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Epilogue: The Future

It's been eighteen weeks since Sephiroth was destroyed and things are slowly beginning to fall into place around me. Reeve has completed the decommissioning of all the mako reactors around the world. It was a fairly quick process, thanks to Barret's talent for finding alternative energy sources. Shelke was an immense help in coordinating the shut down of the reactors and activation of the alternate power sources and she continues to assist Reeve, using her ability to enter the mind of a computer, so to speak.

The Turks are back together as one stealthy security unit within the WRO and they have their hands full. There are small cells of Sephiroth supporters and fanatics all around the world and the Turks are in charge of finding them and detaining them. Of course, they have the great ninja Yuffie Kisaragi helping them along with Weiss and Vincent. It's amazing to me how insulated we all became during our ten year effort to bring down Sephiroth's regime. None of us seemed aware of the possibility that some people in the world may not have wanted Sephiroth killed.

Cloud also took on a job with the WRO too, which surprised me. After our initial battle with Sephiroth and Meteor, Cloud became reclusive and began to shut down emotionally. This time, he seems almost at peace and he is more than happy to help train the WRO's infantrymen as they integrate the former ShinRa infantry and SOLDIERs into one unit. He actually seems to enjoy it. Denzel, against my better judgment, has joined the WRO infantry ranks, but as he pointed out, he's eighteen and survived a battle with men trained by Sephiroth and even survived a face to face encounter with Sephiroth on more than one occasion. I decided to just let it go and allow him to make this decision for himself…even though in the back of my mind I was thinking he only survived the last confrontation because Raeven intervened, and the reason he survived the other encounters was because Sephiroth chose to allow it. Still, there is no denying that Denzel is a strong fighter and has both my talent for hand-to-hand combat and Cloud's dexterity with a sword.

Marlene has been so happy to return to regular school. She still lives with Cloud, Denzel, and me since Barret is still traveling the world discovering new energy sources or putting out fires at the newly converted reactors around the world. She is probably the strongest young lady I have ever met. Even after seeing all the pain, suffering, and death around her for most of her life, she still manages to be optimistic and just pleasant to be around in general. She always has a kind word for me when I'm feeling down and she always makes me smile. She and Denzel are still dating and they remind me so much of Cloud and me…but with less baggage and don't even ask me how they can have less baggage than we did at their ages. Cloud says it's because they watched us and saw how not to act. I always punch him in the arm and he always laughs. I missed my friend so much and it is a relief to have him back after all this time. Gone are his sour moods and rejection of any kind of affection. Instead, he embraces every new experience with a smile on his face. I finally get to see the man Cloud would have been if Sephiroth had never existed.

I feel content to see my friends moving on and none of them feel awkward around me as I assumed they would be after everything that happened between Sephiroth, and me though sometimes I feel incomplete or hollow in some way. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about the Silver General…even eighteen weeks later. He takes up a good portion of alone time in some way. Sometimes it's just a flash of a memory followed by the muttering of 'bastard'. Other times it's…more intense. He occupies my dreams often. Sometimes it's a nightmare of his possible return. In those dreams he seeks me out and tortures me, either physically or mentally as he tortures my friends while forcing me to watch. However, in my most recent dreams, we're sitting in a white room on a white sofa facing each other. I feel no fear as I stare at him and he stares right back, though I know I'm anxious. He seems relaxed as he just stares at me. I'm always in all white and he is always in all black. What he says never changes. "I'm sorry." I never answer. I always wake up before I can respond. What does it mean? Is he really sorry? Am I capable of ever forgiving him for what he's done? Is the fact that I don't answer him proof of my inability to forgive him? It's all so confusing and it's frustrating to me that I still can't make heads or tails of my feelings. It's times like this that I really miss Genesis. He seems to know just what I need when I need it in regards to my feelings about Sephiroth.

We still talk and he even came back to visit me when he was in Midgar for a meeting with Reeve a few weeks ago. I was afraid it would be weird or that the camaraderie we had felt during the last days of Sephiroth's rule were felt only because neither of us had any other options to rely on. But when I saw him enter my bar and smile at me in his charmingly flirtatious way, I knew what had grown between us was a real friendship and it's a friendship I will always treasure.

Friendship? Was that really how she saw him? Tifa rolled her eyes and closed her journal. Trying to answer questions regarding her feelings about him was pointless when the object of her confused feelings wasn't even in the same city as her. She had spent most of the day writing in her journal and now it was time to make sure dinner was ready for Cloud and the kids before opening the bar. She smiled slightly to herself at the thought of her long-forgotten routine. She used to hate the monotony of her life and now she embraced it. She was happy to have the same routine and she vowed to never complain about it ever again.

