That Ain't Right

/\/\/\

This is a fic by kleptomaniac0, spawned in a spirit of "I can't believe nobody's done this/there aren't more of these." Jesus Christ. So here it is, the first Tifaret on If I'm wrong, do correct me and tell me who wrote the first. I want to throw my arms around them and say "THANK YOU!"

But anyway.

This is probably going to be mostly from Barret's POV, but despite that, I'm not going to write in his accent. The whole Jim-from-Huck-Finn thing was freakin' impossible to comprehend unless you read it out loud, and it's a pain in the ass besides. So I'll write him normal, but not white. Does that make sense? No? Well, read on, you'll see what I mean.

/\/\/\

I met her about three years ago, when she was wandering 'round lost, big ruby eyes in a pale little girl face, everything about her just screaming, "I'm from the country!" I stopped and noticed her because she looked so weak. I remember thinking, "She'd better have a boyfriend or something because Midgar's a nasty place, and something bad's gonna happen to a sweet-faced girl like that."

I was carrying things at the time—groceries—and when I stopped and looked at her, that stuff tipped over and hit the dirt. A can of stewed tomatoes hit me on the foot and made me swear something awful, which is what made her notice me Right then I knew she was fresh from the country, because she just walked right up and helped me get my stuff together. Ain't nobody in Midgar do that. They just go on walking. It's not that they don't care, it's just safer that way.

"Thanks," I said, glancing at her. She was seventeen back then, kinda skinny but that's normal for a teenager; they're all joints at that age. But you could just tell she was gonna be beautiful when she grew up, the kind of beautiful that made people stop and go "Damn!" like me.

"No problem," she said, and her voice was all bright and sweet, like the first bird of spring you see. In Midgar, it was unbelievably fresh. "I'll help you carry these. Where do you live?"

"Aw," I said, "S'not necessary—"

"Where do you live?" She repeated, and the way she said that made me look at her real hard. She looked all calm and brave, but like I said, my first impression of her was 'weak and lost', and I started wondering if the lost part, at least, weren't true.

"A little ways away," I said, nodding. "Place called 7th Heaven. I'm the bouncer there."

She smiled a little, but even that was enough to make me feel all warm inside. She smiled quick and bright, like the sun that gets reflected off a mirror or something and goes dancing 'round the room. You feel special when you see it, and you spend so much time trying to catch it after, trying to make it yours and hold it so it'll keep you warm on days. Yeah, she smiled like that.

"Do they have an opening?" She asked.

I blinked and looked hard at her for a second before I figured out what she was asking. "You want to be a bouncer?"

"I do martial arts," she said, and I noticed then under the soot streaking her arms and legs—both of 'em bare, or legs almost so; she had a little brown skirt on and boots—those funny lines, those shadows you see only on people with muscle. I had to revise my impression right then; this girl was lost, but not weak.

Still, she wasn't bouncer material. Part of being a bouncer is that you look scary 'nuff that you don't need to fight. This girl, being as pretty as she was, would probably end up being the cause of one, if not a hundred. "Sorry," I said. "No bouncer. But Janine's getting married; she's a bartender. Wanna do that?"

"I can learn," she said, and smiled that dancing sun smile again. Only it was longer this time, and it was like sunshine under the Plate. Gave me shivers then, still gives me shivers now. Still turns my insides to warm mush, though it wasn't like that; she was seventeen and I was thirty-two, and I was thinking, "I hope Marlene gets as pretty as her when she grows up."

"Follow me, then," I said, picking up my stuff, and we went walking. See, another sign she was from the country; she just followed me, didn't question my motives or nothing. I could've been a mugger, a knifer, a rapist, and she just walked after me, carrying one of my bags, smiling as pretty as you please. I decided then and there that if she didn't have nobody, I was gonna be the one to look out for her. It would just be a damn shame if that pretty face was in tears.

