Hey guys, this is my first Final Fantasy VII fan fiction so...be nice! The pairings may seem a little confusing but is that something new to us ff7 fans? Anyway, I promise to make it clear by the end. I hope you enjoy this story despite any shipping preferences.

A quick disclaimer: I do not have any rights to/ am not affiliated with Square Enix/Final Fantasy VII. This will not change and applies to all chapters.

Don't flame, do review, and enjoy!

Dear Aerith,

I thought maybe if he fixed everything, I wouldn't feel this way anymore. When we were in the church, and he came back…he smiled. It wasn't the ghostly kind he gave when he was still running away from the family. It was real. Cloud is here, not a broken man burdened by memories. Not a false soldier. The real Cloud is here…just not at Seventh Heaven.

Don't get me wrong; I am happy that he is happier now. I am happy that he comes around more. I am happy that I get to see him sleep in his room regularly. I am happy that he laughs when our old friends come and drink with us. But…when I am cleaning the bar late at night or hiding from the world in my bed, my pitiful heart reveals an ugly truth that I hide somewhere in those dirty cups; he is not the one with the ghostly smiles…I am.

I am the cheerful one…right? I smile when others need it. I fight away my painful memories. But Barret was right…I am a wimp. To be honest, you were the one who cheered me up. I'll never forget your comforting words before you were taken by ShinRa. But you are gone. You aren't here. When I am alone, those regrets…the lost lives I was responsible for, the words I never had the courage to say, the pettiness I couldn't help; they all flood my mind. I wanted Cloud to let go of those memories so he could grow. So he could be happy. But behind those spotless intentions was a hideous desire. I really wanted him to let go of…you. It's too ugly for me to even admit out loud-have I betrayed you? Have I betrayed myself?

The letter ended in indecipherable scribbles. Marlene's brow furrowed harshly. A part of her felt bad for snooping in Tifa's room, but she knew something was wrong. She had to know what was on Tifa's mind last night…

It was the day of the reunion. Everyone wanted to see each other frequently but, since everyone was busy with their own lives, once a month had to do. Of course Tifa spent the whole day cleaning and mixing drinks and making delicious food. She was tireless when it came to friends.

"Teef, won't ya calm down?" Barret said, picking Marlene up.

"But I just can't help it. I get fidgety when I am excited!" the dark-haired beauty replied, picking herself off the floor and removing her gloves. "I have to have hard liquor for Cid and you and Reeve, something sweet for Yuffie, and wine for Vincent and…"

"That big kid is gonna show Teef!" Barret said, trying to reassure her. "ever since I've been back, he seems to be showing up around a lot more. I'm sure he'll make his delivery and show up on time. Where's Denzel?"

"Oh, Cloud took him today!" Marlene chipped in. "I guess he thinks he should pick a trade. Sorta like how Tifa taught me how to be a bartender."

Tifa's somber face lit up with a tiny smile and she accepted a hug from Marlene. "You guys are right, but I'm not worried about Cloud. I'm just tired. Sorry if I got you guys worried."

Marlene went to change into appropriate clothes and Tifa sat at the bar with Barret. He moved back to Seventh Heaven a month ago, and the family felt whole. Denzel seemed to enjoy his presence, and Marlene was never in Tifa's room to sleep anymore. She felt a little lonely in bed without her, but she knew what it was like to love a father.

"You seem happier now that Cloud comes around..." Barret said, biting a roll Tifa gave him. "it's good that we can all finally appreciate this life we have together huh?"

Tifa smiled at him. She wished that she could agree. The living situation was great. The kids were both in school, the bar was always busy, and she rarely was alone. Barret worked as a mechanic now. Cloud came in about three times a week. Despite that, she doubted the possibility of ever fully appreciating the situation.

Soon after, Yuffie bounced in, solemnly followed by Vincent. Cid arrived with Nanaki, but unfortunately Reeve was still busy. They brought in a whirlwind of good and bad memories, and as the drinks poured, the rivers of laughter flowed. The stupor eventually simmered down and Tifa sat beside the raven-haired man.