She walked down to the kitchen and lifted the lid on her famous beer braised beef stew, happily inhaling the cacophony of delicious smells that wafted up to her nose. It was almost done, so now all she had to do was round up the others. She wandered into the living room, but they weren't there. She already knew they weren't in their rooms because she had just past them. She shrugged to herself and went down the stairs into the bar. Cloud, Denzel, and Marlene were sitting at one of the booths, talking quietly. Marlene noticed Tifa standing in the doorway and nudged Denzel in the side. Tifa's brows drew together in a frown as she looked at them.

"Uh, what's going on guys?" she asked.

Cloud slid over in the booth. "Come join us for a second. We're having an impromptu family meeting."

Tifa smiled slightly as she slid in beside him. "A family meeting? Okay, who broke what?"

Marlene laughed softly and shook her head. "It's not that kind of meeting, Tifa."

"What kind of meeting is it?" Tifa asked suspiciously.

"It's not really a meeting," Denzel said. "It's more like an intervention."

Tifa raised her eyebrows. "Who needs an intervention?"

"You do," Marlene said.

"Okay, what?" Tifa asked as she shook her head. "What do I need an intervention for?"

"It has been four and half months since you destroyed Sephiroth, which was totally kick ass by the way," Denzel said with a smile. "The world is moving on and we're all changing…except for you."

"You move around this place like a zombie, Teef," Marlene said. "You don't enjoy the bar like you used to, the customers annoy you with their ridiculous and intrusive questions about Sephiroth, and you are just plain old unhappy."

"Geez, I didn't know I was so miserable," Tifa said lightly, yet still unsure what they were trying to say.

"You're not miserable, Tifa," Denzel assured her. "But you aren't happy here."

Cloud touched her arm and smiled reassuringly. "What we're trying to say is that it's time you put yourself first. You have always given up your own happiness to help others and you know what? It has to end."

Tifa nodded and looked at each of them. "Okay. So what are you suggesting?"

They all looked at each other before they all nodded their heads in some silent agreement with each other.

"You need to go to Banora," Cloud said.

Tifa's eyes widened. If she didn't know the three people with her like the back of her hand, she would have thought they had been sneaking a peak or two at her journal.

"Banora?" she repeated. "Why would I…?"

"Tifa, come on," Marlene said as she playfully rolled her eyes. "Every time Genesis visits or you guys talk on the phone or even when he sends you a text message, you…change! You brighten up and are more like your old self."

"Someone has a crush!" Denzel teased in a singsong voice.

Tifa blushed slightly and shook her head. "I do not!"

"The blush never lies," Marlene said as she folded her arms across her chest.

"Look, even if I wanted to go, I can't leave you guys," Tifa insisted, ignoring the teasing. "I just got you all back. I can't leave you now and I hardly think Genesis would want an apparently miserable ex-consort of the world descending upon him with two teenagers and a moody best friend in tow."

"First of all, Genesis would love to see you no matter who you brought with you," Cloud said with a smile. "And second of all, I am not moody anymore."

"Cloud, I can't leave you guys here," Tifa protested. "Who will run the bar? Who will make sure you all behave yourselves? Who will…?"

"Tifa, I'm legally considered an adult," Denzel pointed out with a smile.

"And I have practically been a grown up since I was four," Marlene said with a soft laugh.

Cloud smiled slightly and looked across at the two teens. "Can you two give Tifa and me a minute alone?"

"Sure," Marlene said as she slid out of the booth. "Denzel and I can get the supper on the table."

Once they were alone, Tifa turned and looked at Cloud. "Already trying to get rid of me?"

"Well, you are kind of a nag," he said, pretending to be serious before smiling slightly. "Tifa, they're right. You just seem so much happier around Genesis. I'm not saying you should go to Banora and propose to the guy, but maybe you need him more than you need us. He was Sephiroth's friend and he's dealing with the same kind of guilt you're dealing with. It just makes sense."

Tifa knew he had a point, but her mind just couldn't let go of the fact that she was leaving her family again. "I can't leave you and the kids, Cloud. I just can't do it…not again."

"You have to remember something, Tifa," Cloud said as he put his arm around her shoulders. "Genesis is not Sephiroth. If you go there and ask for his help, we will be able to visit you whenever we want and whenever you want. No SOLDIERs watching our every move, no crazy remnants listening to every word we say, and no ulterior motives for making you happy."

"What about you? I can't leave you here with the bar," Tifa pointed out.

"I'll hire a bartender," Cloud countered. "She'll have to be seriously hot, though and Reno will be disappointed you're gone. You are the main reason Seventh Heaven is so popular."

Tifa slapped his arm. "Cloud, be serious!"

"I'll be serious if you agree to be less serious," Cloud said as he kissed her temple.

"What about the kids?" Tifa asked.

