DISCLAIMER: Final Fantasy VII and its characters are the properties of Square Enix. No money is being made from this story.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: With Final Fantasy VII Remake now out, I've gotten pretty deep into its lore again. Not being a "hardcore" fan and knowing how passionate the FFVII fanbase can get, I can only hope this story is decent enough to not provoke any backlash. Enjoy!
Written by daBOSSz
Tifa peeked from behind a bush, watching Cloud enter the cemetery. It was strange to her that he'd be back so soon. Although the two of them had been coming to visit their parents' gravesites each day since their arrival in Nibelheim, Cloud was now making his second trip on the same day.
Part of her was questioning why she was even tailing him stealthily. After all, this was Cloud, the childhood friend whom she'd already given her heart to. Such a move made it seem as though she didn't trust him, but that couldn't have been further from the truth.
The two of them hadn't been apart since they reunited five years ago when a chance encounter led Tifa to recruit Cloud into AVALANCHE. They'd fought on the same side to stop Sephiroth from bringing down Meteor, and when their comrades went their separate ways, they'd stayed together, moving to Edge and rebuilding 7th Heaven. The Geostigma crisis threatened to tear them apart, but it ultimately didn't. Two years ago, they'd helped resolve the Deepground conflict. A few months later, they finally worked up the strength to clear up any ambiguities about their feelings and "officially" started going steady.
Now, ten years since the destruction of Nibelheim, Tifa and Cloud were on their first visit to their true hometown and not the Shinra-created illusion they'd set foot in when they pursued Sephiroth. It wasn't easy to plan the trip; for starters, the logistics were a pain to work through: how long they would stay for, what time of the year they could visit so as not to disrupt their bar and delivery businesses, whether or not the family they'd been raising would come along, etc. Eventually, they settled on a five-day visit during early autumn when business was usually slower for both of them, and while they originally planned to bring the young ones, Barret had wanted Marlene home again with him and thus offered to look after both Denzel and Shelke.
Of course, the logistics were only secondary hurdles to tackle. Both of them knew that they could never have been fully prepared emotionally for such a visit. Seeing their hometown as "normal" again was going to pull their feelings in every direction: from reminiscing about their happier times growing up, to reminders of the worst day in Nibelheim's history, to the memories of the lives who touched them so significantly and ended so unthinkably. Barret understood as well; in fact, it was he who insisted that they travel alone to avoid exposing their emotional baggage to the children.
It didn't take long for those feelings to surface. On the day of their arrival, after checking into the inn, they headed straight for the cemetery to pay their respects. Tifa watched as Cloud struggled to maintain his tough-guy façade when he approached his mother's gravestone, failing miserably to keep himself under control upon seeing her name. She'd never seen Cloud shed as many tears as he did at that moment, and she could do nothing but offer him some semblance of comfort as droplet after droplet of clear liquid fell from his eyes atop his mother's burial site. A while later, it would be her turn to share in his grief when they walked up to the tombstone bearing her father's name.
Tifa had once believed that crying was a waste of time, but she could not hold back even if she tried that first day. Seeing his grave felt as though she was re-experiencing the moment she discovered his body with Sephiroth's Masamune. No words were exchanged during their first visit; all she and Cloud could do was cry.
Their next three visits were progressively better. Each day, they had a few more words to say to their parents. Each day, more flowers were brought to their stones. When the two of them weren't at the cemetery, Tifa and Cloud spent much of their time volunteering around town, acquainting themselves with Nibelheim's newer residents and sharing their stories of growing up in the quaint mountain village with those willing to lend an ear.
A while ago, after finishing her latest volunteering session, Tifa caught sight of Cloud heading back in the direction of the cemetery. By now, it was almost sunset, and while they were scheduled to leave the next day, they'd already decided to return in the morning for their last visit. Tifa wondered what was the reason he felt the need to head there for a second time on the same day. She started feeling the same type of wary curiosity as when she first reconnected with him five years ago, and though she was certain it wasn't as serious this time as having his memory scrambled by Mako, her curiosity still got the best of her, so she decided to follow him.
As Cloud approached, Tifa noticed that he did not enter through the gate closest to his mother's grave, but instead headed for the gate that led directly to her father's. With his grave immediately on the other side of the gate, Tifa watched Cloud crouch down behind the cemetery's wall and out of her line of sight as soon as he entered. Taking advantage of this opportunity, she spotted a nearby formidable tree immediately outside the wall that was positioned perfectly for Cloud's back to be turned to it while he faced the gravestone. Tifa sneaked over to the tree to hide herself better, silently thanking Yuffie for teaching her some valuable stealth skills over the years to better avoid detection.
"Hi again, Mr. Lockhart," Tifa heard Cloud's voice. "It's me, Cloud. Tifa's not with me right now. I wanted to come talk to you alone, if that's all right with you."
