimper answered her and she followed the sound. She spotted Rinoa Heartilly doubled over, sitting on the coffee table next to a chess board. She was hugging herself and sobbing openly. As soon as Yuffie called out, however, the other woman straightened and started trying to wipe her face clean of the evidence.
"Rinoa?" Yuffie felt a spike of alarm at the woman's state. "Are you okay?"
Rinoa shook her head, hiding her face with her raised arms. "No…"
Involuntarily, Yuffie gave a sidelong glance toward the kitchen counter, where the lump of Tifa's wallet was resting. Remembering her promise to bring the ID to Tifa, Yuffie hastily crossed the room and snatched up the wallet, pocketing it before moving to Rinoa's side.
"What's wrong?" Wow, Yuffie, awesome question, dumbass, she scolded herself inwardly.
"What's wrong?" Rinoa repeated. "What's wrong with me?" She hiccupped and wiped her face some more, smearing her make up. "Ugh, look at me. I'm a mess."
"Yeah." Yuffie offered gently, sinking to sit beside her. "I know it's hard."
"I'm fine." Rinoa quipped, straightening and smoothing her hair back. "I just…had a weak moment. Everybody has those."
"Yeah." Yuffie eyed her. "Sure."
Rinoa sniffled a few times before looking back to Yuffie. "Am I pathetic?"
She was honestly asking.
Yuffie blinked, perplexed. "You're a freak."
Rinoa's face started to crumple again, but Yuffie raised a hand.
"We're all messes. We're all pathetic. We're all freaks." She grasped Rinoa's shoulder and shook it lightly. "S'what makes us human." She winked. "Trust me, every one of us on the Restoration Committee has had more than one meeting with our breaking points. Frankly, I'd think you were more of a freak if you weren't having a breakdown about this."
Rinoa averted her eyes. Yuffie grimaced: she wasn't helping. Dammit, she had never been good at comforting people! That was Aerith's job! Yuffie was the funny one who turned the frowns upside down; she had never been the shoulder for crying. Feeling awkward, she patted the woman on the back. Rinoa looked at the wallet in Yuffie's pocket.
"Stealing?" Rinoa swallowed thickly, less-than-subtly changing the subject.
"Oh, haha," Yuffie said sarcastically. "No, Tifa asked me to bring it to her."
Speaking of…Tifa had sounded kind of impatient. Yuffie stood and looked back. "You and me. Party. Tonight. I know the bar where all the military guys drink." She winked and made her way to the door. "We'll turn that frown upside down!"
Aerith and Cloud were walking on the sidewalk under the overhangs of the various businesses that stretched from the Gummi hangar to Merlin's house. Aerith had been yammering on about nothing but Leon and Tifa's engagement since leaving the hangar. She was fully aware of this and the fact that that kind of romantic stuff didn't really rev Cloud's engines like it did hers.
"I'm kind of surprised about this afternoon." She commented, touching her chin.
"Hm?" He kept his eyes ahead.
"Leon is obsessively anal about things like this." She explained. "I always imagined that he'd be one to plan out some big, romantic proposal."
Cloud deadpanned and Aerith stopped.
"What?" She looked at him.
"He proposed to her after coming home from a few months' long mission on another world, in the rain, and in front of everybody." Cloud said. "What in Kingdom Hearts passes for 'big, romantic proposal' for you?"
Color rose to Aerith's cheeks and she continued walking. "Oh, I dunno." She glanced at him flirtatiously. "Maybe flowers?"
He rolled his eyes. "Cliché."
"Wearing a suit?"
"Under the starry night sky?"
Cloud shot her such a sassy look that she laughed.
"Okay, okay, so there's something to be said for spontaneity." She conceded.
Feeling a little uncomfortable broaching the area of romantics with the man that she was sort of, kinda, maybe dating, Aerith clasped her hands in front of her as they walked.
"Want to get something to eat? In a restaurant?" Cloud suddenly blurted. "I mean…like, just me and you? If…if you didn't have plans…" He sputtered.
