Chapter Ten

     The blue energy surrounded her, seemingly infinite.  Tifa
fought away the fear she was feeling.  It wasn't infinite.  It had
to end!  It had too!

     For there was no turning back.  Almost unconsciously, she and
her two friends had been committed to their decision as they had
reached the fifty foot mark of the burning field that raged around

     No more turning back.

     Finally, Tifa reached to her side, nearly exhausted, and
poured the intensely powerful liquid of her first turbo ether over
her body.  Immediately, she felt revived, a curious burn beginning
on her skin as her body absorbed the magic contained in the ether,
while simultaneously burning it up.  Then her body began to burn
with pain close to what she had endured from Flaym.  She gritted
her teeth in defiance and blocked the pain away.  She held the
lives of Cid and Yuffie in her hands, as well as her own.  She was
not going to back down now.  

     Another fifty feet passed, and Tifa could barely contain her
exhaustion.  Every step was torture.  Still, her resolution firm,
she used her last turbo ether.  And the burning intensified.

     "Tifa?", Cid asked from the blueness.  "You holdin' up?"

     "I'm fine.", Tifa barked through gritted teeth.  "No,
Messiah.", she thought, angrily.  "You aren't going to stop me, not
this time!"

     They moved as fast as they were able, even though the ground
got even more uneven, and all of them nearly tripped several times. 
Then, just when Tifa's body felt like it was going to explode from
the intense pain of maintaining their protection, the field ended. 
She stumbled out with a strangled cry, the pain slowly fading, as
Cid grabbed her arm, steadying her.  

     They were there.  

     They stood inside one of the large entrances to Messiah's
coliseum, on almost the opposite side from which Tifa had been
marched into it during her imprisonment.  And she quickly buried
any trace of fatigue as she realized who was there to greet them.

     "You have come.", Messiah said joyously, standing at the far
end of the arena, holding her arms out towards them as if greeting
dear friends who had returned from a long journey.  "It is as I
have willed it."

     "That's her?", Cid asked in disbelief.

     Two men stood just ahead of Messiah, their swords drawn, the
eyes of one blank, the eyes of the other burning with fire.  Cloud
and Flaym.  Frieze was nowhere to be seen.

     "Wall.", Tifa murmured.  

     "You didn't will nothin'!", Yuffie yelled, walking forward
fearlessly, confident that Tifa's wall would protect her.  "We're
here to take you out, bitch!" 

     Suddenly the ground exploded beneath her, and she was blown
back, her wall flashing into existence and absorbing most of the
blast.  Tifa and Cid rushed to her side, but she was already
getting to her feet, her face grim.

     "That is not how I wish it, Yuffie Kisaragi.", Messiah said
softly.  "We will resolve this as it should be."

     Cloud and Flaym began to advance.  Tifa noticed with dismay
that Cloud once again held the Ultima Weapon, and Flaym had been
given Ragnarok.  Was Frieze dead?  Would Messiah have killed her
own son?

     She advanced angrily, Cid and Yuffie at her sides, determined
to avenge him.

     "We are much alike, Tifa.", Messiah said calmly.  "We are both
leaders.  We both twist the minds of others.  I did so to your
lover.  You did so to my son.  I do not wish you to fight.  Our
champions will resolve this.  We do not sully our hands with such
puny concerns."

     "I am nothing like you!", Tifa spit back, not slowing her
advance.  "And if you think I'm gonna' sit back and hide behind my
friends like you do your son, I'm gonna' tear you up worse than
Cloud did to Masters!"

     "I think not.", Messiah said with a faint smile.  The distance
between the opposing warriors had closed to less than fifty feet. 
Yuffie had staked out Flaym as her target, and Cid was ready to
take Cloud.  Take his weapon, anyways.  Once he was disarmed, Tifa
was sure she could knock him out and finish off Messiah.

