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Innkeepers - Book 1; Marriage - Chapter 1; The Phone Call. Part One

"Oh yes you are! Yes you are! You are a cute widdle doggie-woggie aren't you? Yes, you are! My itty-bitty Sassefrassie!" And so forth.

Tifa sat up again to face her computer. Sassie's tail wagged cheerfully against the side of Tifa's leg. A smile was on her face. She could be such a sucker when it came to her dog.

Sassefrass was not an expensively-bred dog. The dog was not a particularly well-behaved dog. However, Sassie was very sweet, rather intelligent, as dogs go, and incredibly cute.

Tifa had two cats as well, respectively named the Pope and the Godfather, neither of them particularly well-bred or expensive, but again, intelligent and cute. And incredibly arrogant and blasé, as cats go.

She loved her pets. They were family, in the end. People came and went. But as long as they lived, her animals would stay with her.

Listen to me, she thought as she finished up her work. Going all ballistic on the beasties.

Her eyes dropped to her keyboard, where her nail-bitten fingers rested. The beasties were the only ones to go ballistic on. It had been a year since Meteor had been negated, and almost as long since she had seen anyone from the Avalanche team.
Truth was, everyone was so preoccupied with fixing up their own neighborhood/city/town, that no one really had time to meet or do anything together anymore. The last time Tifa had heard anything from anyone's end, was when Shera had called two weeks ago to invite Tifa to her wedding.

"He proposed to you?" Tifa exclaimed happily.

"I know, can you believe it?" Shera laughed.

"Oh, my God, Shera, I'm so happy for you! Congratulations! How did you get him to actually do it? I mean propose?"

"Ahem.. well, we had a humongous argument one night-"

"Gee.. how is that possible? Cid's such a calm, good-tempered guy.." Tifa interrupted, a bit sarcastically.

"Well, we didn't really ever have arguments in the true meaning of the word, because I've almost never made it a big deal to disagree with him..but now I was just so fed up, I thought, ah, screw it, and I told him he was wrong, just to make him mad."

"I like it!" Tifa interjected cheerfully.

"So yeah, he couldn't stand that I actually disagreed with his omnipotent opinion -"

"What was the argument about?" Tifa asked.

"Whose turn it was to make dinner. Don't make me go into details."

"Okay, I won't." Tifa replied, laughing.

"So yeah. Anyways, he insulted me again at one point and I just snapped. I shouted fuck you, and went to pack my bags, I was so pissed off. Oh, and so was he. But he didn't actually believe that I would go, his cigarette dropped out of his mouth when he saw me with all my clothes packed into three suitcases and a handbag. Yeah, the dear Captain was so flabbergasted at the idea I might ever leave him.. well, he wanted to stop me right then, but I smacked him and marched out of the house."

"Where did you go?"

"Oh, just to the Rocket Town Inn, but Cid didn't know that. He phoned my mom, asking if he could talk to me. She cracked up and said even if I had been there, she wouldn't have let him, because she was proud I had finally told him off. Eventually.. whatsisname, that sweet old guy who always used to hang out around the rocket, he told Cid he had seen me at the Inn. Cid actually apologized to me. It was hilarious. And from one thing came the next.. and then, you know.."

"Uh-huh.." Tifa grinned.

"Well, at least I had stolen every pack of his cigarettes in the house when I ran out on him.. he hadn't been able to smoke for a while, so it didn't taste bad."

"Yeah. Hate it when they've smoked or drunk beer. Tastes gross."

"Yup. One of my first rules was don't smoke if you wanna kiss me. Or get well-acquainted with your chewing gum."

"Good one. I'll have to remember that." Tifa laughed.

"Yeah. So what is up with you and the love scene anyways?" Shera inquired, ever less-than-subtle.

"Well, I've been thinking about joining a convent -"

"Tifa!"

"I'm just joking. There is this guy.. dark and handsome…" Tifa continued.

"Oh, do go on.."

"Kind of short though, only comes up to my ankles, but then, that is when I'm wearing heels.."

"Aw, damnit Tifa, you need a boyfriend. Cats don't last for company forever.."

"I'm fine, Shera, honestly. The last thing my busy life can have added on to it is a guy. Bless his heart if he even would want to be added on to my life." Tifa said, smiling.

"Well.. okay, you're the one who knows your life best, I guess. But I wanna be the first to hear, understood?"

"Yes, mom." Tifa said.

"Okay, hun. you promise if a guy walks in and it feels good, you don't kick him out just cause you don't think he wants to be added onto your life?"

"Mm. So, what time am I expected at the wedding?"

"Well, the guests are coming at twelve in the afternoon, but since you're gonna be a bridesmaid -"

"A bridesmaid?" Tifa squealed. "I get to be one of your bridesmaids!? Oh, Shera, thank you so much! I love you!"

Shera laughed. "Well, it goes without speaking, dear friend! Yuffie and Marlene will also be in on it. Cid can figure out who he wants as best men and stuff."

"Oh, I can't wait.." Tifa murmured happily. "It'll be good to see everyone again. I was wondering.. had you been able to keep in touch with anyone, this past year?"

"Well, Barret and Marlene like to come over regularly, and I saw Yuffie once, but that's it. Cid and I haven't really been in contact with anyone else. I mean, I only just recently got a phone book that has numbers listed, that's how I found you just now. I've gotten some other numbers to dial, tried to locate some others.. I think everyone's been working real hard on getting everything back on track, though. Hey, you know like no one else. How's the Midgar crowd holding up?"

