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A locked heart.

Warm colors of the setting sun illuminated the sector four "Seventh Heaven". Golden shades of red, white, orange, and yellows spiraled down through crystal glass windows, dancing in a sad sort of circular motion across the wooden furnished floorboard of the bar, indicating that darkness was only a matter of minutes away. Far in the back corner of the room, two women stood in complete silence on opposite ends of an ebony colored counter. One was seated comfortably on a stool, using a pitcher to fill the cup placed in front of her with fresh lemonade, while the other woman busied herself by tiding up the bar.

Wide, orchid eyes rose up from the glass cup, meeting with the back of the older woman. Her eyes went from the bar tender's lean muscular arms to her hair, swinging dramatically with each violent scrub she made at the invisible stains that she claimed were on the polished countertop.

"Tifa, you need another haircut." The young ninja stated, somewhat irritated by the long, sleek strands of charcoal and copper silk, draping down past the martial artist's small alabaster shoulders and inching below her hips

The bar hostess responded with a light, 'mmh', which could have meant one of two things. One, she was not listening, or two, she did not care.

"And when are you gonna liven up this place, huh? It seems so...dead around here!"

Tifa continued cleaning the counter, dipping the rag into a bucket every so often.

"You'd have more waaaaay more customers if this place wasn't such a dump heap! I mean, I know this is the Midgar slums and all... but not everything's gotta be so grey, black, and white around here all the time!"

"Mmh."

The Wutaian princess was irked further.

"Are you listening? I'm telling ya! Add a little color! Paint the walls pink! Put in some yellow drapes! Gawd! Get a radio! A moogle! ---or--a dancing chocobo! Something! Anything!"

She looked to the martial artist, whose back was still facing her.

"Soooo boring..." The ninja said exasperated, stirring the ice in her cup with the clear plastic straw placed between her long, pale, slender fingers, "Unbelievable...the great ninja Yuffie would never be caught dead at a dump like this!"

The bar hostess smiled softly at the spunky woman's remark. She couldn't have said it better. Things around the bar were pretty dull. She had thought of remodeling about a dozen times. She, Marlene, and Denzel had once even drawn out a couple of ideas for the bar with crayons and paper.

Denzel suggested green and blue as the new theme colors of the bar while Marlene said that pink and purple would be nicer. She wanted flowers and beaded doorways decorated all over the bar; he said her idea was dumb and that sliding doors were much more traditional and lamps hanging from the ceiling would give perfect lighting and add warmth to the bar. He then said country music playing would set a good atmosphere in the bar, while she argued that country music was "sooo white trash" and that pop would be far better choice. Exchanging ideas quickly turned to exchanging insults; talking changed into arguing, and arguing into fighting.

Tifa was almost sure she would have to whip out Premium Heart before separating the two when Cloud sort of broke into the argument by suggested a new widescreen T.V. for the bar...or maybe it was for himself. Tifa wasn't sure. But with the space cleared between them, it did make the two realize how ridiculous they had been acting. They exchange rather awkward apologies and the four of them shared a laugh.

It was at that moment that Tifa felt it was truly the happiest she had been in a years. Seeing the four of them together, talking, laughing, arguing, agreeing, and disagreeing. It was all the elements that almost made them, what she most desired, a family. Though she wasn't exactly sure how good of a mother she would be, or if in fact she could raise children to be emotionally healthy, considering her conditions and that of her "ideal suitor". However, the thought of settling down and having a family sure beat the hectic events that happened the year before.

It had been exactly a year and five months since she and the members of Avalanche had aided their mysterious red caped friend at the sector six Shinra building. She knew very little of Vincent's situation and all though she was more than curious to know the details, once the Wutaian ninja mentioned him saying something about facing off the demons of his past Tifa backed off completely. God only knew, everyone has one of those.

Thinking back, everything in the last year seemed to happen so fast.

It all began with a call on her PHS from Cid Highwind, the captain of the world's largest and most difficult to pilot airship. Shortly followed by Barret Wallace (Marlene's adopted father and the man who had pulled together a small band of mercenaries called Avalanche) driving up to the bar in his truck, shouting something about heading out to sector six. Moments later, she found herself seated next to him in the passenger's seat, riding down the concrete road of sector four to the dirt pavement of sector five. Within an hour, the dreaded Shinra building was in sights. Seeing it had stirred so many old feeling and memories, fears and broken dreams.

But then, he came. Pulling up beside them on Fenrir was Cloud Strife (an ex-soldier and her childhood friend), a steady sort of look on his unreadable features. He had done some growing since the previous year. What with seeing his arch enemy reincarnated and getting a glimpse of the love of his life who was murdered in cold blood. She felt a sort of comfort from seeing the sober face of the one she admired most. Just knowing that he shared some of her fears and thoughts was enough to give her strength for the battle ahead. His presents seemed to give her that feeling of understanding. Maybe that, aside from his good looks, was what attracted her to him so much.