She wasn't a chatty girl, but I'm not one for talking neither, so we just walked back to 7th Heaven not saying anything. 7th Heaven back then looked pretty much looked then the way it does now—or did. You know what I mean. It was made of wood, which was pretty rare in Midgar; most everyone's done of metal. I think the wood was what made it popular, gave people that small-town, back-home, cozy kinda feeling, when you'd come back after a long day at the mine and knock back a few with the guys you'd known your whole life...

Of course, it could have been the fact that there was usually a pretty woman barkeep around. Said pretty woman barkeep was inside polishing glasses when me and my unexpected visitor came walking in.

"Hey Barret," she said, smiling. Janine had this twang in her voice; said she from Kalm, and everybody there talked that way. She said my name "Beart", if that gives you 'ny idea of how she sounded. "How'd th'shoppin' go?"

"Fine," I said and nodded my head at the girl. "Janine, this is, uh..."

"Tifa Lockhart," the girl said, smiling her sunshine-in-winter smile.

"Very nice t'meet you, Tee-fuh," Janine said, returning it back just as bright. "What can I do for ya?"

"Tifa here's looking for some work," I said. "What wichu getting married and all, I figured you'd need some help."

"That's sweet of you, Barret," Janine said, grinning. "Lawd knows I won't have enough time to do this, not with my bun in the oven." And she patted her stomach, which was just starting to round out.

"Oh, congratulations!" Tifa said, and I knew she actually meant it; guess she didn't know that in Midgar, a baby's sometimes more of a curse than a blessing. "Have you got any names picked out yet?"

Janine laughed. "Honey, I don't even know if it's a boy or a girl yet!"

It was just then that my own little girl came toddling out from behind the counter, where she'd probably been stacking shot glasses; better'n building blocks for her, I swear. "Papa," she said, holding her arms out to me.

"Come here, Marly-girl," I said, putting my groceries down and walking up to her, picking her up and hugging her. "You been good today?"

"She's been an angel," Janine said, beaming. "I swear, Barret, I don't know how you do it. You're in and out all the time, but she just loves you."

Marlene pointed at Tifa. "Whodat?"

"That's Tifa," I said. "She gon' be working here from now on."

"She gon' be my mommy?"

I really should have expected that. I mean, Marlene asked that about everybody in those days, every pretty woman and even sometimes random men; lord, the times I had to explain myself out of those ones. It started with my face turning all red, and then me trying not to laugh and cringe at the same time, which ended up making me babble. I could feel it happening then, but luckily Janine saved me.

"Ma'ly asks that of everybody, sugar," Janine said, smiling. "Don't look so frightened now."

Tifa laughed, shaking her head. "I wasn't scared. I just thought it was funny." Looking at Marlene, she said, "I'm a little young to be your mommy, but I can be your big sister. That's kind of like a mommy."

"Really?" Marlene asked, her eyes lighting up.

"Really really," Tifa said, smiling.

"I like her," Marlene said to me, very serious and nodding.

"I like her too," I said, looking at Tifa. "Thanks for helping me carry my things, by the way."

"Oh, no problem," Tifa said, smiling again. Damn! She sure did that often, but it never lost any of its specialness. "Glad to help, Mr...?"

"Just call me Barret," I said. "I never held with none o' that 'mister' stuff."

"Okay, Barret," Tifa said, grinning.

"I'm Marlene," Marlene said, and Tifa held at hand out to her.

"Very pleased to meet you," she said, and was all business-like and serious when Marlene took her hand and shook it, tiny round fingers curling around Tifa's. I could see laughter dancing in their eyes and knew just then they were going to get along fine.

"Did you get the stuff?" Janine asked, nodding at my groceries.

"Yeah," I said, shifting Marlene to my gun arm; she sat on my elbow, so she wasn't in no danger of the gun. "You wanted the 120, right?"

"Right in one," Janine said, walking out from behind the counter. "Did you get four bottles like I asked you?"

"And then some," I said, rustling through one of the grocery bags. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tifa doing the same, and she was the one who came up with the bottles of vodka, two in one hand and three in the other. Just the way she was holding 'em then made me think she'd be a damn good bartender, and apparently Janine thought the same.

