The Right Reasons

Cloud Strife brooded in his corner in Seventh Heaven. Even a single glance could see that the swordsman was preoccupied, as though he was deep in thought. He was so focused on what he was thinking about that he barely noticed his surroundings, even the arrival of the friends he hasn't seen for quite some time. It was only when a metal hand waved in front of him that he woke from his seeming stupor.

"What?" he growled out, glaring at Barret Wallace, the owner of said hand.

"Why are you be bein' grouchy at me for?" Barret demanded. "I ain't the one that's been starin' into space for three hours! I swear, you're even spacier than you usually are, an' that's sayin' something!"

"I'm not spaced out!" Cloud snarled. "And I haven't zoned out for the past three…" He glanced at the clock. "Oh."

"Oh," Barret mimicked. "What'samatta, Spikey? Somethin' troublin' you? I ain't tellin' anyone, don't worry."

No answer.

"Somethin' to do with your love life?"

Silence.

"C'mon, Spike. Don' gimme that. I know someone who's got heart problems when I see one, and lookin' at you, I'm pretty sure that you have one of 'em broken hearts. It's Tifa, isn't it?"

Cloud was about to send the older man on his way, when he caught sight of his friend's facial expression. Sure, Barret could be rough, rowdy, and rude a lot of times, but there was no denying that the man had heart, and his concern could be clearly seen in his expression. "I just don't know what to do." He found himself mumbling.

"Do?" Barret asked, sounding flabbergasted. "It's simple, Spikey! You just go up to her an' tell her you want to marry her. Unless you have other plans for her," he asked, eyeing Cloud beadily.

In spite of himself, Cloud found himself grinning at Barret's protectiveness over the young woman he considered to be his own daughter.

"Yes, Barret, I do want to marry her." At this, the man with the gun arm gave a loud whoop. "Shaddup!" Cloud hissed. "I thought you said you were going to be quiet about it!"

"I did! Sorry, but I got a little excited for my girl!" Barret whispered back. "So what seems ta be the problem then?"

A few moments of silence, and then…

"I don't know if she'll accept me," Cloud finally confessed, looking away.

Barret looked at his friend with an incredulous look. "O' course she'll accept you! Are you that dense?"

"There's no 'of course' to it. She's already rejected me thrice before," he said bitterly.

Barret's eyes widened even more. "Tifa? Reject you? Maybe she misunderstood! Maybe she thought you were sayin' somethin' else, an' that's why she got a little confused an' all."

"She wasn't confused," Cloud said, his tone subdued. "She said I had to have 'the right reasons', whatever that means," he added, under his breath.

Barret looked at the blond man for a while. "I think it's time you tol' me the story from th' beginning," he said finally.

xxx

The first time Cloud's offer of marriage was rejected, it was soon after they took Denzel in. The neighbors began whispering about Tifa's status of being an unmarried woman living with an unmarried man and two children. He had overheard some of the people whispering about it on his way to one of his deliveries. Resisting the urge to beat the gossipmongers up, he instead went up to Tifa, telling her he wanted to marry her to shut the neighbors up.

Tifa, smiling the entire time, told him that she couldn't marry him, saying that that wasn't the right reason to get married.

xxx

The second time Tifa rejected him was about a week after the defeat of the Remnants. He had watched Marlene and Denzel laughing and arguing good-naturedly at the breakfast table, and he got into thinking that it would be nice for the kids to have something stable to lean on, like actual parents who would be there for them at all times. As such, he went up to Tifa and proposed to her again, saying that he wanted to get married for the sake of the kids.

Tifa, smiling again, told him that while his plan was commendable, it still wasn't the right reason to get married.

xxx

The third time that Tifa rejected him, it was when he almost became involved in an accident. His bike narrowly missed some Nibel wolves that tried to attack him on his way to one of his deliveries. While he was able to defeat the monsters quite easily, he realized that should he get injured or die at work, Tifa would be saddled with so many expenses, both in raising their children and in keeping the bar. He said as much to Tifa, and offered to marry her to give her more security.

In spite of what he thought was a good argument, Tifa still smilingly refused his proposal, saying that it's also not a good reason for marriage.

xxx

Barret listened attentively as Cloud narrated the past events to him. Eventually, the blond swordsman finished by saying, "So I don't really think she wants to get married. Or maybe she doesn't really love me."

The older man was quiet for a while, staring contemplatively at the table that was between the two of them. "What about you? Do you actually loveTifa?"

"Of course I do! And she knows that!" Cloud began to say, and caught the expression on Barret's face. "Doesn't she?"

"In my experience, Spiky, if a girl doesn't hear you say you love her, chances are, she won' believe that to be true."

This time, it was Cloud's turn to be silent. "But what if she doesn't love me?" He asked, his voice hoarse.

"Oh, I think ya'll be surprised," Barret smirked. "Try again, and this time, tell her."

"I will." Cloud suddenly looked up and smiled at the large man. "For a trigger-happy guy, you give good advice."

"Yeah, well, don' get used to it," Barret said gruffly. "Oh, an' Cloud?"

"Yeah?"

"You hurt her, an' I will kill you. Got it?"

Cloud grinned. "Got it. There she is. Wish me luck." In so saying, he went up to the barmaid.

Tifa Lockhart smiled as she saw the swordsman approaching her.

"Oh, there you are, Cloud. You weren't in your seat and I was… What are you doing?" She yelped, as Cloud suddenly dropped down on one knee.

"Tifa, will you marry me?" Cloud's line silenced the bar almost immediately, with the exception of Yuffie's scream of delight that was immediately cut off by Cid.

"Oh Gaia, this is embarrassing." Tifa said, laughing slightly as she pulled Cloud to his feete. "Why do you want to marry me?" Tifa said the exact same words that she did the past three times, but it was only then that Cloud saw beyond her smile and noticed the warring hope and pain in her eyes for the first time.

"Because you're such a good mother to Denzel and Marlene. Because I want to keep you safe and protected at all times. Because you've been so good to me the past years. And because…" Here, Cloud took a deep breath and glanced at Barret for support, who nodded at him encouragingly. At this, Cloud turned back to Tifa and looked at her in the eyes. "And because I love you with all that I am."

"You love me?" Tifa questioned, the pain and hope still warring in the garnet depths of her eyes.

"I do," Cloud affirmed. "I may not show it at times, and it may not be the best kind of love there is, but I love you, Tifa Lockhart. I always have, even back when we were in Nibelheim and you were a snotty-nosed kid with bony elbows and knees."

"Shut up," Tifa laughed, slapping Cloud on the shoulder and then hugging him. "And yes, I will marry you," she whispered in his ear. "Because that's the only reason that I was looking for."