"I don't know if you noticed, but the 'kids' as you call them, are young adults," Cloud said dryly. "They agree with me and think it's time for you to take a break and focus on you. Surely you've noticed that I am not fragile and won't break the second you're gone."

Tifa laughed softly and rolled her eyes. "I noticed." She was silent for a moment before sighing heavily and leaning back against the high back of the wooden bench she and Cloud were occupying. "I just don't know."

"You know, Sephiroth said a lot of stuff in his lifetime and most of it can be dismissed as the ravings of a madman," Cloud mused before looking directly at Tifa. "But he was right about one thing."

Tifa raised an eyebrow as she turned and looked him in the eye. "Really? Well, don't keep me in suspense. What were his words of wisdom?"

"He told me that you are not my babysitter, Tifa," he answered.

"Well, that is true," she agreed. "But…"

"If you go, I'll be fine," Cloud said softly. "And so will the kids."

Tifa smiled and nodded. "Thank you Cloud. I promise I'll give it some serious consideration."

Cloud hugged her gently and squeezed her slightly. "Whenever you're ready, Cid is more than willing to take you."

Again, Tifa found herself in a white room, sitting on a white couch, wearing a white shirt and soft white cotton pants…facing Sephiroth. He was in his now familiar black shirt and black leather pants, his body turned toward her with one leg folded under him and his arm resting along the back of the sofa. His face was neutral, yet somewhat softer in its appearance. Tifa had both of her legs folded under her and her back was resting against the arm of the sofa while her hands rested in her lap. They both stared at each other, but neither said anything the other.

If Sephiroth had wanted to, he could have reached out and touched her with the hand resting along the back of the sofa, but he didn't move. It was like every dream before it…completely silent.

"I'm sorry," he said. His deep baritone voice still sent chills down her spine, even in her dreams.

Normally, this was the point when she would wake up, feeling confused and alone. But the dream wasn't ending. He still continued to sit there, watching her. Tifa felt herself nodding slowly.

"I know," she answered.

A ghost of a smile hovered around his lips before he inclined his head. "Then this is goodbye, Tifa."

Tifa sat straight up in her bed, breathing heavily. She looked around the darkened room and put a hand to her chest. "What the hell was that?" she whispered. "Was that real? No, it was just a dream…wasn't it?"

She looked at her clock and saw that it was almost four-thirty in the morning. She had to get back to sleep. She had only been sleeping for an hour and she couldn't afford to have a sleepless night…yet the sun found her still up and obsessing over the meaning of the dream two hours later.

Maybe it's a sign, she thought to herself. But a sign that means what?

She sat on the bed staring at the wall for what felt like hours before pushing herself to her feet and going in search of Cloud. She was belting her robe when she came across him sitting at the table eating breakfast.

"Morning Tifa," he said.

"Morning Cloud," she answered softly.

"What's up?" he asked, sensing she had something to say.

She was silent for a moment, staring at the his bowl of cereal before raising her eyes to his. "I think I'd like you to call Cid."

Cloud slowly began to smile before nodding and pulling out his phone. "I can do that, Tifa."

Genesis jumped down from his horse and smiled to himself as he inhaled the sweet country air around him. The unmistakable scent of the Banora Whites filled his senses as he took the reigns of his horse and guided him along the path between the trees now bearing fruit ready for picking. He reached up and plucked one of the shiny purple apples from a branch and studied it for a moment.

"Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess," he recited with a contented smile on his lips. "We seek it thus, and take to the sky. Ripples form on the water's surface. The wandering soul knows no rest." He considered the apple for a moment before offering it to his horse. He happily stroked the horse's nose as he ate his master's gift.

"You know, I think you're going to have to explain that poem to me."

Genesis was startled by the feminine voice and turned quickly finding Tifa standing a few feet away. She was wearing black pants and wine colored t-shirt with a v-neck that showed a tasteful amount of cleavage, the clothing clinging nicely to her curves. Tifa was observing him as well, appreciatively taking in the way the midday sun made his hair take on the appearance of fire. He was wearing a red button-up short-sleeved shirt, the top few buttons left open to expose some of his pale chest. He also had on a pair of fitted black pants that were tucked into a pair of tall brown leather riding boots. To her, he made an almost perfect image of a Lord of the Manor and a dashing one at that.

"Tifa? I'm surprised to see you here," he said with a smile as he walked towards her.

"Well, my family took a vote and decided I should come spend some time here with you," Tifa said with a smile. "Unless you're too busy of course."

"I'm never to busy for my friends," Genesis assured her. "So, did you get any say in this family vote?"

"Nope," Tifa answered with a grin. "Apparently, I am in need of break and Banora is my chosen vacation spot."