"Thank yah, hun," Janine said, grinning warmly. "Come behind the counter, I'll show ya how to mix those up."

"Okay," Tifa said, grinning back.

Janine motioned for Tifa to follow her behind the bar, talking over her shoulder the whole way. "So where you from, sweetpea?"

"Nibelheim," Tifa said, and something about the way she said that made me look and frown. I thought it was just my imagination at the time, but Tifa said "Nibelheim" the same way I said "North Corel." But she went on, which already made her braver than me. "It's a little town on the Western Continent—coal mining."

"Well, fancy that!" Janine said, beaming at me. "Our Barret here used to be a coal miner too!"

"Really?" Tifa looked at me, ruby eyes all wide with surprise. "Where from?"

"...North Corel." I said, trying not to mumble. Not to sound like I was ashamed or mad or... You know.

Tifa frowned. "North Corel? But I thought—"

I had my mouth all ready to say something—I don't know what—when Tifa stopped. I really mean it, just stopped. You don't see people getting literally fish-mouthed often, but she went that way just then, her eyes going all round and the color going out of her face and her mouth just hanging open in a round little "oh" that just fit everything and nothing at the same time. Tifa looked straight into my eyes then, and that's when I knew, just I knew she'd been fucked by the Shinra the same as me. Maybe she didn't have no gun-arm to show for it, but the worst kind of scars are the ones you carry on the inside.

And just like that, I knew we was tight. After all, ain't nobody in Midgar got our same kind of heartache, and us broken hearted people, we gotta stick together. Ain't nobody else watching out for us.

She looked away first and grinned at Janine, who'd been looking funny at us; she didn't understand what'd just went down. But Tifa didn't look at all bothered, so Janine just shrugged it off and they went to start mixing drinks. I picked my groceries, Marlene still on my arm, and was just heading upstairs to my part of the place when Janine looked over at me.

"Hey Barret," she said, all playful-like. "When you gonna get around to fixing that pinball machine like you promised, hmm?"

I stopped. I turned. I looked at Janine and said, "Woman, if you're so bent outta shape 'bout the damn pinball machine, I'll do it tonight."

"You said you were gonna repair that pinball machine for weeks," Janine said, looking up at me. She was grinning, but there was nothing but seriousness in her eyes. "What time?"

"Three or something," I said. "Can't do it while the bar's open."

"Well, duh," she said, smirking. "I'll Joe and the boys; lawd knows he's been itching to get back on that thing."

"I know," I said. "He ain't the only one. I'll get on it, Janine."

"Thank you, Barret," Janine said, all flirty barkeep again, and I just snorted and walked up the stairs. Marlene began talking about her day, but I wasn't really listening. There was fire going through my veins. Pinball machine; secret code for "AVALANCHE". Janine was a member of it, just like me: seeing as we two lived in the place where AVALANCHE usually met, we usually made up the meeting times. Loose and informal; best way to stay hidden, or so we'd found. "Joe and the boys" were the other members; Joe was the leader, and he was one of the regulars. When he came in for his whiskey, he'd get the news from Janine and from there, well... You know how we do.

/\/\/\

A/N: EXCEEDINGLY rough and choppy. Figuring out where things go from here will be a long and painful process since I'll be going at least to the end of FFVII from here, which is four years prior. At least if I get bored, I can write action sequences...

On a semi-related note, I was really pissed when I went on a forum and found people going, "Oh, Barret/Tifa? That's just sick!" when these same people are endorsing the hotness and appropriateness of Aurikkus. What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? Are they racist? I swear, Barret & Tifa made more sense AND the age gap is less. Gar.

And about the title choice: Barret's very conscious that he's 15 years older than Tifa and this really freaks him out when he starts falling for her later. He also gets really pissed about the way Cloud blows Tifa off, but again, that's later. So… Yeah. Yup. Okay. Bye now.

/\/\/\