|Home is With You
Author: Cloud Zen PM
ON HIATUS - AU CloTi- In the FFVII World, Cloud encounters Tifa again after a chance meeting five years ago. Everything is going well until Cloud's past returns to haunt them both.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Cloud S. & Tifa L. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 17,334 - Reviews: 49 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 31 - Updated: 02-19-07 - Published: 09-12-05 - id: 2577651
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
These streets sure have seen better days, he thought to himself. Almost five long years had passed since Cloud walked the streets of Midgar, on or beneath the plate. He had left in hopes of a better life, away from the fighting, the bloodshed, and the death. People died everyday in Midgar, murder wasn't anything special. It was on television every night. The powerful could make anyone disappear, never staining their already filthy hands. They used people like Cloud, or at least the kind of people that Cloud used to be.
He had walked away from that life after knowing little other that it. Sure it paid well, but was one life really worth only a small sum of gil? Cloud had slain many men, some for a few thousand, just enough to put food on the table, others for a few million, enough to buy a luxurious house in Costa del Sol. He used to be one of the best, him with his massive sword, but he never enjoyed it. In fact, he flat out hated the business. Being a mercenary was not the glamorous life he had imagined.
The perks were nice once in a while, being a bodyguard for some drop dead gorgeous woman, being around her twenty-four hours a day, but when the reason he was hired came around, and blood was shed, he vowed again and again never to do it again. He kept breaking those vows however, when he found he had no marketable skills except swordplay and the other option was starving to death. Maybe one day I'll actually be able to leave this sword behind me. Maybe when hell freezes over.
Cloud walked though the dirt and filth that was the slums. He spent many years here, amassing a fortune, thinking that one day, when he had enough money, he would be able to leave and never return. He had a bank account with money rivaling the old families that lived on top of the plate, but knowing that they would never accept him, he left Midgar.
Cloud stopped in the middle of the street. "Son of a . . ." it was still there, the one place that had made him realize there was more to life than blood and money. Ironically, a place where sins dwell had made him see something, maybe "the light" or maybe something else, but definitely something new.
"Tifa's Seventh Heaven . . ." he said out loud. An elderly man nearby responded to his aimless voice with a laugh.
"You act like you just saw the first bar in your life, young man." Cloud looked at the man. "That bar is possibly the most prosperous business underneath the plate. That young girl that owns it started working miracles with it about five years ago and now every man, woman, and child in the city knows of it.
"Young girl? You wouldn't happen to know her name would you?"
The elderly man laughed, "Can't you read, boy? That's her on the sign right there."
Cloud looked back at the bar's front. Could it really still be her? Could she still be there? Cloud's mind was asking question after question, a hopeful look on his face. "Tifa . . . are you still here?"
Another busy night, she thought to herself. At least it pays the bills, plus a little, she chuckled a little thinking of what he has said so many years ago. The man that had inspired her to keep the bar she had sold everything to buy. He had been her first customer ever. Just looking at him, his dark ambience, had almost made her want to close down and leave. He had ordered a drink, keeping to himself in the very seat a man was yelling at her from now.
"Hey! Give me another drink over here!" a man yelled from the far side of the bar. Tifa moaned to herself, "Thanks for ruining my daydream."
"Money first, Cid," she said as she wiped down the bar in front of him with a rag. "And before you ask, no you can't put it on your tab. You still owe me over 1,500 gil." Cid was a regular at her bar, so of course he had a tab. He also had a habit of forgetting about it when he was asking for another drink. At least he made good on it every month. Tifa was never sure how he managed to show up with his usual 8,000 gil at the end of the month to pay off his, but at least he was a good customer and behaved himself.
"But . . ." he started as she gave him a stern look. "Fine, here's your damn money" he spat as he threw another 100 gil across the bar for another drink.
"Thank you, Cid," she said with a smile as she pulled out the drink she had waiting for him. Tifa's mixed drinks may have been expensive, but they were the best in Midgar, on or under the plate. She never let any of her few employees mix them either, she never wanted to give out her secrets to anyone.