"How is Shelke?" Tifa asked, pouring Vincent another drink.

"She's been exploring. I think she may be looking for lost time."

"Is that what you are going to do?" Tifa asked, resting her elbows on the table.

He stiffened, but before he could reply, Yuffie bounced over.

"TIFA this apple martini is really strong dontchathink?"

It was suddenly made clear to Tifa that Yuffie was incredibly uncomfortable with the possibility that Vincent might actually have to do that. She was surprised that Yuffie was so interested in Vincent. She couldn't tell if it was mutual, but as she watched Yuffie cling to him in a silly way, she saw a pitiful image of herself. Cloud walked in the bar and smiled at everyone as he removed his gloves and took a seat at the bar.

"You're late idiot, where were ya?" Barret said.

Denzel walked inside shortly after Cloud and waved at everyone. He became much more social after being healed. Marlene excitedly came down the stairs in a frilly skirt and sat on Vincent's lap. That was another attachment that Tifa also found odd. She poured Cloud's favorite wine and gingerly handed. He took it gently and looked into her eyes.

"Thanks Tifa."

She could of sworn that was a moment.

The night was a blur of good moments and silly stories. Cid told stories about Shera being overly meticulous about her pregnancy. Vincent was entertaining the kids. Yuffie was chatting with Nanaki. Barret was talking to Cloud seriously. The blonde leaned back uncomfortably and squeezed the bridge of his nose with his gloved hand out of frustration. Tifa wanted to know what they were talking about. She sauntered over but before she could join in the conversation, Marlene tugged her skirt.

Barret stared at the blonde across the table and drank slowly. He never understood what was going on under that crazy head of hair. Cloud's icy stare met his eyes, startling Barret into conversation.

"Ya know, Teef didn't think you were gonna show. You've gotten better at dropping the lone wolf crap, but…I know you aint been making deliveries today."

"Is it that obvious?"

"Yeh. Why did you bring Denzel to Elmyra's?"

"He wanted to be sure."

"Of what? Whatchu talking bout?" Barret said, looking at Denzel from across the room.

"He knows her, Barret. He sees her." Cloud said quietly. "She asks him about me."

Barret saw the smile on his friend's face and understood; Cloud was a truly simple guy underneath that cool attitude.

"You want to see her too."

"I think it's possible, Barret. I feel happier, but I know that if I just try harder I can make it there." Cloud said calmly, relishing his wine once he finished talking.

Barret was about to ask where Cloud was trying to get, but he already knew the answer. He remembered holding Tifa as she cried the night after the Meteor event. He asked her what was wrong. The woman in his arms stopped sobbing for a brief moment.

"His promised land. She's gonna…be there..."

Barret slammed his beer on the table and made a sound of disgust.

"What's wrong?" Cloud said, confused.

"Have you ever stopped to think about how selfish it is? Dontcha care about the happiness of other people?"

Cloud was completely mystified.

Barret grew slightly frustrated at Cloud's simplicity. "Look at the one person who has not stopped looking over here."

Cloud awkwardly scanned the room and found a pair of deep maroon eyes. Tifa didn't seem to register the millisecond of eye contact, but it was enough to make Cloud realize Barret was talking about her happiness.

"She loves you Cloud." Barret said, his voice thick with an indecipherable emotion.

Cloud nodded. He was completely oblivious until that night under the Highwind. He wanted that night to be an evening of mutual understanding, but Tifa always surprised him by making her feelings clear to him again and again. Perhaps she didn't understand why things between them were stagnant. He didn't really understand it himself, but he was alright with that, however, the look in her deep eyes told him that she would never be alright with that.

"What am I supposed to do?" Cloud replied.

Barret looked over at Tifa, who was still watching intently. He took a deep breath. "Maybe you should try to make her happy. Maybe your promised land aint so far away."