"Well, I am thrilled to have the company," Genesis said before nodding towards the horse. "I've resorted to reciting poetry to Strahm here and I just don't think he appreciates it as much as another human being might."

Tifa laughed softly. "I don't know. He seems to love you enough to be your captive audience."

Genesis chuckled softly as the horse bumped his shoulder with his nose. "Maybe. Or it may have something to with the fact that I just fed him an apple and he wants another." He tilted his head to the side and smiled as he watched her slowly approach him and pat the horse beside him. "I really am glad you decided to take me up on the offer of a place to stay, even if it's only temporary."

"I just really needed some time to think about everything that has happened," Tifa said. "And I think I still have some residual feelings of guilt in the back of my mind and in my heart. Gods, I'm terrible, aren't I? I just show up, unannounced, expecting you to fix my problems. You're a busy guy and…"

Genesis gently laid two fingers against her lips and smiled slightly. "Tifa, stop talking. You are not terrible. What you've been through must have been the hardest thing you've faced. I don't care that you didn't tell me you were coming because I am always glad to see you and talk to you. True, I am a busy man, but I will always have time for you. In the past, I have taken my friends for granted, always assuming there will be an infinite number of 'next times', but now that I have a second chance, I promised myself that would never happen again. If you need me, then I am more than happy to be here for you."

Tifa blushed slightly and nodded when he removed his fingers from her lips. "Likewise, Genesis. If you need me, then I will be there for you too."

"Well, then that is settled," Genesis said happily. "Now, I have a question for you: have you ever tasted a Banora White?"

"Sadly, no," Tifa admitted. "When I was growing up, Nibelheim rarely imported them because of the unreliable growing seasons and then ShinRa fire-bombed Banora and they disappeared from stores."

Genesis reached up and plucked another apple from one of the trees before offering it to her. "Then I must insist you taste one."

Tifa took the fruit and examined it. "I don't know…this purple seems unnaturally bright."

"The secret to a good Banora White is a touch of mako," Genesis whispered with a wink. He chuckled at the scandalized look on her face. "Cloud was right to send you away to my home, little one. You are wound tighter than a drum! I was just kidding. I would never feed you a contaminated piece of fruit and I would most definitely not alter a Banora White with artificial growth substitutes. It completely ruins the taste. Hojo used to ruin the most delicious foods by tampering with them."

Tifa shook her head. "That man ruined everything he touched." She lifted the apple to her lips and took a generous bite. Instantly, her mouth was filled with the sweetest juice she had ever tasted from any apple on Gaia. Her eyes widened and she looked up at Genesis. "This is fantastic!"

Genesis smiled, pleased to see such an honest and enthusiastic response to his apples. "Do you really mean that?"

"Oh my goodness, yes!" she said as she took another bite. "Please tell me you make juice out of these amazing apples."

"Why don't you come back to the house with me and I will show you all the delicious thinks I can make with these apples," Genesis said as he offered her his arm.

She happily thread her arm through his while he tightened his grip on Strahm's reigns as they began walking in the direction of a large house. She looked up at him and smiled.

"Thank you for being my friend," she said quietly. "You could have left Neo ShinRa a dozen times or your could have just thrown up your hands and joined Sephiroth's cause, but you didn't and I will be forever grateful that you saw it all through until the end."

"Please know that even though we were thrown together and really had no other option but to rely on each other, that I too appreciate this friendship between us, Tifa," Genesis said softly. "If this grows into something else, then I will welcome that change with open arms, however if you just need me to be your friend, I will happily abide by your wishes. We'll work through all of our guilt and then, once we are free of that oppressive shackle, we can then move forward. Now, whether we face the future together or separately is unknown, but we have all the time in the world to find out, so there is no rush."

"Agreed," Tifa said as she allowed him to lead her towards the home that became larger the closer they got.

For the first time in eighteen weeks, Tifa finally felt as if a weight had been lifted. She didn't really know what the future held for her or Genesis, but somehow she knew everything would be all right and that she wasn't alone…nor would she ever be alone with friends like hers.

Author's Note: Guys, I'm sad! It's all over! :( I hope everyone enjoyed this story and I want to thank all my reviewers along with anyone who added it to their favorites, and were interested in it enough to add it to their alerts! You guys made writing this story so much fun so thank you! Just a couple of notes to share about this ending. It's very open and that's because I am planning a Genesis/Tifa sequel to this story (YAY!). Tifa's dream involving the white room and Sephiroth on a couch is open to interpretation and there is no right or wrong opinion regarding its meaning. I felt he needed to be seen once more before the end but I wanted it to be a little vague. I am also planning another Tifa/Sephiroth pairing but not as dark as this and with 100% more romantic interactions between them. I hope you all enjoyed Sacrifice and I hope you enjoy my future story endeavors! Cheers! :D