     "You still worship me, Tifa Lockhart.", Messiah said, her
smile widening into radiance.  She raised her hands, and with a
single flash she was no longer alone.  Two children were now at her
sides, neither of them a day over five.  One boy, one girl.  Tifa's
heart sank.  Brother and sister.  Messiah wasn't out of cowardice

     "It will be as I wish it.", Messiah said again, reaching a
hand down to gently stroke the boy's hair.  He did not move,
seemingly deep into a magically induced trance.  Without warning,
a wicked knife was suddenly in each of her hands, and she pressed
one to the throats of each child, her smile never wavering.  "Our
champions will resolve this, Tifa Lockhart."

     "You coward!", Cid yelled angrily.  "You hide behind children? 
What kind of a monster are you?"

     "Monster?", Messiah answered with a beautiful laugh.  "Hardly. 
Keep your attention on your opponent, Cid Highwind.  Or you will
sorely regret it."  The scarred masses of flesh in place of her
eyes returned to Tifa, as her smile disappeared.  Tifa slowed,
finally, and stopped, glaring at Messiah.  She would most likely
kill those poor kids regardless of what she did.  But, for now, she
was stuck.  It was up to Cid and Yuffie.

     They didn't hesitate.  Yuffie's wall flared and held firm, and
Flaym cursed soundly, rushing her.  Tifa searched Yuffie's face for
any trace that Flaym's powerful magic was getting through.  If it
was, it wasn't enough to drop her.  With an angry cry, her cross
ripped through the air towards Flaym's head, knocking his powerful
strike away.  He was unfazed, twisting effortlessly to bring his
sword back into line, swinging Ragnarok quickly towards Yuffie's
midsection.  Yuffie parried again, unable to strike quick enough to
take him out without letting him hit her.  She had seen Ragnarok's
effect on Cloud's enemies too many times to believe she could
withstand it.

     With Cloud and Cid, the fight was even more furious.  It was
all Cid could do to hold him at bay, parrying desperately, forced
back as Cloud furiously attacked, his sword seeming to come from
everywhere at once.  Cid twirled his pike, knocking a blow away,
barely parrying another a half second later, grunting in dismay. 
Cloud was simply too fast!  Tifa moved forward to help him, and
then one of the children cried out.  Messiah began to draw the
knife across the boy's throat.  Tifa stopped, helpless.  Messiah
continued to smile.

     Yuffie and Flaym battled on, but their fight was more even,
and Yuffie was slowly winning the engagement.  Flaym was nowhere
near as good a swordsman as Cloud, and Yuffie's ninja training was
paying off.  Slowly, Flaym began to back away, his eyes flashing
with fire and anger, sweat pouring down his face.  Yuffie grinned
maniacally, keeping him on the defensive.  Then Flaym cried out as
her cross sliced through his left arm, breaking through his guard. 
Howling in pain, he rushed forward, and Yuffie had to cease her
attack to withstand his maddened rush.

     Tifa returned to the fight between Cloud and Cid, her body
burning with helplessness.  Cid was bleeding, several deep cuts in
his leg, stomach and arm.  A nick on his cheek bled freely.  Cloud,
by comparison, was unscathed.  Cid yelled angrily, parrying another
blow, but he continued to be forced back.  

     "Hang on, Cid!", Tifa thought desperately.  "Just keep backing
up!  Messiah isn't going to let me advance.  But if Cloud pushes
you back to me..."

     Then a tortured cry brought Tifa's eyes ripping back to the
fight between Yuffie and Flaym.  Another cut was bleeding on
Flaym's forehead, his armor battered, slices from Yuffie's cross
attesting to the fact that this fight was going the opposite of the
fight with Cloud.  Crazed with pain, Flaym charged her one final
time, screaming in anger.  Tifa saw the opening just as Yuffie took
it, her cross batting his clumsy strike far to the side, as her
other hand reached for his neck.

     His sword flew from his hand as Yuffie ripped him off his
feet, hurling him over her in a powerful throw and launching her
knee into his stomach.  He fell to the ground in a heap,
weaponless, as Yuffie jumped to her feet and spun to face him, her
cross glinting as it rose into the air.

     "No!", Flaym cried in agony, desperately struggling to get
away.  Feeling the fear, perhaps, that he had caused so often in
others.  Yuffie leapt on him, her cross descending towards his

     Messiah screamed.  Cloud paused.  Cid, suddenly given an
opening, tore Cloud's sword from his suddenly weak hands with a
sharp twist of his pike.  And then Tifa leapt for him, launching a
vicious punch to the side of his head.

