Tifa walked the last customer out of her store before returning inside to clean up in the galley. The room was dimly lit, with minimal but adequate lighting. No one else was there besides Tifa. Just days ago, she was working so much that all her bitterness disappeared as she watched families come and go. But now, the water was cold and she wasn't getting anywhere with all the dirty tableware. Tifa tried turning on all the lights that illuminated the store to try and change the atmosphere. For a brief moment, the store lit up, but due to the instability of the electricity supply, it became dimly lit again. A surge of uneasiness came over her. She wondered if she was all alone in the house. As the thought crossed her mind, she couldn't stand it, and she called out a girl's name.
Before long, soft footsteps could be heard from the children's room deep inside the store, and Marlene appeared.
"Ssssh." She put her finger to her lips and frowned. Tifa apologized but was relieved.
"Denzel finally fell asleep."
"Was he in pain?"
"You could have given me a shout."
"Denzel didn't let me."
"I see..." Tifa looked like she was blaming herself for not paying attention to the children.
"So, what's wrong?"
"Hmmm... What do you mean?" Tifa answered, trying to hide her feelings. Marlene looked around the store, where only Tifa and her stood.
"Did you get lonely?" This little girl saw through everything. "I won't be going anywhere."
"Thanks. You should sleep soon too."
"I was just about to sleep!"
She's my daughter. That's how I introduced her to people. Her parents died not too long ago and she was brought up by her father's closest friend, Barret. Ever since Tifa met Barret and got along with him, she found out about half of Marlene's life. That was why she naturally ended up being the one taking care of Marlene when Barret decided he would go on a journey to settle his past.
Tifa stopped washing and followed Marlene. In the children's room were two beds lined up to one another. There, Denzel was lying sound asleep. The Geostigma scar on the eight-year-old's forehead looked painful. Denzel was suffering, as the illness couldn't be healed and his condition wasn't improving. Tifa wiped away the pus from the mark on his forehead; Denzel grimaced a little but continued to sleep. Marlene, who watched over Denzel, went to her own bed afterwards and called out Tifa's name.
"We're here with you but you're still lonely, aren't you?"
"...I'm sorry," Tifa answered honestly.
"It's OK. We're the same."
"I wonder where Cloud is."
Tifa didn't know and put her hand on her neck. Cloud was in Midgar somewhere. She imagined how the worst could have happened as he was caught in an accident where he went to work or he was being attacked by some monster.
But she soon found out that he was still out there on jobs. There were people who had seen him. He just left the house, that's all. Tifa was trying to convince the children that there were no problems, but she lost her composure and the children soon realized something was wrong.
"Why did he leave?"
I didn't know. Maybe all kinds of problems had cropped up. But Tifa remembered Cloud's last smile. It had the kindness that made her think everything was fine. I wonder if I was mistaken.
One fated day. The day when Meteor came flying down from outer space and the Lifestream flowed out from the planet, gathering together and destroying it. Tifa had watched the scene from the sky, together with her companions. I thought it was fine if everything just washed away. Wash away my past. She could feel the obscure terror that came with the relief when the battle was over.
I wondered if I could continue living the way I was. If someone else asked her the same question then she would answer them that they should live on no matter what happened. But when it was about her, she didn't know.
Thanks to Shinra Inc.'s development of Mako energy, the world was prospering. Light overflowed the ground's surface but at the same time, there was something much darker happening. The anti-Shinra group "Avalanche" took action to let the world know what that darkness was.
Mako energy was going to lead to the destruction of the planet. But Avalanche's actions didn't have much of an effect and the world remained unchanged. Once you understood the benefits of Mako, it was hard to turn your back to it. Avalanche chose to take more extreme actions to change the situation. In the Mako city of Midgar where lots of people lived, they blew up one of the Mako reactors that produced consumable energy.
Due to a miscalculation in the bomb they made, the area that got destroyed was greater than they had planned. The surrounding areas of the Mako reactor was also destroyed. Hearing this, Shinra wasn't going to ignore the matter. Shinra committed a brutal act in order to destroy the small group Avalanche: the sector of Midgar that was home to Avalanche's hideout was completely destroyed. As a result of Avalanche, countless innocent lives were lost.