There was a moment of silence as Tifa's sense of wonder began to manifest itself.
"I know Tifa's already told you that we're together now," Cloud said. "It's not what you wanted for her, isn't it? You didn't want us seeing each other again after Mt. Nibel."
That was a memory Tifa recalled all too well, waking up from her coma and hearing her father forbid her from ever having any contact with the boy next door. Little did he know that Mt. Nibel was what piqued her interest in Cloud Strife.
"I wish you could see her now as the incredible woman she's grown into," Cloud said. "You really taught her well."
A smile of appreciation formed on Tifa's lips hearing Cloud compliment both her and her father.
"She might be too humble to tell you herself, but I owe her everything," Cloud continued. "She saved me over and over when I was on the edge of death, even putting herself in harm's way for me. She did it again when I felt lost and had no direction. Anytime I needed the most help, she's been there."
Tifa felt her smile widening, knowing he was referring to his battle against Geostigma. Cloud wouldn't always be the best at expressing himself, but when he spoke, she understood his words often carried significantly deeper meanings than what they initially sounded like on the surface.
"I would've died hundreds of times if not for her," Tifa heard Cloud's voice again. "She always knows what to say and do. She's always there to prop me up at my lowest and pull me down when my head gets too big. I don't even want to know who, where, or what I'd be right now without her." He paused for a moment. "That's why I want to do this the right way."
"Wait, what?" Tifa thought. Cloud's last line replaced Tifa's smile with a look of confusion.
"Mr. Lockhart," Cloud said in a softer tone that required Tifa to concentrate more to hear him, "I want to know if I could have your blessing. I've wanted to ask Tifa for months now, but it wouldn't feel right without your approval first."
Tifa's mouth fell open and her eyes widened. The little girl in her wanted to scream, but the disciplined adult knew better, and she stayed in check. A mixture of emotions crashed down on her at the same time: excitement for discovering, disappointment at herself for ruining the potential surprise, relaxation for knowing that Cloud would forgive her eavesdropping, but somewhat unexpectedly, she mostly felt inquisitive about how someone like Cloud planned to pull this off.
"I just wish there's a way to know your answer," Cloud sighed.
Upon hearing that line, a smile returned to Tifa's face, and any feelings of guilt for following him to the cemetery dissipated.
"There is, Cloud," Tifa thought. "There definitely is."
Cloud leaned back and propped himself on his elbows, soaking in the glow from the clear night sky. Having done his fair share of volunteer work throughout the day, he'd found himself too tired to move upon returning to the inn from the cemetery, so a quick shower later, he was fast asleep without even thinking about dinner. His next conscious memory was opening his eyes and finding Tifa asleep next to him with starlight shining through the window. Unable to return to sleep, Cloud walked outside the inn and soon climbed atop the water tower to enjoy the view of the galaxy.
Years in the city had made Cloud forget just how much he missed such sights. It went without saying that Midgar didn't have the same unobstructed views, but even when he bothered to pay attention to Edge's nights, the heavens didn't radiate down with the same aura like they did in Nibelheim.
Given the setting he was now in, Cloud's thoughts inevitably drifted toward that one night over a decade ago when he told a certain someone from this exact spot of his plans to join SOLDIER, hoping such a move would impress her. They were still innocent and naïve at the time: he buying into the glory and she making him promise to come to her rescue. Little could they have imagined how tragically reality would actually play out.
"Hey," came a sudden but familiar voice from behind him, and Cloud turned around to see Tifa standing there. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Yeah," he answered. "You as well?"
"I noticed you weren't there, so I came out to look for you," Tifa said, sitting herself down in the same spot adjacent to him as she did that one night. "You weren't exactly hard to find."
"I wasn't trying to hide," Cloud smiled as he spoke. "You okay? If you're still tired, you should go back to bed."
"I'm fine," Tifa assured him, then looked up at the stars. "Besides, I miss this too."
She leaned back on her elbows to join him, her left arm contacting his right.
"Now I'm wondering why it took us until the fourth night to come out and enjoy this," Tifa remarked.
"Hmm," was Cloud's only response. A moment of silence fell between them as they simply took in the lights from the heavens.
"This is just like that night when you called me up here to tell me about your plans," Tifa said. "Even the stars look exactly the same."
Cloud tilted his head in her direction.
"Do you wish you were still here?" he asked, causing her to glance back at him. He could tell right away that she was putting some thought into the question.
"Well, part of me does," Tifa responded after a brief pause. "It's just childhood nostalgia though. This visit has been worthwhile, but it'd be too painful to live here having experienced what happened."
"Yeah, you're right," Cloud remarked, shifting his gaze back at the sky.
"What about you?" Tifa asked.
"Same feelings," Cloud answered. "I'd rather not keep looking back. I mean, you of all people helped me see how regrets do nothing. No sense in harping on the past, right?"