Aerith stopped walking again and looked at him. "Cloud Strife, are you asking me out on a date?"
"Um…yes." He said sheepishly.
A smile split her face. "Then yes, I would love to." She turned. "There's this adorable little café down the street that serves cakes in the shapes of butterflies—" She almost heard Cloud cringe in physical pain and she chuckled. "I'm KIDDING. There's a steakhouse a block from here."
"Thank God." He exhaled in relief.
Aerith elbowed him in the ribs and they resumed walking under the overhangs.
Yuffie was barely through the front door of the courthouse before Tifa was wrestling her wallet from the younger woman. She dug out her photo ID and thanked Yuffie apologetically.
"No problem." Yuffie chirped, looking down the hall. "What are you guys doing here anyway?"
"Getting it over with." Leon quipped with a grin.
He and Tifa got the scandalized desk worker's attention and were given the proper forms. Yuffie's eyes widened as the gears in her head clicked into place.
"OH MY GOD!" She pointed at the two.
Tifa shushed her as she and Leon quickly filled out the paperwork. The desk worker stood to lead them to see the judge to 'get it over with'. Yuffie followed them.
"But…but…isn't this cheating or something?"
"It's efficient." Leon corrected.
"Puh-tah-toe, poh-tay-toe, Squall." Yuffie said. "But Aerith was—"
"Aerith can plan her own wedding." Tifa chuckled as they entered the judge's office. "I for one don't want to wait through a year's worth of stressful planning for something that we can just do right now."
Yuffie looked to Leon for some kind of logical reassurance, but Leon merely lifted his shoulders. "You want to be the witness?"
The younger woman stared blankly at him and Tifa for a beat. Then she pumped a fist. "Hell yeah I do!" She looked over to the judge and lowered her fist, "Sorry, Your Highness."
"Your Honor." Leon corrected.
"Whatever." Yuffie stuck her tongue out at him.
The judge, a thickly built man with a double chin but soft eyes, looked away from her to Leon and Tifa. "For the record, you are both here under your own free will and are freely agreeing to this marriage?"
Tifa and Leon exchanged a look, a smirk, and then looked back to the man. "Yes."
The judge looked over the papers and bobbed his head. "And I read here that you've opted out of any 'flowery ceremony stuff'." He quirked an eyebrow at them.
"Yes, sir." Leon answered.
"We just want to get hitched." Tifa affirmed.
"No sappy romantic stuff at all?" Yuffie piped in, "I swear, Tifa, are you sure you're a woman?"
The judge looked at her and Yuffie mimicked zipping her mouth shut and winked at him. With a sigh, he faced Leon and Tifa again.
"Everything appears to be in order…and if your witness can contain herself…We'll begin." He started.
"And a belated Welcome Home to you too."
Tabaeus looked up from where she was helping some of Cid's interns to organize the parts' shelves against the wall. She saw Jake Alms sauntering toward her, looking just as smug and devil-may-care as always, hands in his pockets.
"What?" She asked, not realizing that he had been talking to her.
He reached her—well, about six feet away from her—and lifted his shoulders. "Well, you just got back to Radiant Garden too, right? So…Welcome home."
She squinted one eye. "What do you want, Jake?"
Over the course of her leave of absence, she had come to miss many things about Radiant Garden: running drills under Commander Leonhart, shooting at the gun range, and sitting at a desk that didn't have Cid's interns throwing paper airplanes across her cubicle's air space. Jake Alms' cocky man-whoring hadn't been on the list.
Instead of replying with his usual quip, however, Jake looked awkwardly at her. Getting a red flag from that, she set down the clipboard that she had been using to sort the parts.
"Are you okay?" She asked.
"Great." He nodded stiffly, putting his hands on his hips. He abruptly folded his arms, then put his hands back on his hips, started to slide his hands into his pockets, and ended up just sort of leaning at her with his hands awkwardly placed at his belt. "I'm…great."