That Avalanche was the group Tifa joined.
She had thought that sacrifices were more or less unavoidable for their great goal. They always thought that they were prepared to throw their lives away too. As a result of what happened, they lost sight of their goal. During their long fight with Shinra, they soon found themselves fighting the powerful Sephiroth. Tifa, along with her childhood friend Cloud, the other remaining survivor of Avalanche Barret, Aeris who they met during all the chaos, and Red XIII, set out on their journey. After going through some more events, Cid, Cait Sith, Yuffie, and Vincent also became her companions.
It seemed a new friendship was blooming, but as if there was a price to pay, Aeris' life was taken away.
Even so, the journey was not over. Tifa felt that she could leave everything behind her as she experienced the victories and losses in battles during her journey.
It all started when she was a young girl. There was some trouble in the Mako reactor which was built near her hometown of Nibelheim that threatened their safety.
Sephiroth was dispatched by Shinra to resolve the problem. He also killed her father. I couldn't bear the hatred I had for Shinra and Sephiroth. That was why I joined Avalanche. Yes. It was the beginning of my own personal hatred. The slogans Avalanche used showing how they were anti-Shinra and anti-Mako were just what I needed to hide my true motive. But the many lives lost as sacrifices in saving the planet was too much. If all that was just for my own revenge, then...
The sin held its role deep in my heart. I wondered if I could live on with these feelings. As Tifa looked away from the sky towards the ground, she was afraid of the future. But the Cloud beside her chose to smile gently. It was a smile that she hadn't seen before during their journey. Cloud noticed her gaze and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Cloud, you're smiling."
"It all starts now. A new..." Cloud looked for the right words. "A new life."
"I'm going to live. I think that's the only way I can be forgiven. All sorts of things... happened."
"But when I think about how many times I've thought about how I was going to start a new life, it's funny."
"I've always failed to do it."
"And you couldn't smile."
"...I think it will be all right this time."
Cloud became very quiet. "Because you've always been with me."
"I've always been with you."
"That's tomorrow's story," Cloud replied, smiling again.
Tifa went to see Aeris together with her companions. Aeris, who was now at the bottom of the Forgotten City's spring. The world she was going to save in exchange for her life would surely be all right now. That's what they were told. Tifa heard a voice asking if she was all right. She didn't know if it was Aeris' voice or her own. She cried. Right after Sephiroth took Aeris' life, she wasn't grieving. She was sad, but she changed the sadness into the anger and hatred for the enemy. But the pain she felt when she visited the place tore her heart apart. While enduring the pain, she thought to herself how she was made this way by being part of a large group of people and an Avalanche member. She overflowed with tears again.
"I'm sorry, I'm really sorry."
She felt Cloud's hand on her shoulder. He was holding onto her firmly as if he didn't want her to go anywhere. For now, I'll just let myself cry as much as I want. I'll leave the rest in his hands.
I just didn't know what I should do.
The companions that were with Tifa for the whole trial of their journey split up, just as easily as they did when they joined in. Vincent left just like one of the passengers that would sit next to you on a train. Yuffie protested. She asked everyone if they were all right about splitting up, now that they were friends. Barret was the one who told her that they could see each other whenever they wanted if they all lived. Or maybe it was Cid. After promising to reunite one day, Tifa,Cloud and Barret seperated from the others, leaving for Corel Town. It was Barret's hometown. To him, the tragedies that occurred there because of Mako was what started everything for him. Standing silently for a moment, he told the others not to follow him. He too had to go on living, carrying sins.
They also went to Nibelheim. It was Tifa and Cloud's hometown. They didn't feel any nostalgia. They were clearly reminded of the incident that took place in the town.
"I shouldn't have come, " said Cloud. "It draws you back to the past."
Cloud's words spoke for the way Tifa felt too.
They then went to Kalm. There waiting for them was Aeris' foster mother Elmyra and the girl that was left in her care, Marlene. Two of Elmyra's relatives had a house in Kalm and that was where they stayed. Barret and Marlene were happy to see each other again. Cloud told Elmyra what had happened to Aeris.