As fast as the moment came, it went. Missals went off. WRO members glided down from the skies. Cid's new Airship, "the Shera" had been struck and the pissed captain could be heard on the communicators cursing up a storm Shera herself would have been disappointed to hear. (Since the announcement of their engagement a few months previous, he had done surprisingly well in watching his language, and all in the name of his love for Shera.) Then, life stream blasted off into the air. Yuffie (the daughter of the ruler of Wutai) was off in a frenzy looking for the dark haired gunman, who had taken off without her while she was still airsick on "the Shera". It was then that Chaos took off into the skies after Omega, followed by a bright light that illuminated the night skies...

Peace was once again restored to the planet and man kind. "Same s***, different smell," as Cid had once put it. Tifa agreed.

Fast forwarding, six months later, eleven months ago, Reeve (the former Shinra member) had found a loving family for Denzel in Junon. Marlene and Denzel had said a rather long, yet sad goodbye before the brunette went his way with the president of the WRO. Two months later the restoration of Correl had been completed. Barret came to Midgar with the wonderful news and Tifa was quite happy for him. But soon her heart was filled with grief at the realization that he hadn't come all the way from Correl just to tell them that. He had come to take Marlene back to the place of her birth. Once again, she and Cloud said their farewells to another one of their temporarily adopted children and from that day on, the bar never seemed the same to Tifa. She often had her ups and downs, but she always did her absolute best to not let it show in her work. She still had a bar to run and a friend who depended on her to answer phone calls and schedule appointments for his delivery service.

A little over eight months pasted, Cloud was often gone on business trips, as he usually was. Only now Tifa was beginning to feel the full depth of loneliness' claws. Business was more than fine, but she couldn't remember Cloud's trips being so long. Or maybe they only appeared to be that way because she was often alone….

Tifa was left with far too much time alone to think. Self pity began to rear its ugly little head and she soon begun to mourn all her losses, recent and long forgotten in the past. Maybe it wouldn't have all seemed so bad, if only she hadn't been so stubborn and just picked up the phone and called someone. Doing something as simple as calling up Shera to see how the married life with Cid was could have made all the difference. Or perhaps even a chatter box like Yuffie to get her mind focused on something else rather than herself. No, Tifa needed someone to listen to her for once, not the other way around. She was so tired of listening to others. She had kept things bottled up for so long that it was only a matter of time before it all came out. But the timing was just all off….. Perhaps things would have turned out the way they did no matter what. Now, she would never know. She had become mentally broken and physically drained from her thoughts. She just wasn't herself when it happened.

It was one morning a couple weeks back that Cloud had yet to return from a recent delivery trip to Icicle Inn. Tifa woke up but couldn't bring herself to get up out of bed. She felt paralyzed, like she did on that same day ten years ago after Sephiroth had cut her across her torso. No matter how she tried, she just felt too helpless and weak to find the strength to move. The bar had remained closed that day.

Later on that night, Cloud returned but seeing him didn't cheer her up like it usually did after he had been gone on long business trips. She found herself disgusted with the both of them and how their lives had turned out. He was her best friend and god only knew how much she loved him, but she couldn't argue with the fact that he was still the same hard headed, emotionally lacking, stubborn jack ass she had found four years ago in the Midgar sector seven train station. He was already twenty-five years old and without a girlfriend. Who knew if he ever even had one. Point being, maybe if he had one it would help her get over him quicker. Maybe….

But it was always the same game, year after year. Little hints that may indicate that he had feelings for her that surpassed friendship, then big disappointing reminders that he loved Aerith and may still to this very day yearn for her. She was no better. Twenty-four years old, and she was still too much of a coward to tell the man she loved what was in her heart.

Seeing her lying motionless in bed, Cloud became a little concerned so he had asked her how she was feeling. Suddenly, she snapped at him. He raised his defenses, she cornered him, he accused, she blamed, and the conversation had become heated. Although….she couldn't remember for the life of her what they were disputing.

Tifa had never once argued with Cloud. She had seen him quarrel with Aerith from time to time, which she knew was normal and healthy for a relationship, but just knowing that she had not once had disagreed with the man she loved was what she valued most about their friendship. Regardless of how careless or selfish his decisions seemed at times, she always stuck by and supported him one hundred percent. By the time their argument had reached to it limit, Tifa felt that they had nothing left. No equal romantic interest in one another, no family, no friendship. Things only took a turn for the worse from there-

"Well things couldn't get any duller around here..." Yuffie murmured, "You might as well close early."

Thick, full lashed fluttered rapidly with confusion as caramel eyes blinked back into reality. Tifa mentally scolded herself for letting her thoughts go as far as they did before turning her head towards the ninja girl sitting at the counter. She had a look of absolute boredom set over her features and was absently blowing into the straw, causing small bubbles to form in the glass of lemonade.

After a moment Tifa smiled, tossing the rag aside and turning on the faucet to rinse her hands.

