A Labor of Love Chapter 4

The Second Reunion

By Meriko Robert

Cloud sat back in his chair, pushing away his empty plate and sighing in contentment. Tifa smiled over the table at him and said teasingly, "Looks like destroying all that equipment gave you quite an appetite."

"Yeah," Cloud laughed, "Good thing Gongaga's reactor has been shut down so long...I'd have fainted away from hunger if there'd been any monsters still hanging around." Squinting into the afternoon sunlight that poured in from the open doorway of the inn, he pondered their next course of action. "I guess now that we've taken care of all the reactors, we should go see if Reeve's found anything interesting. It's strange that we haven't heard from him yet."

Pursing her lips thoughtfully, Tifa supplied, "That could mean he's totally caught up in something interesting that he's found..." She grimaced, and then continued, "...of course, it could also mean he hasn't found anything to call us about." Across from her, Cloud grinned and lifted his water glass to his lips.

As she secretly admired the way the sunlight put golden glints into his blue eyes, she saw the grin slowly slip off his face like water sheeting off a window. The glass slipped from his fingers, crashing to the floor and sending sparkling shards of glass and water in all directions. Slivers crunched underneath his boots as he rose from the table and walked towards the door, slowly at first, and then breaking into a run.

Automatically tracking his movement, Tifa turned to face into the sunlight and saw Reeve ushering a young woman into the restaurant. Long brown hair backlit into gold, brilliant green eyes, and a long, pink dress. She only took one step into the room before she was caught up into a fierce embrace by a tall blonde man who hugged her to him as if he'd never let her go. After a space of a few heartbeats, he cupped her face in his hands and looked searchingly into her face. Their lips moved as if they were talking, but Tifa couldn't hear anything because of the strange roaring sound in her ears. All in all, a tender, beautiful moment, but for the fact that the tall blonde man was Cloud, and the girl? Well, the girl in his arms was Aeris Gainsborough.

"Aeris, how...?"

"I'm not sure...the Planet still has things for me to do, apparently."

"I just found her there, lying near the lake."

"This has to be a dream."

"No, it's real. I'm real. So, Reeve tells me you three are putting me out of a job?"

"No, no...how could we have accomplished anything without you?"

"It's as if the Planet knew that we wanted to help, and brought her back."

The conversation lasted through the night and well into the early hours of the next day. Cloud asked questions, Aeris answered as best she could, and Reeve put in his two cents whenever there was the slightest pause. Tifa sat - rather appropriately, she thought miserably - in Aeris' shadow on the couch, not taking part in the conversation, and apparently not being missed, either. The opportunity to rejoice in Aeris' return upstaged by Cloud, her joy at seeing her friend alive overshadowed by the familiar pang of jealousy, and the need to ask questions also rendered unnecessary, she simply sat quietly and tried to make sense of the miracle and her resulting heartache.

Why can't I be happier? She's alive...thank God she's alive; we need her so much, and her death was so tragic. What's wrong with me? She's just as much a part of our group as Reeve, probably even more so. I should be crying with joy or hugging her to death or something. I am glad she's alive. I just...I guess I'm just jealous?

A week ago, the three of us were going to care for the planet. Now, she's back and Cloud says that we would have failed without her? When it was just the two of us, he paid so much attention to me, but now I could turn into Jenova and he probably wouldn't notice. Oh, stop being an idiot, Lockheart. Of course he's glad to see her. Of course he's amazed. She was dead, after all, and he felt so guilty for not being able to save her. It's just...

She sighed softly to herself, suddenly feeling the weight of their day's work and lack of sleep weigh down upon her heavily.

Buck up, Lockheart. This isn't like you. You're just a little tired, that's all. You've done this before. Love your friends, keep on loving him, and keep smiling. It'll be all right in the end. It'll be all right...


Chapter 5

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