It was late at night. The bar was draped mostly in darkness, save for the lamp hanging above the bar counter, and it was completely silent save for the little symphony that was Cid and Barret's snoring echoing from the living area upstairs. In a weird way it was a comforting sound, since it made her remember that crazy and turbulent time from two years ago, filled with joy, heartbreak and more than one heated argument alike; but in the end they always had each other's back.
Tifa chuckled. Even if they didn't always manage to get a full night's rest because Barret and Cid were sawing entire woods in their sleep.
But after today's events no one had any problems sleeping. Well, no one except her. With all the excitement from earlier, her body just seemed to refuse the notion of sleep, so she had decided to clean up after their not so little celebration in hopes that the mundane task would relax her enough so that fatigue would finally set in.
Tifa released a sigh as she wiped her hands dry, nodding in satisfaction at the stack cleaned of dishes in front of her. Closing her eyes, a small smile formed on her lips, and she remained that way until she heard footsteps approaching from behind.
"Can't sleep either?" she asked while turning around, already knowing who it was. Cloud was standing there, still dressed in his damaged clothes. Thankfully, all the blood had been washed off by the water, but she still wondered if it would be possible to salvage them, or if it would be easier to just throw them into the trash and go buy a new set.
"Mhm." was Cloud's response and he put his arm on the counter. "Guess even the drinks earlier didn't manage to calm me down."
They stood there in silence, simply looking at each other for a moment. Tifa reflected on the past few months where he had left her and the children behind. To run away and die alone. Seeing him leave had hurt her deeply. Had made her feel inadequate, like what they shared wasn't important to him. No, even before he had left, before Denzel had entered their life, he had withdrawn from her.
"Do you love me?" she had asked his sleeping form, not having the courage to ask him upfront. Would it have helped if she had?
Shortly after that he had stopped sleeping in their bedroom altogether, holing himself up in his office instead, and leaving her alone with her thoughts and doubts.
A shameful part of her had enjoyed finally berating him the night before, if only so that she could just get it off her chest and ask that one question that had been nagging her for so long now.
"Have we… lost to our memories?" It was such a loaded question and part of her wished he had answered her then and there, while the other part dreaded it at the same time. In the end his answer was to go rescue the kids. While that hadn't alleviated her worries about them and their little family at the time, it had been a start.
But he was here now. For the first time in what felt like ages he was truly looking at her with unclouded eyes. Tifa could see that the man, that had told her he was ready to move forward with his life, was returning. It wouldn't be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but he would return.
"So want another one?" she asked playfully and crossed her arms. "I can make you an extra hard one."
"I'm good. Wouldn't want to make all your hard work be in vain." he pointed towards the dishes. With a shrug he then said. "I was thinking of taking a walk."
Tifa then saw his eyebrows furrow in what she liked to call his 'thinking face'. Not the deep brooding one that had plagued him for almost a year now. No, the one that he had always worn on his face ever since they were children, the one he wore on the night when he asked her out to the well.
"Would you like to come with me?" he asked. She blinked in surprise before the corners of her lips curled into a smile.
"I'd love to."
They left 7th Heaven and walked in silence. It was a comfortable silence, unlike the ones that they had shared so many months ago. When she had been desperately trying to keep their little makeshift family intact, while he was drifting further and further away until she couldn't reach him anymore.
She couldn't help but feel elated when he walked closer to her, close enough so that she could feel the heat radiating from his body, actively seeking her out.
The streets of Edge were empty, which was unusual for any other day. You would always find people going somewhere at all times. But after the attack on the town and the miraculous healing rain, the people wanted to be with those closest to them and celebrate, not unlike their little group had done.
After a short while the two of them arrived at the town center where the shattered remains of the Meteor monument were scattered around the small crater in the center of it. That Bahamut really had done a number on it. A few WRO barriers were placed around it, to keep people away and show that things were being taken care off.
They managed to locate a bench at the far side that hadn't been hit during the battle and sat down on it. Almost immediately Tifa's eyes were drawn to the night sky where the stars were shining brightly above them, even if not as clearly as in Nibelheim on that night so many years ago. She watched them for a few minutes before turning her eyes towards Cloud, sitting there with his eyes closed and an almost serene expression on his face.
He must have felt her eyes on him as he shifted slightly towards her before saying "I saw them. Earlier, at the church."
Her breath hitched when he said that name. Ever since they had defeated Sephiroth two years ago he had adamantly refused to say her name, because doing so was too painful for him. They all missed her, but Cloud did so the most. She knew that in his own way Cloud had loved Aerith, even if they had only known each other for such a short time.
How could he not?
Aerith had this talent of wriggling herself into the hearts of people, even someone as rough around the edges as Cid or as guarded as Vincent. Even as she had been jealous of the bond that Cloud and Aerith had shared during their travels, she could never bring herself to be mad at the other woman because she quickly had become one of her dearest friends. Back when she had been reeling from grief at the loss of Biggs, Wedge and her best friend Jessie, it had been Aerith that had picked her up and that was something she would be eternally grateful for.
Losing Aerith had left a hole in the heart of their entire group, but in the end it was also what forged them together and find the strength to fight for the future of the planet. The ribbon that they all wore was testament to that.
The relationship between the three of them had been complicated to say the least, but in the end she knew Aerith was happy for them. Tifa could almost envision that knowing smile on her face.
He smiled and opened his eyes to look at her. "She asked me 'Everything's fine now, right?'"
"And is everything fine?"
"Mhm. Because I'm not alone," he said and looked at her, eyes shining with a multitude of emotions. Part eager and part shy like the boy that had made a promise to her under a starry sky such as this, all those years ago. "Never was. I was just too caught up in my own problems to notice. You, Denzel, Marlene and all the others, you made me realize that."
Tifa smiled and placed her hand gently on top of his, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "And did Zack say anything?"
"No, he just stood there all cool, waved his hand and left."
Her other hand moved to her mouth as she suppressed a giggle. She hadn't known Zack that well but that sure sounded like the friendly SOLDIER she had met years ago in Nibelheim. The silence returned as they simply sat there, enjoying each other's company and Tifa found her gaze returning to the stars.
"I'm sorry. For what I've put you through. I should've been open about my problems instead of shutting you out."
Oh, Cloud… Tifa shook her head, knowing that his eyes were on her. "I'm sorry too. I guess I've also given up. If not for Marlene I might have just resigned myself to it instead of going to look for you at the church."
They both had lost so much. Their hometown, their parents, Aerith and Zack, Jessie, Biggs and Wedge; all dead. They both carried a lot of guilt and regrets; Cloud just forgot for a while that they were supposed to share their burden and pick each other up if one of them fell down.
"Marlene had to nudge both of us in the right direction, huh?"
They shared a laugh. In a way, Marlene was the most mature of them all, in all her six year old glory.
"I'm done with running away," Cloud said and she turned to look at him again, carmine colored eyes meeting Mako tinted ones. "No more dragging around. For real this time."
If she had any doubts remaining then seeing the resolve reflected in his eyes right now caused them to evaporate into nothingness. Turning, she leaned into him, resting her head against his shoulder as she gently placed her hand on his chest.
"Hmm, I don't know..." she said in a teasing tone as Cloud's free arm wrapped around her shoulders to hug her closer to him and in turn rested his head against hers. "Promise me?"
She could hear and feel the grin forming on his lips. "Mhm, I promise."
High above the two of them a shooting star passed by them in the night sky, acting as a silent witness to this new promise between them.
They would be alright.