There were no signs that they were convinced, but Tifa, Cloud, and Barret apologized for not being able to save Aeris.
"You all did what you could. There's no need for you to apologize," said Elmyra.
Tifa and the others couldn't say anything in reply. Did we really do all we could?
There were many people who arrived in Kalm to take refuge. The normal houses became emergency shelters. The residents of Kalm didn't charge them even though they could. Even the inn provided free rooms for the people in need. It was like everyone was cooperating to rebuild the world.
"Come on, lets go home," said Cloud.
"Where to?" Barret asked.
"Our suspended reality."
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
"Our normal lives."
"And where do we have something like that?"
"We'll find one." Cloud looked at Tifa and said, "Right?"
"Yeah!" cried the cheerful Marlene. Tifa nodded too, but just like Barret, she wondered where they had a normal life.
The four of them arrived back at Midgar. The city had recovered from all the shock and chaos that took place right after Meteor was destroyed. People were on the move again looking towards their future... no, their present lives for the time being. Seeing this made Tifa blame herself again. When she looked at Midgar from the sky she had thought that it was fine if everything just got washed away. She didn't know there were still so many lives here. Tifa wasn't going to be able to forgive herself for being so selfish. She told Cloud and Barret what she was thinking when they were on the airship. Even though Barret and Cloud understood how she felt, they scolded her. No matter where they were or what they were doing, they wouldn't be able to get away from the sins in their consciousness.
"Since that's the case, we'll live on. We'll live on until we pay back for our sins. It's the only way," said Barret.
When Tifa and Cloud were alone, Cloud said, "It's not like you to be troubled by your thoughts."
"It's... Just the way I am."
"No. You're much more cheerful and strong. If you've forgotten the way you were then, I'll be there to remind you."
"You really will?"
"Probably," Cloud said blushing.
The first thing they did was gather information in and around Midgar. There was a lack of materials, but above all, there wasn't any information being passed around about where to get things. The three of them split up and went around sharing the information they gathered with those who were in need, about where they could get the things they needed. They helped the people that couldn't move on their own. At night, they slept under a plate in Midgar where rumour had it that it could fall anytime.
One day, Barret came back with an alcohol jar, heater, and various fruits. They were given to him as thanks for helping someone dismantle a house.
"I told you, just watch." Barret skillfully started cooking, but they couldn't see what he was doing. It had been about two weeks and the alcohol had been left to stand since then. They found out that it was some special alcohol made in the town of Corel. Tifa and Cloud sipped their alcohol slowly. Barret was drinking so much that you could probably bathe in the amount he drank. He looked like he was enjoying it and talked about his memories of the peaceful times. Drunk, he fell into a well. It had been a long time since Tifa and Cloud burst out laughing.
The next day, Barret was looking serious and said, "How about we start a business and sell this alcohol?"
"'We'?" Cloud asked, surprised.
"Don't talk rubbish! We can't draw customers! Tifa will do it."
"You're good at it."
Not long ago, Avalanche's hideout was at a bar named Seventh Heaven. It was what funded the members' lives and activities. Tifa was the barmaid there, or more accurately, the bar's manager. Barret continued.
"From what I see, the people of Midgar can be split into two types: those dilly dallying around who still can't accept what's happened to the town and those who are working to live on. I understand how both types of people are feeling. Everyone is facing their problems but they're just dealing with it in different ways, right? The solution to everyone's problem is alcohol."
"Why is that?"
"I dunno. But when we were half-drunk yesterday, we laughed. We forgot all sorts of things, right? That's the moment we're after."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Times like that are important, ain't they? Hey Tifa, what do you think?"
Tifa couldn't answer right away. She understood what Barret was saying. But opening up a store felt like going back to the times of Avalanche. Cloud spoke up.
"Tifa, lets give it a go. If it gets too tough, we'll just quit."
"It won't be tough. If Tifa doesn't work, she'll end up thinkin' about all sorts of things. Then she'll end up not being able to do anything."