     "This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you, Cloud.",
Tifa thought, as she sent the disoriented warrior peacefully to the
ground, unconscious.

     Cid collapsed, breathing heavily, wounded badly from his fight
with Cloud.  But he grinned through the blood which trickled onto
his lip.  

     "Get 'er!", he yelled.

     Messiah writhed on the ground, the children she had held
hostage collapsed as well, weak from the sudden absence of her
magic.  Tifa rushed towards her, only feet ahead of Yuffie, and
together they grabbed the two unconscious children, rushing away as
Messiah rose to her feet.  Together, they had decided that getting
these two helpless kids away from Messiah's knifes was more
important than killing her.  For now.  

     "You...", Messiah said, furious, as she rose to her feet. 
Tifa and Yuffie dropped their burdens beside Cid, and no words were
needed.  Cid would take care of the kids.  They would deal with

     "You cheated!", Messiah cried, as Tifa and Yuffie, moving in
concert, rushed her.

     They got within ten feet before Messiah screamed again, this
time in anger, and lightning leapt from her hands.  Tifa, caught
off guard, was bowled over by the blast, her wall flaring as it
desperately tried to absorb the damage.  How could this be? 
Messiah was supposed to be helpless now!  Yuffie managed to dodge,
and brought her cross up to strike at Messiah's neck.  Then a
fireball burst into her at nearly point blank range.

     She fell to the ground, screaming as the fire burned past her
wall and singed her hair and skin, throwing her back, momentarily
blinded.  Tifa tried to get up, and suddenly discovered that she

     "Oh.", she thought in horror.  "Oh my god."

     She was frozen.  Covered in ice.  Yuffie did not get up.  And
Tifa knew that she was afflicted with the same ailment.  Frieze!

     He could not have betrayed them.  He would not have betrayed

     "You... foolish... girl!", Messiah whispered in anger, her
beautiful face livid, as she slowly stalked toward them, those
wicked knifes once again in her hands.  "Did you think that killing
my children would render me helpless?  We are one!  I gave them
their power!  Kill them, and that power returns to me!"

     "No!", Tifa cried, struggling against the ice which chilled
her, paralyzed her.  "Frieze!  He said that if they died, you

     "Frieze is my child!", Messiah cried triumphantly.  "He would
never betray me!  Did you think he would tell you the truth, Tifa
Lockhart?  Did you think you could turn him against me?  He told
you what I wanted him to tell you!  And that drew you here like
moths to a flame!  Take Messiah's children, and you take her power. 
Oh, he tricked you, Tifa Lockhart.  How does it feel to know you
are again betrayed?

     "Frieze.", Tifa thought sadly.  Suddenly, she was filled with
anger.  "How could you?!"

     Messiah reached her, and knelt, her hair falling across her
face as her sightless eyes lowered towards Tifa's.  Her face, so
wrongly beautiful, was twisted in hate.  "And now you die, Tifa
Lockhart.", Messiah whispered, softly.

     "Tifa!", Yuffie cried.  Unable to help her.

     "Did you think my son Flaym could cause you pain?", Messiah
asked, baring her teeth in yet another beautiful smile.  "That is
nothing compared to what I can do."

     Cid's cry of anger was drowned out by the roaring in Tifa's
ears as Messiah burned into her.  She screamed until the breath
left her lungs.  The pain continued for what seemed like an
eternity.  Flaym... Flaym had been an amateur!

     The fire disappeared, suddenly, and Tifa found herself
desperately gasping for breath, her eyes glazed, barely remaining
conscious.  She refused to black out, keeping herself alive through
sheer will alone.  She knew that it was over.  They had been so
close!  So close!

     And Frieze had betrayed them all.

     "And now, Tifa Lockhart.", Messiah whispered hatefully,
wickedly, raising her knife to rest on Tifa's throat.  The metal
was curiously hot, so different from when Cloud's sword had been
resting against her neck.  She refused to show fear.  In fact, she
refused to feel it.  She would glare her defiance at Messiah until
she died.

