Chapter 3

A/N: Long time, I know. Computer crashed, bouts of depression, mind on other things. I have a hard time with consistency, so you'll have to forgive me. Two long years. No good excuse other than what's above, and writers' block attacked me--brutally. It's not very long, but I am back to paying attention to this forgotten piece, so don't fear--Arisa is still here.

Disclaimer: ...not mine.

Food. Good food. Not poptarts, eggo-waffles, or warm oatmeal--REAL food. The scent of it was like an alarming aroma going off in his fluttering nostrils as he awoke to the whiff of frying eggs, bacon, and freshly chopped hash browns. Just when he was beginning to forget what such delightful delicacies tasted like, a fragrant reminder roused his senses out of their hibernation.

Yet another reminder kept him from rousing out of bed.

Cloud lay tangled in his bed sheets almost uncomfortably as he replayed the events over and over again within his mind as he had for the several hours before he finally drifted into an restless slumber. Rejection was one of the hardest things for him to cope with as it had never been his strong point, and the awkwardness of it made it no better. His roommate, his best friend, a relationship that has the potential to outlast any and all others in the future--he possibly damaged beyond repair. Among the visions of replayed heartbreak stood the words of self-criticism. He simply couldn't berate himself enough for his lack of better judgment, and facing the woman who'd done the rejecting was almost out of the question--he couldn't bring himself to move.

How was he to remain under the same roof as her now that he had done the unthinkable? As much as he would have preferred to place all the blame on a little girl, the blame laid there with his hormones and his heart. The heart had a switch that was coded, that wouldn't turn off no matter how much concentration, no matter how much force lay behind it. He couldn't turn off his feelings; the same feelings that would surely destroy whatever was left that existed of a childhood friendship.

However, if there was one thing Cloud learned in his time with her, with his comrades that stood against a great evil and crushed it under their collective strength, it was to face your demons. Stare your problems, your woes in the eyes and solve them, or deal with the consequences you're handed. Whatever reaction Tifa had to bear in response to the night before would be the consequences he would have to face and accept, despite how painful it may have been.

With a bit of reluctance as well as anxiousness, he managed to stand upon his feet without returning to the safety of his cotton bed sheets to tuck his head beneath and hide from the World beyond his pale green walls. Slow and steady he was, as the sleep from his eyes and body had not completely worn down. Glancing at his closed door, he briefly contemplated a shower before the words of exchange came into play between himself and his best friend. Knowing he was only prolonging the inevitable with his quiet contemplation, he gave a small grumble to the back of his throat before lifting a worn wife beater from the wooden chair to his side, partially tucked beneath the desk it belonged to and pulled it over his unkempt head.

Slow steps, slow careful steps...long, drawn out steps. Suddenly he sighed. 'Suck it up and be a man, Strife. Why torture yourself?' Self-torture was something the young warrior was rather skilled at, but it was definitely something he felt the need to change. He decided to add that to a long list of things he had to change...

Finally summoning the courage, shaking the remaining fatigue from his limbs, he threw the door open and breathed in deeply the scent of a home cooked breakfast. This was perhaps a superb reason never to leave the house on a delivery again, never to run off to his quiet field of contemplation; to mull over the wonders of the world, of his life that he just never figured out. This was his home, and surely he should feel like a fool for leaving it.

Today, however, he felt the opposite. As he came upon the tops of the steps, he worried that perhaps it would have been best to escape through the window and run off into the night never to return. Then again, that might have simply caused more pain and grief than he was willing to cause. His actions the night before were about to make things between him and his companion complicated enough. Hightailing it into oblivion was bound to make things much worse for her. No, hurting her was the last thing he wanted to do. They'd talk this out, come to a conclusion, and put it behind them.

He was at the bottom of the steps, curving the right wall into the small dining area, which was set with obvious care. The silverware was placed in careful order upon a folded paper napkin, the pale blue table neat and free of creases and wrinkles. His attention shifted from the table for two, to the cook at the stove sliding the last bit of egg on a porcelain plate just out of his view. It was official--he would have been the ultimate douche bag if he slipped out of the window. In fact, he knew he would walk away with a broken leg, life's way of letting him know just how despicable he really was.