That might be true.
The three of them made preparations. They decided to build their new business in the new town of Edge that was north of Midgar.
All the people that Barret and Cloud had helped before gathered together. They transported all the materials that would be used to build parts of the store such as the walls and pillars.
Barret shouted out his orders while Cloud went around correcting them in a low voice. Tifa, on the other hand, learned how to make Corel's alcohol and improved it so that it was better to drink. She also thought of the food she could put on their menu, using the steady supply of ingredients they could use. Marlene was like a mascot to the people who helped build their store. It seemed she was emphasizing at how she was the new store's barmaid. It was hard work solving the problems that arose every day, but there was some fulfilment. Sometimes, Tifa would find herself thinking about how deep her sins were when she smiled, but someone always called her over to ask about something, which interrupted her.
A few days more and they might be able to open the new bar, Cloud said. Barret asked what they were going to do about the name. There were a few suggestions, but Cloud's ones were all boring and Barret's ones made them think of monsters. In the end, it was Tifa who had to decide. The two men promised that they wouldn't complain no matter what the name was, but Tifa couldn't think with the opening day so close. One day, Marlene came and asked them what they were going to do about the bar's name.
"We're still thinking."
"I wish it was Seventh Heaven," said Marlene. It was a name Tifa wanted to avoid. Just having the past in me was enough. There was no need to go to the trouble of making a name that would remind me of it.
"Because it was fun. If we make it Seventh Heaven it'll be fun again."
We had forgotten. Adults had their ambitions but Marlene had nothing to do with them. To her, Seventh Heaven was a happy home where Barret, Tifa, and her friends were.
"Hmmmm, Seventh Heaven..."
I couldn't erase my past. I could only compromise and live on. Tifa decided she was ready.
The first day of Seventh Heaven's opening was a great success. Corel alcohol was something that you could make yourself when you felt like it, so the price was nothing special. Because of the limited ingredients they had, they couldn't make any special food. Even so, people sought places like this. A place where they could be with friends while drinking. A place where you could get over the sadness from reality or maybe forget about reality and think about the future. People who didn't have money were allowed to trade items to get a drink. So that children could go in too, they prepared all sorts of juices. They only served the ones that Marlene tried and liked. She was someone who couldn't be missing out on anything. Marlene was the waitress who served until not too late into the night. Those who drank too much were ordered to go home without any hesitation.
Barret was sipping his alcohol in a corner. Maybe he was planning to be the bouncer. Cloud's job was to obtain the ingredients they needed for their food and alcohol. He didn't know most of the names of the fruit and vegetables. At first, Tifa was surprised, but when she thought about the life that Cloud had, she realized it couldn't be helped. It was funny when she thought how Cloud's new life was going to start by remembering the names of vegetables. No, I can't laugh, Tifa thought to herself.
Cloud wasn't good at socializing. He wasn't good at talking. Even so, he would go negotiate somewhere to obtain the ingredients they needed. The ingredients had a value greater than what they were worth. Cloud was moving on too.
After the first week of being open, Barret said that he would go on a trip seeing how well the business was going. He was going to leave Marlene behind.
"I wanna go on a journey to settle my past."
Cloud nodded as if he understood. "Settle your past...? But I want to do that too."
"You guys can do that here. Don't just take. Try proving that you can give, too."
Marlene, who had always slept with Tifa, slept with her foster father Barret the night before he left. Their conversations could be heard late into the night.
Early the next moring, Barret set off.
Behind him Marlene shouted, "Send me some letters! Phone, too!"
Barret lifted his articial right arm up that had a machine gun attached to it. He kept walking without looking back. It was the back of a figure who had no other way to live than to fight. I wonder just what kind of life he will find. I prayed that he would be able to stay far away from war. Not just take. I prayed he would be able to prove that he could give, too.
"Make sure you be a 'nice' kid!"
Hearing those words, Cloud and Tifa looked at each other. Be a "nice" kid?
"I'll take care of Cloud and Tifa!"
Barret turned round and shouted, "Take care!" His voice was a little shaky.