"People are doing good. Kalm was flooded with refugees, but there were a couple of really good people, and they'd gotten everyone else interested in working, rebuilding. Midgar is still rubble, mostly, but camps have been set up, and there's the one big settlement in a ring around the Midgar site, which has been built mostly with rubble from Midgar. It's still growing, it's already become a real group of towns now. And of course Kalm has grown so fast it's incredible. It used to be just a few streets, a city square.. you know, a village. It's actually becoming a city. They started setting up all these new modern suburban houses around the old downtown, and they haven't stopped yet."

"Where's the money coming from? Won't that cost millions of Gil?"

Tifa was silent for a moment. "It has." Then she laughed. "Luckily I had become a multi-Gillionaire during our 'heroic quest' last year. I've invested alot of money into building houses and shops, and it's going well now. Obviously I wasn't the only one investing; a lot of people in this area have money, and everyone's enthusiastic and ready to work to make stuff better."

"Wow, Tifa."

"Oh, come on. I know everyone's been doing the same. I'll bet Cloud's been helping so many people around Midgar, quite possibly together with Reeve. Nanaki's working on Cosmo Canyon, Yuffie on Wutai." Tifa smiled to herself, then asked, "What about Vincent?"

"Well.." Shera said pensively, "I can't be sure, but I've heard rumors of a tall dark handsome stranger dressed in red and black. In Nibelheim. He's been investing as well, I'd say. Nibelheim's doing great."

Tifa was silent, wondering about how he could have returned to a place that had been so influential to his past, in such a terrible way. Maybe he was purifying the place somehow. Bring on the good karma, Tifa thought.

"Okay. I trust Vincent, whatever he's doing. What about Barret and Marlene.. what're they doing exactly?"

"They were traveling a lot, Marlene loves seeing the world. What I understood from Barret is that he helped Corel out of the deep dank hole it was in, and I think he's been by Gongaga. Ooh, the Gold Saucer reopened recently, by the way."

"Sweet!" Tifa exclaimed. "I'll have to go there as soon as trains, planes and boats start working again."

"Yeah. I think people are already getting back on track with transportation, though. They've just taken a lot of old ShinRa shit and turned them into little enterprises. You can already take buses going from Rocket Town to Nibelheim or Corel. And of course the Airship is also being used as an international taxi. The crew is still running it. They're brilliant."

"Oh, I believe it. They were when I last saw them," Tifa commented, feeling a faint twinge of nostalgia and homesickness as they talked about their friends and their past experiences.

"I'm glad we've all been able to make such a difference. How's the inn holding up then? How did you get it in the first place anyway?"

"Doing good- um, I was lucky to land the spot, the old innkeeper left for Midgar after Meteor and Holy hit, I think he had family there.. anyways, he sold me the inn for a good price, and I've been doing well enough.
"I found it right after we all split up.. and right away all these people were coming to me to ask for shelter. I recognized so many people from the Midgar slums.. it was really sad. So I had all these families sharing rooms, everything was really cramped. But people went to rebuild around Midgar, and build more onto Kalm. Nearly all the families with me eventually got some income and moved into their own little place. So, I still have a couple of people under my wing. The inn's also a restaurant and a little supermarket inside. It's a lot of fun, and basically incredible how quickly the economy pushed itself back up.."

"I can imagine. That's so great! It's been booming all across the globe."

Tifa grinned despite herself. "Things are finally looking up, huh?"

"They really are, babe - and I'm proud of you. You're doing so well. Everyone seems to be doing good. Haven't you heard from everyone else since we parted ways, though?"

"Mm.. no. I talked to Yuffie on the phone once, afterwards, but we weren't able to keep in touch.. last I heard she was going to finish school. and then help really rebuild Wutai. The materia we gave her should help, I suppose.."

"What about Cloud? Have you talked to him since when you left for Kalm?" Shera asked rather suddenly.

"Haven't spoken to him since we all departed after the end of the whole Meteor issue. Why?" Tifa replied, suddenly feeling a shift inside.

"Oh, just.. when Cid called him about the wedding, he sounded.. well, Cid said he didn't really sound all too lively anymore. And apparently he asked about you."

"Oh?" Tifa said. "Why didn't he sound 'lively' anymore?"

"Don't really know.. I think Cid said Cloud had been getting survivors out of Midgar, but that would have been nearly a year ago. Helping around, sponsoring at the Midgar Ring, maybe.. I guess he's just been bored.."

"Do you think? I think he still misses Aeris." Tifa said, feeling rather subdued.

"..it's been over a year since.. I mean, I understand.. but could he really be basing his entire life around a woman who's dead? We all loved Aeris.. but he only knew her for those few months.. that would be, well, I dunno, bizarre, don't you think?"

"No.. not really, I think people can go on missing loved ones for years after they've left. Just.. it's difficult to go back to living your life when you feel you're betraying whoever it is who died. I think I can imagine."

"I.." Shera started again.

"Shera.. what if Cid died? A year later.. wouldn't you still be grieving?"

"That's different. We've known each other for years. We've lived together for years. I can't imagine ever loving anyone else."

Tifa was silent for a moment. Talk about having been there and having felt that. "Maybe that's how it was for them." She offered, quietly.

"Tifa.. I never saw him and Aeris like that. I always thought you and Cloud.." Came Shera's soft voice.

Tifa's eyebrows pushed together. "Us? Why would we..? I mean, we were friends and all, but.."

"Oh.. I guess not. Though you guys might make a good couple."

Tifa laughed. "Yeah, who knows. But I really don't need any romance in my life now, and I don't think he's ever thought of me like that before."

"Okay, well, I guess I should leave that to you and Cloud, huh? Oh, shit -hun, I'd love to stay on for hours with you, but dinner's burning.."

"Your turn to cook now?" Tifa teased.

"Nope. Cid's, that's why it's burning."

They both laughed and said their farewells. Tifa had hung up the phone with a contented sigh. They would really have to do that more often. And then Tifa sat at her desk and wondered why she felt so alone.

*

End 1.