     Messiah's face twisted in hate.  Then, without warning, the
pressure of the blade against Tifa's neck eased.  The knife fell
away from her throat.  Tifa stared, not understanding.  Was Messiah
going to torture her further, before finishing it?  But Messiah's
gaze had left her, her mouth slowly opening in shock, as she stared
past Tifa at something behind her.


     Messiah continued to stare, saying nothing.  She seemed frozen
with indecision.  Tifa knew that voice.  The traitor had come.

     "This is wrong, Mother."

     Tifa did not understand.  Frieze had betrayed them.  Now, NOW
he decides to help them?  How could that be?

     "Go... go away!", Messiah cried angrily, forgetting about
Tifa, rising to stand.  "Frieze!  I order you!  Leave!  Now!"

     "No, Mother.", Frieze said, his voice as cold as his name. 
She could hear him walking towards them, his steps falling one
after the other, slowly, as if he could barely walk.  "You torture
me.  You torture these people.  You kill, destroy.  That is all you
know how to do.  You are evil, Mother.  You will not do this."

     "Frieze!", Messiah said, her voice suddenly tender.  "My son. 
I love you, Frieze.  I love you."

     "You cannot love.", Frieze replied coldly.  Tifa wished,
desperately, that she could see him.  "I know that now."  He said
nothing for a second, Messiah frozen in disbelief.  "Tifa... can
love.  She can love, Mother.  I have seen it.  You only destroy."

     Without warning, a tear came from Messiah's scarred eyesocket. 
How could she still cry, Tifa wondered in dismay?  How could a
being that evil cry?

     "Frieze.", she said, her voice full of sorrow so beautiful
that it was sickening.  So pathetic, waif-like.  So much like a
mother who had been betrayed by her son.  "How can you say I don't
love you?"

     "Because you torture me.", Frieze replied, his voice
unchanged.  "If not for Flaym and Azure's death, I would not have
been able to escape that torture and come here.  To confront you."

     "But you had to be punished!", Messiah insisted, still crying. 
"I'm sorry, Frieze!  It hurt me to do it!  But you had to be
punished!  It's the only way you could learn!  That doesn't mean I
don't love you!"

     "This ends, now, Mother.", Frieze said.  "No more victims will
die in this arena."  Tifa heard the sound of a sword being
unsheathed.  Could Frieze do it?  Could he kill his own mother?

     "Frieze.", Messiah cried, falling to her knees, tears flowing
freely.  "You could kill me?  Me, who gave you life?"  She paused,
overcome with grief.  Lies!  Tifa knew it.  Messiah could never be
so weak.  She was too evil!  

     "Then do it.", Messiah whispered in grief.  "Do it, son.  I
cannot stop you.  Take my life.  Slay your loving mother.  You
cannot hurt me worse than you already have."

     "Please!", she thought in desperation.  "Frieze!  You can't be
taken in by her!"

     "No, Mother.", Frieze said, his voice cracking.  Tifa did not
know what to think now, her mind going blank.  "I cannot kill you."

     "Frieze!", Messiah cried, joyfully.  "I knew you could not! 
Come here!  Let me embrace you!  Let's forget any of this

     "I cannot kill you, Mother.", Frieze insisted, tears in his
own voice now.  "But you must be stopped.  You say you love me. 
But I know it to be a lie.  I know this is all an act, a desperate
attempt to stop me.  But I do not care.  For I love YOU, Mother. 
Despite everything.  I cannot hate you, and that is why I am
damned.  You have damned me with my love!  I would rather be dead!"

     "Frieze...", Messiah whispered.  "You are wrong!  I do love

     "Goodbye, Mother.", Frieze said sadly.  "Goodbye."

     An endless second passed.  Tifa's ears strained against the
ice holding her helpless, her body numb and chilled.  Then, a short
grunt of pain reached her ears, and a tortured scream ripped
through the arena.  And Tifa realized with a mixture of horror,
relief and sadness that they had won.