"Unite the family's strength and keep at it!"
Friends were a necessity to me so that I wouldn't get supressed by the sins in my consciousness. Even if they were companions that had the same wounds or were burdened with the same sins. We couldn't live without comforting each other and encouraging each other.
You could call that family, maybe. We just had to unite our family's strength and do our best. Tifa thought she could get over anything being with friends that she could call family.
It had been several months since they opened the bar. There was a call from Cloud, who went to collect their supply of ingredients. It was a discussion about the privilege of how much one person could eat and drink for free during their life at Seventh Heaven. Without listening to his story, Tifa understood what he wanted to say. She was sure there was something Cloud wanted to exchange that strange privilege for no matter what.
It was night, and Cloud came back on a bike. It was a model that they had never seen before. Since then, he had been adjusting it whenever he could spare the time in between his job. He brought an engineer that he knew from somewhere to discuss modifying his bike. It seemed a few people came to help Cloud complete the modifications. Marlene and her young neighbourhood friends watched. The scene reassured Tifa that they were really becoming a family in the world.
There were many times when Cloud had to leave Midgar for their supplies. The destination was mainly Kalm. It seemed he had to rent a bike or a truck or sometimes a chocobo. Now he had his own bike. Occasionally, it seemed he would travel very far and manage to get some rare goods.
One night, there was a call for Cloud. After talking on the phone for a while, Cloud said he had to go out for a while.
"Where are you going?"
"How should I say this..."
Cloud told her how there had many times when he was asked to deliver something while coming back with supplies. The caller was one of the store owners who shared some of his vegetables with them. It seemed there was something that he wanted Cloud to deliver before the night was over by all means. Cloud gazed at Tifa like a kid who just had his secrets revealed.
"Why are you looking at me like that?
"Well... I'm sorry I kept quiet about it."
"Doing what I wanted."
Tifa burst out laughing. Cloud went on about how he got paid a little for delivering items. He told her about how he felt guilty spending it all on the modifications for the bike. Tifa thought he was like a kid. It may have been a little sad that Cloud had found another world that I didn't know about but, the fact that his world was expanding was a welcoming thought. Yes, it was similar to the feelings a mother would have. Tifa walked Cloud outside, enjoying the new feeling that was blooming in her.
Tifa was able to cope with the sins in her conciousness. She hadn't forgotten about them. Someday, the day may come when she will be punished. Until that day came, Tifa was going to look ahead and live. She was going to live, not just taking, but proving that she herself can give too.
Tifa encouraged Cloud to run a delivery service seriously. They could just take requests at the bar. As for dealing with calls, Marlene or herself could do it. Cloud hesitated, but after thinking about it for one night, he accepted the suggestion. He was just being hesitant again after all.
And so, that was the start of the Strife Delivery Service. Midgar was the centre of their business, but they also delivered all over the world. But only to the areas that Cloud could go by bike. Cloud smiled at how he was like a big advertisement. His job was also a big success. It was a time when sending things wasn't so easy for people who wanted to. Monsters were still around and there were roads that were constructed in areas that would break up due to the Lifestream bursting out. This job of travelling around the world wasn't something that anyone could do. It was a job he had been seeking. Tifa thought it was wonderful how Cloud, who wasn't very sociable, was doing a job that connected people through mail.
After Cloud started his delivery service, their "family" life changed greatly. It wasn't too good. Besides morning and late night, Cloud was usually not at home. And of course, there were less chances for the three of them to have conversations together. Tifa closed the bar for a day during the week, but it didn't stop Cloud from doing his job. It wasn't hard for Cloud to turn down requests. I just wanted us to be able to take a day off together now and then but, I suppressed that selfishness in me. During that time, it was Marlene who noticed a change in Cloud. She told Tifa how Cloud would sometimes look up at the sky and not listen to her. Cloud never really approached Marlene to talk in the first place. But I was sure he never ignored her when she talked to him. I knew that Cloud had his own ways of getting along with Marlene. I thought about how there were people everywhere that weren't good with children but had their own ways of coping with them.