Cloud squirmed uncomfortably and squeezed his nose bridge. He wished Barret could understand what he felt. He couldn't explain how badly he wanted to be there. He knew his desire to be with…her…was selfish, but the thought of having to sacrifice that pursuit filled him with despair. Yet…

"I can't promise anything…but I could try. I really don't know if I can do it." The blonde said.

"Tifa, you won't believe what Cloud got for Denzel! I want one too. Do you think he could get me one?" Marlene said excitedly.

"Yeah why not? Why don't you ask him when he's done talking to your dad?" Tifa replied as she walked to see what Denzel was showing to Vincent. Denzel saw her approaching and clutched the item tightly.

Tifa leaned in."Hey Denzel can I…"

her words stopped as she unfolded his closed palms. It was a photograph of a familiar girl surrounded by a small but pretty frame. She had a tumbling chestnut braid that fell to her back, green eyes that penetrated deeply, and a small smile that made Tifa wonder what the girl was smiling about. It was Aerith. Cloud gave Denzel a photo of Aerith. The uneasy feeling that filled Tifa was quickly hidden by a smile she flashed to Denzel.

"hey I know her! So Cloud gave this to you? That's really neat, Denzel."

"She is the lady that saved me." Denzel said.

Tifa nodded and messed Denzel's hair affectionately as she started to walk away.

"I'm sorry, Tifa" Denzel uttered beneath his breath.

She stopped and felt herself crumble at the boy's words. She turned and gave a smile and said, "I think I had a little too much to drink. I'm gonna lay down. It was nice seeing you all. Let's try to get together more often."

Everyone expressed disappointment but wished her a good night. She kept the smile until she made it to her bed. Once she was there, she allowed the pieces to fall apart. She muffled her sobs with the pillow. All the progress she made was now ruined. How long would she try to include herself in Cloud's world, a world that cannot fit another woman? Why didn't Cloud see her that way?

Marlene sneaked upstairs and sat outside of Tifa's door. She wanted to go in to see if the woman who she admired like a mother was okay. She decided against it, allowing Tifa this moment of honesty to herself. Marlene vaguely understood Tifa's plight, but she didn't exactly know why that photo broke her down so badly. Marlene untied her hair and looked at the ribbon as she whispered, "poor Tifa."

Tifa heard her door open and jolted out of her sleepy state. She assumed it was Marlene. The person walked to her bed with heavy footsteps and plopped on it, making it sag drastically. She turned and saw the shadowy silhouette. Suddenly, words from a deep, gentle voice penetrated the darkness.

"Tifa, I'd like to tell you something."

Cloud reached for the lamp, but she pulled his hand away from it; she didn't want to risk having him see her tearful state. His hand gently cupped her face and his other hand reached for her own. Her hand met his and she waited patiently for more words.

"You once told me that words aren't the only way to tell someone what you are thinking. Do you understand?" He said, stroking her cheek with his thumb.

Tifa was completely speechless. She wanted to tell Cloud how she felt at this moment; how many glances she stole, how many thoughts about the two of them she harbored. She wished she could tell him every single time she wanted to take her chances with him. Before she could process the moment, his lips met hers.

The kiss was long and a little awkward. Cloud was obviously not experienced at this. Tifa shyly tried to make it more comfortable by resting her arms around his neck. Despite being a bit of an introvert, she had more knowledge of this sort of thing than the man on her lips. This chaste, amateur kiss was the thing she craved for so many years. It eventually ended, and she felt his breath on her damp face. They stayed that way for a while.

"will you stay the night?" Tifa whispered, breaking the silence between them.

He silently obeyed and laid beside her, wrapping an arm stiffly around her. Years of hopeless waiting. Dreams of a call that she believed would never come. She was a little glad that Cloud did not understand her invitation; that kiss was the only thing she needed. Her mind raced with thousands of questions, but her mind kept wandering back to the main question: Why now?