Tifa smiled to herself as she recalled that day five years ago when he walked into her bar, and her life. She would never admit to anyone, but she had at one time thought he was cute, once he let her into that cold, hard shell of his. He came back almost every night after that first one. He always said it was because her drinks were the best around, but she knew what it really was. She was good-looking. As long as she kept the place open, he would keep coming back, sitting in the same seat, ordering the same drink, always leaving her a tip at least the size of his bill, the only one to ever do so. He was the only reason she stayed in business those first few months. The money he left in tips the first month paid the rent for the next year. He was so generous and so kind to her even though he was always withdrawn and never spoke to anyone.
He started to speak to her aside from ordering a drink and wishing her well after the first week. He never spoke about his job, except for saying "At least it pays the bill, plus a little." She could never understand how he managed to give her so much money. He had no family since they died when he was only a child. To her, he still looked like a child, even though he claimed to be 21. She herself at the time was only 16, and he didn't look much older to her, even though the rumors she heard said he was anywhere between 20 and 40. After a month, she finally learned that he was only 16, even though he could beat up any man under the plate who made unwanted advances against Tifa. It was at the same time that she finally learned his name. She chuckled as she said, "I hope he's doing al- . . ." Tifa's words were interrupted as she heard a crash.
Cid had stumbled out of his chair talking to some woman, following her around like a little lost puppy. Tifa laughed to herself but had to stifle it. A man had taken Cid's seat at the bar and had laid 400 gil on the counter. She walked over still cleaning the glass in her hand. He looked like a new customer and the other girls knew that she served all of the new customers herself.
"Hi there, you must be new around here. I'm Tifa, the owner of this place. What can I get you?" It was her usual greeting, always said with a genuine smile. She had said it so many times that now she mixed the customary first free drink her bar was famous for as she said it. The young man looked up at her revealing shining blue eyes hidden beneath his spiky blonde hair. He looked so familiar, but she couldn't place it. She placed an inexpensive mixed drink in front of the young man.
He looked at the drink for a moment, and gazed back at Tifa. "Is this the most expensive drink you have?" There was no indignation in his voice like there was will all the other new customers, which was relieving, but it got her laughing like usual.
"No it isn't. That drink is on the house. All new customers get a free drink on their first visit." Every customer asked it, she just had to wait for it, and they always laughed and happily drank it after hearing the news. However, the young man before her didn't laugh, or even touch the drink for that matter. He looked at her with his bright blue eyes.
"I've heard that you are famous for your drink, 'Final Heaven.' I'd like one of those if you don't mind. This should cover it right?" he said holding up the two 200-gil bills. Tifa looked at him with surprise. Most new people had never heard of that drink. It was her pride and joy and she had told only a dozen people in five years the name of it. Everyone else knew it as the most expensive drink in the house. It was not a big secret but it was far too expensive for most people to want, so very few people even knew about it, much less its name.
"Um, yeah, sure. I'll fix you one right now. By the way, how did you hear about that drink, that is, if you don't mind me asking?" Tifa couldn't help but wonder how this young man had learned the name of that drink.
"I heard it from a young man about five years ago. Said he used to come here every night and order two or three of them," the young man explained.
Tifa stopped mixing the drink. No way, she thought to herself. There is no way in hell. He could only be speaking on that same young man. She spoke up as she finished mixing the drink, "I'm sorry but you wouldn't happen to remember his name would you?"
The man took a sip of the drink and responded. "I don't remember, sorry, but he was right about this drink. It is the best I've ever had." The young man looked up, "And you are the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, just like he said."
"Thank you. I take a lot of pride in it. And don't worry about the name, I was just curious." She walked away blushing. He said that about me? He called me beautiful? she thought to herself. She had always had a soft spot for him, knowing that he liked her, but he had never said anything like that to her.
It was nearing closing time and the crowd was thinning. Tifa kept looking at the young man sitting at the end of the bar, blushing every time thinking about his words. As she announced that it was almost closing time to the few patrons that remained, the young man stood up to leave. She walked over to him.