I told her that Cloud was probably tired, but it bothered me. Marlene was a child who was sensitive about the changes in adults.
During their holiday, Tifa and Marlene were cleaning the room that was now Cloud's office. There were many slips that laid scattered about unsorted. One of them caught Tifa's eye.
Client Name - Elmyra Gainsborough
Delivery Item - Bouquet
Destination - The Forgotten City
Tifa put the slip away with the others as if nothing happened, but she was trembling severely. Transporting mail around the world meant he was travelling around his past too. She knew that Cloud was in great pain because he couldn't protect Aeris. Cloud was on the verge of overcoming it, but now, going back to the place where he and Aeris got seperated meant that his sorrow and regret was going to tear his heart again.
It was night, and they had closed the bar. Cloud was drinking alcohol even though he rarely did. He drained his glass. Tifa thought about it before going over and filling his glass.
"Shall I join you?" There was something she wanted to talk to him about.
"I want to drink alone."
Hearing that, Tifa lost control and said, "Then drink in your room."
Barret called often. Most of the time, he hardly talked about himself and asked more about how Marlene was doing. Every time, he would talk to Marlene at the end. As Marlene wondered if Tifa was listening or not, she told Barret in a sad voice, "Cloud and Tifa aren't getting along very well."
No matter what feelings Cloud and I have between us, we can't drag Marlene into it, Tifa thought to herself.
Tifa forced herself to talk to Cloud. When Marlene was near, she would pick something positive, something that wouldn't turn the conversation into a serious matter. Cloud was bewildered at the way Tifa changed, but guessing at what she was doing, he went along with the mood and talked to her. They got Marlene to join in with the conversations. I thought it went pretty well, but I couldn't talk about what I really wanted to talk about. I didn't know what to say.
One morning, Tifa shared a story she heard from a customer that seemed funny.
"That's really something that can't be done," Cloud thought aloud.
"It can't be done!" Marlene shouted.
All the adults were surprised and looked at Marlene.
"You've told us that story before and Cloud just gives the same answer."
It didn't go well. But we were together. It was because we were family. We lived in the same house and we were living by uniting our strength. Maybe there wasn't much conversation or many smiles, but we were family, Tifa thought to herself. No, it was what she got herself into thinking.
After making certain that Cloud was asleep, she spoke to him.
"We'll be all right, won't we?"
Of course, there was no answer. I only heard the sound of him sleeping. I wondered if the fact that he was sleeping here meant that he was part of the family.
"Do you love me?"
Cloud woke up, a dubious look on his face.
"Hey, Cloud. Do you love Marlene?"
"Yeah. But sometimes I don't know how to approach her."
"Even though we've been together for some time?"
"Maybe that just isn't enough."
"Even we aren't enough for you?"
Cloud didn't answer.
"Sorry for asking some strange things."
"Don't apologize. It's my problem."
Cloud closed his eyes.
"Let's work hard together."
Cloud didn't answer.
Not long after that, Cloud brought Denzel with him. When he brought him into the bar, he was already unconcious. It was Geostigma. Cloud said the symptoms looked like they just started not long ago. As Tifa nursed Denzel, she thought of how there were many children who were infected with the same illness. There were also a lot of facilities set up for children without parents. Despite that, why did Cloud bring Denzel here? Just when Tifa was going to ask him, Cloud muttered something.
"This kid came to my place."
"What do you mean?"
After Denzel recovered, she listened to his story about everything that happened to him before he arrived here. Then she thought to herself that he was supposed to come here. He was one of the victims when Sector Seven was destroyed. The reason why Sector Seven was destroyed was because of us. That's why I had to take responsibility and raise him. He didn't go to Cloud's place. He met Cloud so that he could come to my place.
Tifa discussed with Cloud and Marlene about how she wanted to welcome Denzel into their family. Cloud nodded silently, but Marlene was full of joy.
At first, Denzel was persistent in helping them as thanks for taking care of him, but while helping with Cloud's job and in the shop, he opened up his heart.