"You're right..."

Yuffie almost choked on her straw.

"R-really?"

Tifa nodded, drying her hands off with her black apron, "I'm closing up. Wanna help me?"

"Ha! Haaaa!!" The ninja exclaimed, jumping to her feet and racing across the room to the front door, "I take back all the things I said about you being a boring ol' hang with no brain!"

"You said what!?" Tifa said placing her hands on her hips while scowling at the girl with slate colored haired.

Eventually the bar hostess just shook it off and chuckled, shutting off the T.V., behind her. The ninja warrior was too carefree at the moment to put up an argument and she herself was far too tired to start one. So she'd let it go….for now.

Twisting the lock on the front door, Yuffie looked up to see a pair walking up towards the front porch of the bar. She smiled naughtily, placing the closed sign over the window while dimming the lights in the bar.

"Yuffie, what are you---"

"Shh!" She coaxed Tifa, shutting off the lights completely.

Tifa looked confused at the young woman who ducked down to the floor and began crawling across towards the counter by her side.

"Get down!" She hissed, pulling Tifa down by her arm.

"What do you think you're doing!?"

"Shhhh!!" She hushed, clapping her hand over the older woman's mouth.

After a moment, light taping came from the door.

"Tifa! Tifa, are you home!?" The gentle voice of a child called.

Tifa smacked her forehead, "I forgot! Barret said he had some business to take care of at the Wall Market and he was dropping Marlene off at the bar!"

"Damn Tifa, you're getting old."

"Hey! It was a week ago when he told me this! And I--- I've had a lot on my mind recently…."

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, let's have a little fun..." She said rubbing her hands together.

"What are you talking about?"

The Wutaian tried to cross the room with as much stealth as possible.

"You go lock the back door. I'm going to lock all the windows." She whispered.

"Yuffie!!" Tifa tried to call as quietly as she could.

She nearly smacked herself again. Why was she playing along? Talking in a hushed tone? This was ridiculous! And she wouldn't take no part in it!

"Please Tifa, pleeeeaase..." Yuffie begged, clasping her hands together for emphasis, "Help me get Barret back for pantsing me at Cloud's birthday party!"

Tifa bit her lower lip, thinking it over.

Although, Barret was extremely drunk and said he didn't remember pantsing the poor ninja girl at the party, he did comment that he wished he did so he could remember the look on her stupid face when he did it and he began to burst out with laughter. Which, Tifa felt, was not right. Yuffie was really embarrassed…..once Cid had told her about it the next day, that is... Yuffie was quite drunk that night as well and needed a little help remembering everything. Which was why she didn't know why she woke up with her "flat ass" in the air, as Cid had put it.

As the rest of the story goes, Yuffie was trying to get Vincent to dance with her at Cloud's birthday party. He walked off while she started 'getting her grove on' and Cid commented that she couldn't look any dumber dancing by herself in the middle of the room. Barret had laughed, saying she could. A couple of minute had passed before Yuffie realized the lower half of her body was completely exposed.

She struggled to pull her pants up, but as luck had it, sickness from the alcohol was finally settling in and she only managed to slip her green thongs loosely below her hips. When she noticed the gun armed man laughing at her, she attempted to chase him but tripped over her shorts (which were still settled beneath her ankles) and landed face first, butt in the air, passed out.

Feeling it would only be right (god forbid if Yuffie tried to get Barret back in her own mischievous ways) Tifa nodded in agreement. She heaved a heavy sigh, almost not believing she was going to do this. Surely Barret would be furious with her. She began to crawl off towards the back door, barley missing the sly smile on the thief's face who repositioned herself, sitting laid back on the stairs.

Once she made it into dark room in the back of the bar, Tifa stood to her feet. Feeling a slight chill, she looked down, noticing her black skirt was running up her thighs (which was a really big pet peeve of hers), she grabbed the leather material by the hem and carefully pulled them back over her mid thigh. Suddenly, she heard heavy boots clanking loudly outside the bar.

She froze.

Had Barret already found the back entrance to the bar? Almost no one knew of it…...

The clanking became louder and soon she could hear the person on the other side of the door feeling around for the handle in the dark.

Shaking off the fear of getting caught, Tifa dashed for the doorknob, her fingertips only inches away from the lock when suddenly the door was thrust open. The toes of her shoes lost contact with the floor and she found herself falling forward, her face drawing closer to the cold rubble surface.

Snaking around her curvaceous frame, his hand locked over her left arm, just a few centimeters above of her elbow, and her chest impacted against the rock of a pillow the man had provided to soften her fall. She winced, bringing her hand up to rest on the man's muscular bicep. Tifa looked down past her dangling hair, seeing between the long dark seas of coal and cerise, not brown combat boots, but a pair of black leather ones. The moments continued to pass as they stood frozen in that position.

Finally, the man broke the silence between them.

"Tifa? What are you doing?





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