Cloud's vision cleared. His head hurt. But he did not care. The pressure, the control, the power that had held him so completely helpless. It was gone. He slowly moved his hand, numbly taking account of his injuries. Nothing broken. Nothing numb. Besides the bump on his head, he seemed fine. His mind felt dull, scraped raw, as the residue of Messiah's magic lingered on. But that's all it was. That magic was gone. His friends had won! And then he was overcome with grief. He had almost killed them! Cid! He had felt each strike that he had inflicted on his friend as if he was stabbing himself, anguished, but unable to stop. Messiah had kept him aware through all of it, everything, wanting to torture him with the realization that he was killing his friends. But she had failed! He had known she would! Tifa, Cid, Yuffie, all of them. They had proven too strong for him. And her. They had won!" "Cloud.", Cid coughed, suddenly coming into view as he walked up beside him. He reached a hand down to help him up, cautiously, his eyes guarded, the wicked gashes that the Ultima Weapon had left on his body bleeding heavily. Cloud stared at his friend in gratitude, so grateful to know that he was still alive. Then he reached for Cid's hands, pushing away his fatigue, pushing himself up and sweeping the man into a strong hug. "Hey.", Cid coughed, gruffly. "What the hell are you doin'? Gettin' soft?" "Tifa.", Cloud thought suddenly. What had happened to her? Where was she? "Tifa!", he called, turning, letting Cid go. Was she okay? Was Tifa okay? "Cloud.", a weak voice called. "Cid.", Cloud said, gently turning back to his friend, helping the man to sit. "Rest. You're hurt." "And who's fault is that?", Cid said bitterly, though he grinned through his pain. "I must help Tifa.", Cloud said, squeezing Cid's shoulder. Then he turned away, and rushed over to Tifa's limp form as fast as he could. He reached her side, staring at her in horror. Her body had been burned badly by Messiah's lightning, or fire, or both. Her face was filled with pain. But her eyes were filled with joy. "Cloud.", Tifa said weakly. "Are you here to kill me?" He swept her up into his arms, stroking her torn hair, crying onto her shoulder. "It'll be alright, Tifa.", he said softly, his voice shaking with sobs. "You did it. You killed her. I'm so sorry, Tifa! I'm so sorry." He held her weakened body in his arms, gently. She could not die. Not because of this. He would die if this brutal conflict took her from him. "Well goddamn.", Tifa whispered weakly. "It took you long enough, farm boy." "I do love you.", Cloud whispered back, softly. "I've loved you for so long, Tifa! But... but... I could never say it. Not with Aeris. Not with her death being my fault. But I can't lose you, Tifa! I can't lose you too!" "You love me, Cloud?", Tifa asked, suddenly crying herself. "Then why the hell didn't you tell me?", she sobbed bitterly, joyfully. "Yeesh.", Yuffie said weakly, her voice hoarse, as she stumbled up to them, her skin blackened from Messiah's fire. "Get a room, you guys." The comment was so inappropriate. So wrong. So Yuffie. Cloud grinned. "Tifa!", a strong voice yelled. Cloud recognized it immediately. Barret. Barret was here! His eyes rose from Tifa's shoulder to the entrance of the arena. And there they were. Barret, running forwards, grinning like a madman. Vincent. And Red. Red! Running freely, his gait proud, his tail flaming, no trace of the injuries that Cloud remembered inflicting on him still visible. They were alive! Everyone! His eyes widened