"Will we be seeing you here again?" she asked him.
"You will, as long as a seat is available," he responded. He turned to leave.
"I'm sorry I didn't catch your name. I try to remember all my patron's names," she stated as he was almost to the door.
"I didn't give it," he said with a small smile as he walked out the door.
"He was rude," a bartender named Yuffie said walking past Tifa.
"Don't worry about it, Yuffie. Some people are just like that." Tifa just sighed. She never liked customers like that but you can't expect everyone to be friendly. Why was he smiling as he left? He only had one drink, she thought to herself. "His drink . . . oh! I forgot to clean up his glass." She reached to pick up glass she had served the "Final Heaven" in but stopped as she looked down. Lying on the table was 1,000 gil to pay for his one drink. Tifa ran out the front door, frantically looking around. She didn't see him, and walked back inside. There is no way; absolutely no way it could be him. That guy must have just made a mistake. I'll just put it in the tab book as a credit to him. She returned to the tip and picked it up. Lying underneath the money was a small card. On the card, scrawled in messy handwriting, were the words, "I guess it pays the bills, plus some."
Tifa dropped the glass, ignoring the crash and the shards covering the floor. She turned the card over, finding the words "Come by the old place later," written in the same messy handwriting. A smile lit across her face. "Yuffie!" she yelled. "I'm going out, you finish cleaning up." Not hearing Yuffie's protests, Tifa ran out the door and down the street. Those were the same words he said when he left the first time, that bastard she thought to herself. She turned a corner heading to a small water tank on the edge of the sector. He used to take her there, saying it was where he could best think. They used to be able to climb up, almost touching the plate, and see through a large section of missing panels in an unfinished area, and see the stars, a few of them at least. The conglomerate that owned Midgar, Shin-Ra, had long since expanded into that sector and had blocked the hole in the plate to build a shopping center for the wealthy. She scrambled up the tower looking for him. It had been almost five years since she had seen him. She wanted to talk with him like they used to, in her bar, waiting for closing time, when they would climb the tower and look at the stars.
He wasn't there. She pulled out the card to make sure she wasn't dreaming. As she read the card over and over, the wind caught it and pulled it from her hand. She jumped after it, desperate to hold it and read those words once more. Forgetting where she was, Tifa hopped around on the top of the tower, grasping right and left for the card. She reached out again, barely reaching the card and clasped her hand around it, elated to be able to read it once more. As her fingers closed around it, pulling it towards her chest, she slipped. She was so concerned about that little card that she had forgotten about her footing on the tower. Sliding down to the edge of the tank, she thought, Not yet, I'm so close to seeing him again. I have to see if it's really him. Her hands scrambled about reached for something to grab a hold of, ignoring the card while it slipped from her grasp and fell from the tower. As she slid off the edge finding nothing to hold onto, a strong hand grabbed hers and held on until she stopped swinging and grasped the ladder rungs. The little card fluttered off in the wind.
"You are still as careless as ever." She looked up to see whose voice it was.
"You are still late to everything," she said as a smile broke out across her face. It really was him, her old friend.
"That makes it three times I've saved you like this, Tifa Lockhart," he said climbing up onto the top of the tower. "What would you do without me?" Tifa pulled herself up next to him.
"I'd be back in my bar, closing up, and not up here dangling for my life, Cloud Strife," she retorted, slightly indignant, but still very happy to see the young man. "You always have to do things the hard way." Tifa was smiling too hard to be able to give him the stern look she wanted.
"Well, what do you expect, I have to keep things interesting."
"I don't need this much excitement. So what are you doing back in Midgar? I thought you were moving to Junon for good?"
"I decided to leave. Life was too boring there."
"What do you expect? You used to have to run for your life on a daily basis five years ago." She just smiled at the memories of his crazy adventures he used to tell her about. "Now, is that the only reason? Why didn't you just move to Neibelheim afterwards or something?"
"I had to come back here." Tifa couldn't believe her ears.