Utterly bewildered at his behavior, Tabaeus leaned away and started drifting back to her inventory duty. Jake had always been…different, but silver-tongued banter had always been his second skin. He was never this uncomfortable about anything. She had seen him blatantly hit on women while he was drinking a fruity mixed drink and wearing a sombrero. The man had no shame, so what was his deal?
"What do you want, Jake?" She asked again, hoping to snap him out of it.
He looked torn for a moment. "I…want…Tifa told me that….I should ask you…" He hesitated for a long beat. "…if—" He seemed to deflate. "—if the training field was reserved."
Tabaeus had an inkling that he wasn't saying something, but she was so confused that she didn't question him. "I've only been back for a week…I have no idea…but I'll look into it." When he didn't say anything else, she tilted her head. "Was that it?"
"H'yeah." He muttered.
Non-plussed, she turned to return to her work.
"Tabaeus." He took a step toward her.
She swiveled around to face him again, getting a little exasperated now. "Yes?"
"I just—" Jake inhaled, exhaled, and then sighed. "—missed you."
Tabaeus felt her face warm a little. "Er—Thank you, Jake. I'm glad to be back."
With that, Jake made a backwards retreat, tripping over a box behind him before stumbling out of the hangar, leaving a bewildered Tabaeus behind, thinking 'what a weirdo'.
After going through the mere 15 minute process, the judge lifted a pen. "Sign here."
Tifa signed her name first on the first line, and then Leon signed on the other line. Yuffie, who had been practically bouncing on her feet behind them, looked impatiently to the judge. The older man exhaled and smiled, offering the pen.
"And if the witness will sign here…"
Yuffie sprang forward, snatched the pen from him, and scribbled her name in a barely legible mess on the line under Tifa's squiggly writing and Leon's tiny scrawl.
"Congratulations." The judge prompted.
"I now pronounce you man and wife!" Yuffie hollered. The judge looked at her sharply, and she lifted her shoulders innocently. "Sorry, I got excited. You do the next part."
The judge shook his head at her and looked to Leon and Tifa. "Just kiss your wife."
My wife. Leon felt the base of his neck tingle a little, and he looked to Tifa, whose face split into a smile as well. He pulled her close and kissed her.
Tifa held onto his shoulders as she returned the kiss happily. It went on for a long moment, and as the kiss drew to a close, Leon opened his eyes again. Tifa was looking back at him, her wine colored eyes shining.
"Whoo!" Yuffie cheered. "Party time!"
"No." They both replied in unison.
"Oh come ON." Yuffie dramatically flung her arms to her sides.
Right then, nothing sounded better than going home with Tifa, ordering takeout, and icing his knee as they stayed home all night.
"I think we're going home." He said as they walked back toward the front doors.
"I know we're going home." Tifa chuckled.
Yuffie huffed as they stepped out into the rain again. "Fine. Married for two minutes and you're already boring." She waved. "Enjoy your night then!" She winked and skipped off.
Leon and Tifa piled into the jeep again and Tifa turned the key in the ignition.
"I think you're going to like what I've done with the house." She prompted.
"I'm sure I will." He replied with a smile.
"Especially the furniture in the living room." She shot him a mischievous look.
He lifted an eyebrow and then narrowed his eyes. "No…not…you didn't…"
"Yes." She grinned and kissed him briefly before pulling the jeep out of the parking lot.
He hung his head. "What is it with you and that furniture?"
She just laughed as they drove home, while the rain continued to fall, like cats and dogs.
A/N: It. Is. Complete!
Thank you to all my lovely readers and reviewers who kept up with this story. Thus endeth the long journey that brought these two together! For those who have been reading my Lefa stories from the get-go, you all are awesome for sticking with me. For those who read this entire story on its own, you all are awesome for giving it a whirl.
The 'cats and dogs' line was a throwback to my first ever Leon and Tifa ficlet, Hart to Hart. Other references about the jeep, the couch, McCallister's transfer, the chess game, and other oddball moments were throwbacks to recurring elements in my other Lefa stories. I wanted to wrap it all up nicely.
I hope you all have enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
And, as always, feedback is welcome and appreciated!