She fought sleep to try to answer this question. Cloud shifted beside her and her mind returned to the present. The man she desired for years was in her bed. Cloud was holding her. Cloud kissed her. That was all she needed to know. She smiled as her heart returned to it's normal beat and she started to doze off.

The blonde climbed out of the bed as his friend continued to sleep. He felt a wave of strange emotions as he crept down the stairs of the dark bar. Did he do the right thing? A part of him believed so, since he rarely put her happiness first. Yet…there was a dishonesty in that kiss; Did Tifa taste it? If she did, did she care? These questions disturbed him as he climbed onto Fenrir and drove to the place he knew he would at least find comfort, if not answers.

The floorboards squeaked beneath his feet as he approached the flowerbed. He knew she was there. He was suddenly flooded with guilt as he wondered if Aerith saw that kiss. Would she approve? He laid in the sea of yellow and white petals, hoping for an answer to all of the questions in his mind. He secretly missed living in this place. He felt tranquil and close to everything he wanted. His heart ached at the thought of her. Her forgiveness healed him from the self-hate he felt so deeply for so long, but the ache was always lurking behind everything he did. He took Denzel here earlier after a strange conversation...

The brunette boy cleaned the counter carefully when Cloud came in the bar. Everyone was still in bed. Denzel was always doing work around the bar. Cloud wondered if there was a part of the boy that felt the need to be useful because he thought would be discarded if he wasn't. He saw so many things in the boy, including himself.

"Cloud, I woke up early today because I wanted to ask you something."

"What is it?"

"A lady comes to me. She tells me about my family, the planet, you. All types of stuff. Her name is Aerith. Do you think I'm crazy? Do you think she is real?"

Cloud spoke quickly. He was not expecting this conversation, but the sound of her name rushed his blood.

"She's real. I can prove it to you."

"Do you want to know what she says about you?"

Cloud smiled before he replied. "You can tell me all about it on the way."

"So you told him that I would be a good dad?" Cloud said to the church. "You told him about how we met. You told him about how brave and strong you think I am? Really, Aerith?"

Cloud laughed softly and enjoyed the sensation of her name escaping his mouth. He hadn't tried to speak her name in a long time. He rolled over on the flowerbed and breathed in the scent. The time he spent with Denzel earlier in the day made him realize his fatherly affection for the boy. He always wondered if it was a little inappropriate; perhaps the boy might have felt Cloud was trying to replace his real father. Aerith changed that by telling the boy how peaceful his family was in the lifestream with her, how proud they were of him, how much they continued to love him. Cloud could suddenly feel the world he shared with her revolve around Denzel. He felt a little silly, but he finally understood what Tifa meant by "family".


The thought of her brought confusion. He felt something in her kiss that was earnest and warm. He felt her tears. He smirked bitterly; even in her most vulnerable state, he felt inadequate. He knew he did not give her those feelings when he kissed her. He felt...strange. Corporal desire was not something Cloud did not have, and that was one of the few kisses he ever experienced. She was quite good at it and impressed him. When he thought of that kiss, he felt like a guilty child who stole something. Was Barret right? Was that kiss his to take? He wondered how Tifa felt about it. He dreaded the idea of coming back to the bar because he wasn't sure what he would be walking into.

The sun started bleaching the blackness in the sky and a small shower entered the church through the many holes in it's ceiling. He watched the water roll down the petals of the flowers surrounding his head. He closed his eyes and tried to rest his mind. Then suddenly, sweetly...

a drop of water fell on his lips, like a kiss from a rose. Cloud savored the pure taste and the permanent ache in his heart subsided to a burst of bliss. He felt her in this moment, and that was all that mattered.

After a while, Cloud pulled himself away from the church and headed to the bar, hoping to God Barret was the only one awake.

So did you like it? Make sure to tell me whatcha think! Also, the grammar/everything may not be perfect so if anyone is volunteering to help me with that...let me know. I really enjoyed writing this and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I'll be sure to update once I hear some feedback.