Did he come back for me? she thought to herself. He knows I never had feelings for him. He was a friend, yes, but I was never in love with him or anything.
"I couldn't make ends meet, so I had to come back where I could find work. Junon is in a recession, and I couldn't afford to go overseas to Costa del Sol, or Rocket Town, or Wutai."
"I thought you had a small fortune saved up, am I wrong?" Tifa
couldn't imagine Cloud going though his 100-million gil fortune in
such a short time. He used to be so proud of it.
When he told me how much he had I couldn't believe it. How could he let it slip though his fingers so fast? If that's the case, how could he afford to leave a tip that big this time?
Cloud remained silent for a moment with a solemn look on his face. "I'm sorry, I guess I asked too personal a question," Tifa quickly added.
"I couldn't use that money. I . . ." Cloud thought for a moment. "I lost it all because of a mistake."
One hundred million gil? Is it possible to loose that much money from one mistake? Tifa pondered the situation silently.
I can't tell her why I couldn't touch the money. How could I live with myself using money made in exchange for men's lives? I hope she never found out how I earned that money in the first place. She would never forgive me. I could live without ever working again, but would she live with me if she knew? Could she ever accept me being what I used to be? All I want is to be near her. Maybe she'll allow that much.
"Something on your mind, Cloud?" Tifa was becoming concerned by his spaced out look. "Anything you want to talk about?"
"Hey, Tifa. I was wondering if I could work at your bar for a while?"
"Work at my bar? What are you talking about? You wouldn't want to work there, I mean, if you could afford to leave a tip the size you did, how do you expect me to believe you need the wages from a bar in the slums?"
"Look, I've never changed my drink order, I've never changed my seat, I've never left a tip less than twice the bill, and I never plan on changing those things. I do, however, need a source of income, and a place to stay if there is anyway you could help me out. I'm willing to do anything, from bouncer to bartender to janitor."
Tifa just laughed. "Cloud, you bailed me out of so many jams, from my landlord trying to cheat me, to the fights in the bar you stopped, to the guy who tried to rape me . . ." Tifa's expression became very somber, not from the memory of the guy who tried to take advantage of her, but from seeing what Cloud did to him. She knew Cloud was tough from the way he dealt with the fights at the bar, but after seeing a half dead man because of Cloud's actions, even though he had it coming, it scared her.
Cloud knew that she was remembering the time he nearly killed a man in front of her. He was so angry that he forgot to hold himself back. Without losing control, he nearly murdered a man in cold blood for hurting Tifa. "Tifa, look, if it is too much, don't worry about it. I can try to find a way back into my old job if I need to."
"Cloud, I don't know what your old job was but you didn't seem happy with it. You told me you needed to leave Midgar to get away from it and now you are sitting here saying you might go back to it? No chance in hell. You can stay in the empty room at my place above the bar until you find some other place. I'll find some jobs for you to do, but one condition. Don't ever scare me like you did that night. Don't ever scare me that way again."
Cloud sat quietly for a moment. When he opened his eyes and looked at Tifa, he said, "I won't ever do anything to scare you. I will never do anything to scare you from now on. If I do, I don't think you could possibly hate me half as much as I will myself."
Tifa smiled at him. He hasn't changed. He is still so hard on himself. I could never hate him, but he will never realize that. He may scare me, but I would never push him way. I just wish he would be honest with me. I know he's hiding something, he always has been. It just doesn't all fit.
"Hey, Cloud. Don't worry about it. You don't need to be so hard on yourself, let's head back to the bar and get you some blankets so you can get a good night's sleep. You look like you need it."
You always were an angel to me, even when I barely spoke to you. Maybe someday I'll be able to tell you how I really feel. Cloud stood up, slinging his massive sword over his shoulder.
"You still carry that around?"
"It's been useful a few times since I last saw you. Come on, climb on my back, I'll carry you down." Cloud dropped his sword off the edge of the tower as he had done many times before, watching it stick itself into the earth.