It was night and the bar was closed. While cleaning up in the galley, Tifa looked up towards the centre table. There sat the manager of Strife Delivery Service—Cloud—and his two assistants, Marlene and Denzel. Denzel suffered from Geostigma, but on the days when he didn't have a fever or any pain, he would hang around with Cloud. Cloud spent half of each day outside. So once he was home, it was Denzel's precious time to spend with his hero. Yes, Cloud was a hero to Denzel. Saving Denzel while he was fighting with death as the symptoms of Geostigma erupted again, riding around on a bike... everything that Denzel was yearning for. Denzel wanted to ask everything about Cloud. He would ask Tifa questions about Cloud until he returned home. Once, Tifa half jokingly said to Denzel that she was the one cooking their meals every day. Denzel also said in a grown up manner that he cleaned the house and the bar every day too.
It was true, and he done a very thorough job of cleaning. When she asked him if it was his passed away mother who taught him how to clean, he answered no. The following day, Tifa asked Cloud who Denzel's cleaning teacher was. He had told Cloud about it. Tifa was a little hurt.
She was troubled at why Denzel told Cloud and didn't tell her. One day, she tried asking a customer that was about the same age as Denzel about it. His answer was that boys were just like that. So there really weren't any problems. They were just a normal family.
The answer didn't make her understand them but, the words "normal family" relieved Tifa.
After the bar was closed, the usual three people sat around the table. It wouldn't be odd if you said it was a young father with his two children. If I felt like it, I could go over to that table and be welcomed with smiles.
Cloud had a map spread out on the table. He making sure of the routes that he was going to take to do deliveries the next day. Denzel and Marlene was sorting out the slips. When there were any words that Marlene couldn't read, she asked Denzel. Denzel would then teach Marlene like an older brother. When there were words that even Denzel couldn't read, he would ask Cloud. Cloud had the habit of handing them a pen after telling them how to read them. He said that if they couldn't write it, then they wouldn't be able to remember it. Looking at the names of places on the slips, the children asked Cloud what they were like. Cloud's descriptions were simple. There are lots of people. There are very little people. There's lots of monsters so it's dangerous. Taking the north route is safer. They were descriptions that would make you ask, "is that all?" but the children seemed satisfied. Soon, Tifa wanted to talk too. When she added in more detail, Denzel would ask Cloud if it was true. It annoyed Tifa a little, but she also thought it was all right. That's probably what normal families were like.
Tifa wondered if they became a real family after Denzel appeared. Cloud was clearly taking less jobs. At night, he would always make sure he had time to spend with the children. The silly little conversations he had with Tifa were also back.
"So the problem was resolved?"
Cloud thought about it.
"It's OK if you don't want to tell me."
"I can't really explain it well..." Cloud warned before starting to talk. "The problem isn't resolved. Well, I never tried resolving it for a long time, I think. You can't retrieve lost lives."
Tifa nodded silently.
"But maybe we can save the lives who are in a crisis just now. Maybe even I can do it."
"You mean Denzel?"
"Hey, do you remember what you said when you brought Denzel here?"
"What did I say?"
"You said Denzel came to your place."
"Well..." Cloud looked like a kid that about to be scolded as usual.
"Tell me. I'll decide whether I'm angry or not after I listen."
Cloud nodded and continued.
"Denzel had collapsed in front of the church where Aeris used to be. That's why I thought Aeris lead him to 'my place'."
Saying all that in one breath, Cloud looked away.
"I went to the church."
"I wasn't planning to hide there."
"You were hiding."
"I didn't say you couldn't go. But next time, go together with me."
Cloud was dubious as he looked at Tifa.
"Aeris didn't bring Denzel to you."
"Yeah, that's what I thought too."
"Aeris brought that child to us, didn't she?"
Cloud gazed at Tifa and finally smiled. It had the kindness that made her think everything was fine.
Days after having that conversation, Cloud left. Tifa wondered if that smile he showed her was an illusion. After kissing the sleeping children on the face, she went into Cloud's office. She brushed away the dust on the family photo they took, then tried calling him. After several rings, the messaging service took over.
Translated from the Japanese by Xcomp. Minor revisions by Reeve.