"Good Morning," Cloud said softly to the woman as she unceremoniously dropped the frying pan into the sink with a loud -crash!-. He jumped a bit himself, startled by the reaction of his greeting. Maybe she didn't hear him come in...

"Cloud...! Morning," Tifa said with an obvious touch of nervousness seizing her voice. She steadied the tremble in her hands almost immediately as she smiled gently in his direction. She appeared normal, except for the haunted look in her eye as she approached the table with two plates in hand. "I was just about to wake you for breakfast."

"You didn't have to go through all this, you know," he said gently, watching her place the plates on the table with practiced grace. He always admired her homemaking skills and casual way in executing every one of them. A domestic fighter--a fitting combination now that he allowed himself to consider it.

Tifa smiled, shaking her head as she gestured for her roommate to have a chair opposite to her own, "The damage has been done, so you might as well reap the benefits of it."

There was no further hesitation as Cloud took to the chair offered. They both engaged in the meal in complete silence, which was threatening to choke the life out of the blonde warrior. Last nights' events were still endlessly playing through his mind that was quickly forming into a relentless tension headache. The food deadened the irritating sensation only mildly, always taking his time to enjoy the taste of her home cooking. She cooked for him as often as he was around, and only recently was he beginning to appreciate the little things she did for him.

"Tifa..." he began as he wiped his mouth clean with the paper napkin at his side, "About last night, I'm--"

"Forget it," she cut him off before the sentence was finished, standing abruptly to take the plates from the table. He couldn't help but notice her own food had barely been poked, let alone devoured like his own had disappeared. It increased his concern that his actions from the previous night had something to do with her current lack of appetite.

Tifa tensed when she heard the scooting of his chair and shuffling of his garments as she hastily rinsed his plate and set it in the dishwasher. He was standing, and felt his eyes burn into her skin. When she gazed upon her own uneaten breakfast, she sighed at the sight. Her stomach felt the emptiness, but simply couldn't bring herself to satisfy it considering the void had nothing to do with food, "I have to go to the grocery store, and then write out a list of things needed for the bar so I'll be out awhile."

Cloud watched her silently for a moment while in conflict with himself. He didn't know if it would be best to leave her be and wait for her to come around on her own time once her comfort level had been restored, or make a move to set things right himself. "I have a delivery to make. I've been getting a lot of requests since I've been back in town, so I'm going to take care of a few today."

"Maybe you should start your own delivery service," she suggested supportively, scrapping the leftover eggs and bacon into the plastic garbage bin. "Have your own telephone line and the like."

He nodded approvingly to the idea, considering it, but in the back folds of his mind. "Sounds like an idea. And you could be my secretary when I'm not here, if you wouldn't mind." When she didn't respond, he took in a breath, making a second attempt at his apology. As aware as he was of her request to drop it the first time, he felt far more compelled to make it verbally known than to just let it rest--this awkwardness was too much for him. "Tifa, really... I was out of line last night and I'm s--"

"I have to go," she cut him off once again, pushing herself past his stunned form as she snatched her red coat from the peg positioned beside the front door. The haunted look had returned to her eyes as a noticeable tremble took to her arms while slipping them through the sleeves. There were no other words spoken, only an apologetic look to her childhood friend as she disappeared into the morning light, the door closing with a gentle click behind her.

On the other side, Tifa leaned against the door as a fresh wave of tears sprung to her gleaming brown eyes. The dream had repeated itself the previous night that left her shaken and frightened. The ghost of her was relentless like a monstrous apparition hell-bent on keeping her greatest desire from her grasp. She knew he was sorry, and she knew he had no reason to be. One point in time, the thought of his lips on hers was a daydream that kept her functioning. Now the memory of its reality left her sick and breathless, the reminder of the incident leaving a bitter taste in her mouth, and an unwelcome voice echoing in her mind. As potent as it was, she knew if she didn't put it to rest it would surely drive her mad.

Within their home, all Strife could determine from her behavior is that he messed up more than originally perceived, and only time would make up for his fumble. Whether that was time near her or away from her was a matter that would take careful consideration. He just didn't know which solutions consequences he couldn't live with yet.