Cloud climbed down the tower with Tifa clinging tightly to his back. He used to always carry her up and down this tower. It made for good training, and she was close to him this way. Tifa always felt relaxed holding onto Cloud, even though she was plenty strong enough to carry him up herself. It would be nice to have him around again. Maybe she would learn the truth from him after all these year. Maybe her old friend would finally open up to her. She had always wondered why he was so mature for his age. He was a child five years ago and yet he seemed as if he had lived through the most unforgivable times. There hadn't been a war since before they were born, but Cloud seemed to have seen more death than most soldiers.
When they arrived back at the bar, Yuffie was just finishing up.
"Tifa! I just finished cleaning up, why are you bringing more customers in? We're closed anyway. Hey, aren't you the rude guy that left that massive tip earlier?" Yuffie had a knack for being annoying as well as saying the wrong thing at the most inopportune time.
"Yuffie, shut up for once. He's not here to drink. He's an old friend and is going to be working here from now on."
"Nice to meet you! Sorry about the rude thing, a second ago. You are pretty cute, though. Want to come home with me for the night?" Yuffie also had an unsuccessful habit of trying to pick up guys. Not once could any guy stand her long enough to make it one block out of the bar.
"YUFFIE!" Tifa yelled. Yuffie closed her mouth, promptly leaving for her house a few blocks away. "Sorry about that. She never has had the best judgment. Anyway, let's get you set up in the living room upstairs." Tifa led Cloud up the stairs hidden behind the bar. She pulled an extra blanket and pillow from the closet and laid them out on the couch. "I hope you don't mind, but since I live here alone, I don't have a spare bed or anything."
"A couch will be the most comfortable thing I've slept on in weeks. Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Anyway, make yourself at home, but stay out of my bedroom," she said with a laugh. "Goodnight."
"'Night, Tifa. And thanks again." Tifa waved over her shoulder as she walked into her bedroom. She began to peel off her trademark white shirt and black skirt thinking about the day.
"It'll be nice to have him around again. He always was reliable whenever things went south. Maybe he'll even loosen up some and be more open about his feelings. Ah, who am I kidding, this is Cloud we're talking about here. He probably wouldn't change if hell froze over."
She drew a bath to soak in for a while before falling asleep. The whole time her thoughts revolved around Cloud. How long would he stay? Had his feelings for her changed? When she got out of the bath, she dried off and fell into bed, asleep soon after crawling underneath the sheets. Even her dreams were about Cloud. She dreamed of him marrying her and taking her away from Midgar, to someplace exotic, where there were sandy beaches that stretched for miles and beautiful homes right on the shoreline.
She awoke in the late morning, and immediately dismissed the dream as a childish fantasy. Cloud would never take her anywhere, she wasn't in love with him and if he was working for her, he certainly wouldn't be able to pay for a trip to a resort. She dressed quickly and entered the living room, only to find the couch exactly as she had left it. She panicked for a moment wondering if all of last night was a dream, when she saw Cloud sitting in a corner. He was asleep, crouched in a corner, with his sword in hand. She walked over to him, getting within a few feet when he jumped awake. Tifa jumped back in fear when he clinched his sword with his hands and pointed it at her.
After a few seconds, Cloud looked around. Upon seeing Tifa, he relaxed his grip on his sword. "I'm really sorry about that, Tifa. I didn't scare you did I?"
Tifa looked at him peculiarly, wondering what that was all about. "No, it's okay. I'm just kind of curious why you didn't sleep on the couch."
"Well . . ." Cloud pondered for a moment as he looked at the ground. "Old habits die hard is the easiest way to say it."
Tifa looked at Cloud intently for a moment. "Cloud, it's been nice seeing you again, and I don't mind you working at the bar, but if you want to keep staying here, you have some serious explaining to do." Cloud continued avoiding her eyes as she stared at him. She waited for a brief moment before she lost it. "Why are you really back in Midgar? Where have you been the past five years? Why do you sleep with your damn sword in your hands? And most importantly, why the hell were you pointing that sword at me before you were even awake? What is going on with you?"