in disbelief as he saw the men following them. Shinra soldiers? What the hell were they doing here? Barret rushed up to him, huffing and puffing. "Shit, Cloud! You sane?" He paused, observing the situation. "Good! We found all our stuff, Cloud. We got everything. You look like you could use a hand." "Tifa.", Cloud said, laying her gently down on the ground. "Tifa first." "You got it.", Barret said with a grin. He reached forward, laying his hands on Tifa's head. "Fullcure!", he yelled, his body flaring with magic. The magic was pure joy to Cloud's eyes. Tifa's wounds disappeared, her burns fading, her black eyes disappearing, every trace of injury on her body gone, instantly. She lay, peacefully, her eyes closed as the power of Barret's spell coursed through her body. Clad in a Shinra uniform, Cloud noticed for the first time. So Shinra must have decided to help them. Reeve had come through. Her eyes opened. And she smiled, beautiful. "You're next, Spike.", Barret said. "Hey, what about me?", Yuffie said indignantly. "What am I, leftovers?" "Hold your horses, ninja girl!", Barret said with an grin. "Remember that vase?" "Oh, please!", Yuffie said in exasperation. "You aren't still angry about THAT!" Barret attended to the rest of them as efficiently as Tifa, Cloud, then Yuffie, then Cid. Magic was a wonderful thing. Their wounds gone, their bodies fit and strong, the party was finally reunited. Victorious. "Frieze.", Tifa said, her face suddenly sad. Together, they walked over to where he lay, his expression peaceful, even though his face was covered in frozen tears. A large sword, his own sword, jutting from his back, his body laying still, his hands clasped under his chest, still holding the grip. He was dead. He had fallen upon his own sword. He could not kill his mother, even with everything she had done. He had truly loved her. But he could kill himself. And by doing so, take the last of her power. So Messiah had spoken a half truth. She did have the same powers as her children. But with all four of them dead, she had nothing left. She lay still a few feet from Frieze. Messiah. Her once beautiful face was gone, twisted and blacked, as if it had melted away. Her beautiful hair had fallen off and burned up against the ground. Her flowing white gown was gone, her body so twisted and burned that it was almost impossible to tell that she had ever been human. Only her eyes remained unchanged. It was as if all of the magic that she had used against others had suddenly overpowered her, ripping her apart from the inside. So that was the truth. Her power given to her children, because she was too weak to contain it all. And when the last of it was given back to her, she had died. In agony. Cloud stared at her coldly, he and Tifa holding each other close. He could not pity her. She had died like she had killed so many others. Her evil was at last gone from the world. They stood around, silently, in respect for Frieze's valiant sacrifice. Then, Tifa left Cloud's side and went to him, gently lifting him up, pulling the sword from his chest. It came out with the sound of sliding ice, and then Tifa laid it to the side, no blood flowing from the wound. Frieze's face and hands were completely blue, as if his blood had been frozen solid. The peaceful expression on his face seemed so out of place and yet so appropriate. Calm like a glacier. Frieze had died knowing that he was doing the right thing. Tifa laid him back against the earth, crossing his cold arms across his chest gently and rising to turn to the others.

