Disclaimer: I own nothing except an overactive imagination and a computer.
Five years later…
Rumor had it that former General Sephiroth was engaged to be married. The very thought of the proud, ex-SOLDIER watching anyone with doe-eyes and proclaiming his undying love to them made Tifa laugh. Should it be true, she would be happy for him, but Tifa had her doubts. The man was far from romantically inclined, and had once confessed in a drunken stupor (intoxication had proven a rare indulgence for the man whom had once never been able to feel anything from alcohol or other substances) that he had no interest in binding himself to another human being. He wanted his freedom and it easy enough to see how much Sephiroth savored his new, independent life.
He had his three oddly named and peculiar brothers, Loz, Yazoo and Kadaj, whom he cared for like sons. He owned a home in the middle of Gaia forsaken nowhere, to where he retired just last year. And he was an idle, peacetime advisor to the new government—whom he had spent two years helping establish a military. Sephiroth had everything a man of his station could want: Wealth, Freedom and Family. One could also include power, but he had little interest in that. His weakening of body to that of a normal human—a superbly trained and athletically fit individual, but no longer could he be considered a super SOLDIER—had given him a new perspective on "strength", "power" and "influence". At one point Sephiroth had it all, now, he seemed so much happier as he attempted to shed his former identity.
Tifa doubted he would disappear from the limelight completely. Sephiroth was, and would always be, a hero…an icon. Nothing would change that. Much to Genesis' dismay, she found herself adding as an afterthought. The auburn SOLDIER had resigned his station in the military (to the surprise of his peers) in order to pursue fame in the theater. No matter how hard he tried, or how well known his name became, it was unlikely the man would ever surpass Sephiroth as a legend.
For a moment, she found her humor at imagining Genesis' reaction subdued…In her mind's eye she pictured Angeal Hewley. The third in what had been a trio worth writing legends about. His funeral had been last spring…his favorite season. It had been a quiet affair, his passing. At thirty, one would think him to be a vivacious individual with his whole life before him. But, in truth, he had been fading away ever since his abandonment of ShinRa. Not even the healing water gifted by Strife could heal mental wounds, and it was his spirit most injured by Degredation.
He died peacefully and in his sleep, or so the doctor claimed.
It had been little comfort to his friends; among whom, Zack took his passing the hardest.
He had yelled and sobbed, pulled at his hair and fell to his knees in grief. He'd cursed Angeal for being so selfish…for not saying goodbye. And his little fiancé (now wife), proved to be his only anchor through his mourning. Tifa remembered how the vibrant, joyful man had become a somber, depressed shadow of his former self. And how Aerith slowly nursed him back from the brink with her gentle, ever-loving nature. In fact, it was because of her that the rest of the mismatched group kept together, willing to share their strength during this difficult time.
Zack and Aerith were expecting their first child, Tifa noted. Shifting her thoughts from darker days. After all, the future was bright, especially for her.
She was working as a waitress at a bar called Seventh Heaven, at which the new President, Reeve Tuesti, frequented. He was good company, with humanity on his mind rather than profit. He even negotiated true terms of peace with Wutai (where Yuffie occasionally could be found), despite the remaining high tensions and suspicion between the two countries. Tifa knew, deep down, he would bring Midgar back to its former glory, but it would be a beautiful glory rather than a corrupt one that would fester and rot. Which gave her hope. A new job. A new life. A new government…It was all so invigorating and inspiring!
There were days where the burning of Nibelhiem was but a faint and distant memory…
Then there others where it burned hot in her mind. Most often that occurred when Vincent decided to drop by. He didn't do so often, given his personality as well as his newfound career as the President's personal bodyguard (Tifa suspected he still dabbled with the duties of a Turk given his "friendly" association with the former Turks of ShinRa). But when he did stop by, old pains resurfaced upon seeing those stoic, crimson eyes. She knew he did not mean to trudge up hurtful feelings…Vincent would never do anything to hurt her….
"Tifa, stop daydreamin' and take care of that customer."
Startled by the voice of the bartender, Tifa jumped a little. Her thoughts were heavily preoccupied as of late…but that was no excuse to do poorly at her job. Thus, she allowed her swirling thoughts to settle and turned her attention to the newcomer, whom sat at a little table near the door.
"Hello and welcome to Seventh Heaven," she began with a smile. "My name is Tifa and I'll be your server. Is there anything I can get you?"
The customer, whom had been gazing out of the window, glanced up at her, a smile offered in return. He did not look old enough to drink in Tifa's opinion, but before she could voice the fact, a small, niggling part of her brain urged her to stop. To look and listen. A faded, almost forgotten memory—much like Nibelhiem's burning—formed at the back of her mind. It was hazy but familiar. And after a moment, it came into startling clarity.
Blue eyes. Blond hair. A shy, innocent smile.
Before her was a boy from her memory grown into a man. Not the fearsome warrior Strife, whom claimed to be what her friend became. But a shy, quiet young man that she always imagined him to be. How did she know? It was his smile. Yes, definitely Cloud's smile.
"Hello…miss?" the man broke her free of her train of thought. He seemed a little confused, a little flushed. Then again, Tifa had been staring at him for the past minute, silent and wide-eyed.
"It's okay," he gently tugged at his sleeve, as if nervous. "I'm used to people staring. It's the eyes."
His eyes…Tifa squinted, noting that they were bright with mako glow. They were SOLDIER eyes. Had Cloud actually made it into SOLDIER before ShinRa's collapse? Why had he never told her? Did he forget? Did he think her dead when he discovered Nibelhiem was burnt to the ground? So many questions assailed her.
"Um…Miss Tifa…Have we met before?" he asked. Carefully. Quietly. Those eyes of his peering nervously in her direction. "You seem familiar."
She pulled out a chair and sat next to him, suddenly uncaring how it would ignite her boss' temper. And slowly, Tifa began to weave together to the events of the past. Of childhood and beyond. A part of her questioned if this was really Cloud. After all, there could have been another blond, blue-eyed SOLDIER working for ShinRa. It was entirely possible. But there was a girlish—no, womanly—inclination that drove her to believe that this was Cloud. Her Cloud.
Even if he wasn't…it did not matter.
Thus in the common way of things, boy meets girl…and life continues, the future wonderful and unknown.
Word Count: 1270
A/N: (And that is the end. Thank you for reading. Please review. And to all whom have been here for the entire journey, I thank you again.
For those whom wish to see more reactions to Strife, check out the side story, Delivery: An Unexpected Detour.)