"True, but there's a lot to smile about from our past too," Tifa replied. "Look at where we are now. This spot's pretty special, wouldn't you say?"
"Quite," Cloud remarked, knowing Tifa understood what he meant from the good-natured tone of voice.
Another comfortable silence fell between them. Cloud took a few deep breaths, inundating his lungs with the fresh mountain air that Edge and Midgar never supplied.
"You kept your promise," Tifa broke the silence.
"I had to," said Cloud. "I couldn't break a promise to you."
"Thank you," Tifa responded. "But I mean…it was more than that. I never imagined the extent to which you'd keep that promise."
She turned to look at him as he did the same to her, giving her an expression of wonder over what her words meant.
"Cloud, you didn't just save me from Sephiroth," Tifa explained. "You saved me from myself. I joined AVALANCHE out of anger. Before you came back into my life, I was thinking about revenge against Shinra day and night. I didn't know it at the time, but reflecting on it recently made me realize how close I was to becoming insane."
She reached her left hand over and took his right, curling her fingers into his.
"When I found you again and asked you to come work for AVALANCHE, you became that calming presence I desperately needed in order to think straight," Tifa continued.
"How was I a calming presence?" Cloud asked, looking at her confused.
"You were the last link to my happier moments," Tifa answered. "Even when you were rashly rushing into battle, even when your memories were baffling me, you were always that boy next door who looked out for me. There wasn't anyone else in existence who could've done what you did for me. Add that to all the times you actually did rescue me, and it's not hard to see how much you went above and beyond in keeping your promise."
Cloud paused for a moment, thinking about what he'd just heard. Tifa almost always showed her feelings through her actions: making his meals, handling his deliveries from time to time, giving him a gentle touch here and there, etc. It wasn't as common for her to be so thoroughly expressive when she spoke, and when she usually did, it involved chewing him out over feeling guilty about something he shouldn't be blaming himself for. Yet here she was, giving him a long-winded explanation about her emotions. Rare as they may be, Cloud appreciate her more every time she did.
"That's how I know for sure that you have my father's blessing."
Those words caught Cloud off-guard, and his head perked up.
"I heard you at the cemetery," Tifa clarified before Cloud could get a word out. "I followed you there. I'm sorry, but I was curious."
Cloud didn't know how to respond to her admission, but he squeezed her hand to let her know that she didn't need to apologize. He was fully aware of her curious nature, and he'd never mistakenly think Tifa would discreetly follow him for sinister reasons.
"Guess I can't hide anything from you," Cloud commented somewhat sheepishly.
"Well, you do know me better than anyone," Tifa responded with a smile. "I'd say the same is true for me to you. If Papa had gotten to know you the way I have, he'd be proud to call you 'son,' so you have his blessing."
Cloud looked at Tifa with a blank expression.
"Didn't you say yourself that you wanted a way to know his answer?" Tifa asked, to which he nodded. "Well now you have it. I know Papa was stubborn with you after Mt. Nibel, but he's not the kind of person who holds grudges. He'd welcome you into the family like I've already done so."
Tifa released Cloud's hand and scooted closer to him, locking her arm around his and leaning her head on his shoulder.
"How were you planning to ask me?" she said.
Most men would've been at least slightly upset with their significant other discovering and questioning their proposal plans, but Cloud wasn't the least bit bothered. This was Tifa after all, and she mattered too much for him to be angry.
"I hadn't thought that far ahead yet," Cloud admitted. "I wanted to surprise you with some sort of grand gesture at a place that was special for both of us, but I'm not good at planning out or pulling off such acts."
"A grand gesture?" Tifa responded. "You know that's not necessary, right?"
"But I wanted to show you how I feel, and I know you love that sort of thing," Cloud said.
"Cloud, do you really think I don't already know how you feel about me?" Tifa asked rhetorically. "We've pretty much been together since we were kids. Sure, a grand gesture would be nice, but it wouldn't add anything substantive to what we already have. Besides, do you honestly believe I would say 'no' to you without one?"
"Uhh…" was all that Cloud could utter. Tifa had the ability to constantly put him at a loss for words, and this was another one of those moments.
"As for that special place," she continued as she removed her head from his shoulder to look at him, "what's more fitting than where we are right now?"
Cloud turned his head in her direction still a bit dazed from what he was hearing.
"You…you want me to ask you right now?" he managed to say.
"No," Tifa answered, earning an even more confused look from him. "You don't even need to ask. I'm saying 'yes' to you right now."
The blank expression Cloud had been wearing stayed put for a few more seconds as his mind processed Tifa's words. Although it should have been as clear as the night sky they were under, he still had trouble understanding what had just happened. As great as he was at connecting the dots quickly in the middle of a battle, Cloud felt embarrassed that he couldn't pull it off with the same speed when it came to his relationship with Tifa. After all, even with the restoration of his memories and all the clues she'd dropped on him, it still took him years to figure out that Tifa was waiting for him to make the first move.