"It is beautiful.", Tifa whispered, squeezing Cloud's arm. They stood, together, holding each other close at the shore of the still, placid lake. All around them, the City of the Ancients stood silently, empty, but not cold. She seemed to be here. Everywhere. Her spirit. Filling this place with love and joy. But this still lake, glowing as beautiful rays of light cascaded across it's surface, this was where her presence seemed strongest. "I laid her to rest here.", Cloud said softly. "But I never really let her go. I couldn't. I felt too guilty, too angry. I did love her. You know that." "I know.", Tifa whispered, holding him closer. "I loved her too. She was a friend to both of us for as long as we knew her. Always so kind, with a smile to soften everything. She was there for us as long as she could be. And even when she died, she was still there with us. Helping us, giving us the strength we needed to beat him." "And we did it.", Cloud murmured, raising one hand to caress her hair affectionately. "We did it. And Messiah. What can we say of Messiah?" "She's dead.", Tifa snorted. "Forget her." "Alright then.", Cloud said with an easy grin. "Forget her." The party had done just that, in the weeks after their climactic battle with Messiah had been concluded. Yuffie had disappeared again not long after she had finally convinced Cloud and Cid to take the submarine down to retrieve the materia and gil from her sunken boat. "I'll write you!", she said with a mischievous grin, before she left. "But my work is not nearly done! There's still more materia out there." She'd turned, her eyes hungry, a stupid grin plastered across her face. "More materia for me!" Vincent hadn't hung around for much longer either. Neither he or Yuffie was the type to stay in any one place for long. He'd promised to keep in touch, but said that he still had some unfinished business back on the northern continent. Something to do with Dr. Gast's lab, what he had been heading for when he had been attacked back when this had all started. Why he was going there, Cloud could only guess. Maybe, like Red, he just didn't want to lose touch with his past. Red had stayed with them, as he had before. He had not come with him and Tifa to the City of the Ancients, though. Cloud had told him what he had planned. Solemnly, he had nodded his approval. Cid had dropped them off here before leaving to finish up a cargo run for Reeve, and Red had gone with him. Reeve paid well, and Cid enjoyed the work. It was a good arrangement. Thinking of Cid made him smile. Those kids that Messiah had held hostage. They'd been down there for who knows how long, and despite the party's best efforts, no trace of their parents had been found. It was not surprising, given Messiah's cruel nature. The kids themselves didn't remember a thing. And so Cid had brought them home, and showed them to Shera. And she'd liked them. Barret was at the Golden Saucer, with Marlene, helping her to forget the past. Marlene had seemed the least affected of any of them by this whole rapid chain of events, and Cloud suspected that Barret was there, playing those incredibly expensive, silly games with Marlene, more to relax himself than to relax her. Still, he was sure they were having fun. They had buried Frieze in the ground of Messiah's arena, along with Flaym. And Messiah, their mother. Frieze had wished it to be that way, so that's the way they had done it. They had left the three a simple grave marker, and Tifa had lovingly inscribed a few simple words on it's surface. "Here lies a hero.", the bar of the cross read. This was, of course, referring to Frieze. Tifa had refused to even mention Messiah or Flaym in his epitaph. "I bet you he's there, too.", Cloud said suddenly, turning to stare out across the lake suddenly. "Frieze. He's with her, with everyone else who's left this world, in the Lifestream." "Which her?", Tifa asked uncertainly. "Aeris, dummy.", Cloud said. "I think Messiah is probably somewhere else. And I don't think she's very happy." "I hope not!", Tifa agreed. "That bitch!" "Shhh!", Cloud teased. "Watch your language. We're in a holy place, here." "Sorry.", Tifa said with a shrug, grinning mischievously. Her grin faded, as Cloud's face suddenly became solemn. "What?", she asked, suddenly concerned. "I brought you here for a reason, Tifa.", he said, his expression suddenly nervous. "What?", she asked curiously. "Surely you aren't thinking about THAT! This is a holy place, after all!" Cloud grinned momentarily, but then his solemn expression returned. "I've ignored you for far too long, Tifa. You've been there for me, for so long, and I've never seen it. It took both of us nearly dying at Messiah's hand to make me realize how stupid I'd been. Aeris would want us to be happy. She tried to tell us that, when she saved us from Meteor. I just didn't see it at the time. I've been thinking about it since we finished Messiah. And I'm going to make up for it. All of it. Every time I pushed you aside, neglected you." Tifa's eyes stared into his own, curious and expectant. "I brought you here so Aeris could witness this, too.", he said, motioning out to the lake. "I know she'd come back and kill me herself if I made her miss it." He paused, suddenly at a loss, his mouth moving once, but no words came out. Finally, he steeled himself and spoke. "Tifa Lockhart, will you marry me?" Tifa's eyes widened in shock, her mouth falling open. "What?", she said softly. "I know I should have said it a long time ago.", Cloud added quickly, taking her shock and surprise as a negative. "And I know you may not feel the same as you did before. But I do, Tifa. I love you. With all my heart, Tifa. You have to believe that. I..." "Cloud.", she said, putting a finger to his lips. "Shut up." Then she kissed him hungrily, and he did not resist. It was so beautiful and powerful that it took her breath away. When they broke, finally, both of them were breathing heavily. "Wow.", Cloud murmured. "We should have done that a while back, huh?" Tifa grinned. "You know what, farm boy? I think I will marry you. Why not?" Then she kissed him again, and this lasted even longer than the last one. "Wait.", Cloud said suddenly, pulling away. "Before I pass out. I want to tell Aeris. Tell her that we're getting married." "Let's both tell her.", Tifa whispered. Cloud nodded. Together, they turned to face the lake. "Aeris.", they said together. "We're getting married!", Cloud yelled happily. "We're getting married!", Tifa echoed, just as loud. She smiled, overcome with joy. "So when's Cid getting back?", Tifa asked with a mischievous grin. "Not soon enough.", Cloud replied with a grin of his own. Then his lips meshed with hers once more, and they fell to the shore of the pond, losing themselves in their love.


Copyright November 1997

by Eric 'StarFury' Bakutis

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