It was now becoming obvious to Cloud that all those years of waiting had exhausted Tifa's emotional patience. This time, she didn't even bother to dilly-dally anymore. Although her discovery of his intentions wasn't planned, once she'd found out, she went ahead to make sure that she elevated their relationship status to the next level by successfully getting herself engaged to him before he could even think about taking any initiatives.
Once all pieces of the puzzle were clear, Cloud smiled at his now-fiancée as affectionately as he could muster.
"You really are something else, you know that?" he remarked.
Tifa closed the gap between their faces and brought her lips to his. Cloud embraced her tightly, mentally taking in the setting that had just stamped another moment to remember into their collective scrapbook.
The morning light felt bittersweet when it crept through the window of their room at the Nibelheim Inn, awakening Cloud to the realization that he and Tifa would be leaving their childhood hometown later that day. The boy inside was pleading with him to stay for a little while longer, seek out some more townsfolk to introduce himself to, and aim to get on their good side just like he repeatedly tried to do with the other children his age growing up. His responsible adult side knew better though: 7th Heaven and Strife Delivery Service weren't going to operate themselves, and the family he was raising needed him back in Edge.
He wanted to get up and prepare for their final trip to the cemetery, but Tifa's presence prevented him from doing so. She'd chosen to rest atop him last night instead of beside him, and he was content with letting her wake up on her own.
Cloud smiled as he thought back to the events atop the water tower. Certainly, with regards to his and Tifa's relationship, he did not return to Nibelheim with any plans of getting engaged—only to ask for a blessing from Tifa's father—but then again, their relationship never really followed any conventional rules. For those on the outside, their story may have appeared to be the perfect tale: two childhood friends who grew up and wound up together. However, both of them knew that the path to their current status hardly ever took any straight routes, up to and including the way they'd gotten engaged. It was at this moment that Cloud realized he hadn't even bought Tifa a proper ring yet, and he made a mental note to himself to do so upon returning to Edge.
He felt Tifa stir as she woke up, lifting her head to face him.
"Morning," he greeted her.
"Morning," she reciprocated. "Ready to pay our parents one more visit?"
"Yup, let's do it."
"Hi again, Mom," Cloud said, placing one last rose atop his mother's grave. "Tifa and I are heading back to Edge today. We just wanted to say goodbye."
There was some silence as Tifa crouched down beside him, placing her rose down and taking his hand in hers.
"But I have good news," Cloud continued, now smiling. "Remember that talk you had with me? When you told me you wanted me to find a good girl? Well, Tifa and I are engaged now."
"He literally found the girl next door," Tifa chimed in playfully, earning a small chuckle from Cloud. "And I'm going to make sure he doesn't get into trouble."
"Yeah, she'll keep me on the straight and narrow," Cloud followed up, remembering his mother's words. "She'll get on me when I'm being a silly goose."
"And don't worry, Mrs. Strife," Tifa added, leaning her head on Cloud's shoulder. "I know I can always come to you if he starts driving me nuts."
Cloud gave a spirited "hmm" to those words as he and Tifa stood up.
"Thank you, Mom, for everything," he finished. "We'll be back. I promise."
With those words, they turned away and started heading toward the other side of the cemetery.
"She's proud of you, Cloud," Tifa said sincerely as they walked. "I know she is."
"And I know she's overjoyed that you're the one I'm with," Cloud responded.
It wasn't long before they reached their destination: the tombstone with the giant word "LOCKHART" carved in. Tifa wasted no time in crouching down to place her rose, and Cloud followed suit.
"Hi, Papa," Tifa said. "Cloud came to talk to you alone yesterday, didn't he? Don't worry, I told him your answer."
"Thank you, Mr. Lockhart," Cloud joined in. "Thank you for your blessing."
"We're going back to Edge today," Tifa continued. "We're going home engaged. Can you believe it? I couldn't be happier. Rest easy, Papa, because you won't ever have to worry about me being alone again. Cloud will be here for me."
"Well, she's strong enough to take care of herself just fine," said Cloud. "But I'll always stand by her, just like you always will."
Tifa leaned her head on Cloud's shoulder again as a token of appreciation for his kind words.
"Thank you for everything, Papa," Tifa said smiling. "Cloud and I promise that we'll come back to visit you again."
They walked away without shedding a single tear, a stark contrast from their first visit five days prior. As they exited the cemetery one final time, Cloud felt at peace enough to close another chapter from his past. He'd come seeking a blessing, and now that he was certain he had it, it was time to continue looking forward side by side with Tifa, the best blessing he'd been bestowed.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to leave a comment/review and let me know your thoughts. All feedback is greatly appreciated.