DISCLAIMER: Grahhh... Not mine.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I wrote this simply because I wanted to write Tifa kicking Cloud. The image got in my head and wouldn't let go .:giggles:. Cloud, being the dork that he is, occasionally needs a good kick. I'm with Cid on this one, anyone who says "Let's mosey" on the way to defeat Sephiroth is a first-class dork. But we love him.

Dedicated to the ctlove community over at livejournal - you guys rock!

(Soundtrack: "Retro" by Vanessa-Mae, off the CD Storm)

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It never failed. No matter how tired they were, no matter that he was nearly ten, no matter that she was desperately trying to be "grown up," when bedtime at Seventh Heaven came around Marlene and Denzel fought it with every ounce of their small bodies. It had long since become commonplace that Cloud and Tifa would divide the work between them, the guys in one bathroom and the girls in another so the kids couldn't reinforce each others' pleas and there might be some chance of the adults sweet-talking them into cooperating. Of course, on the days when Cloud was out late making a last-minute delivery, Tifa had to make do on her own, but generally Marlene and Denzel knew not to push her on those nights. Tifa was scary when she was mad.

"But Tifa," Marlene sleepily whined as Tifa pulled the bedspread up to her chin. Both children had been coaxed through hair combing, tooth brushing, and face washing and into first their pajamas and then their room, which was where the hardest stage of the process would begin. "I'm not tired yet."

"Yes you are and you know it," Tifa replied, gently yet firmly, waiting for the inevitable interruption.

"But Cloud's not done with everything for tomorrow," Denzel spoke up, exactly as Tifa had known he would. He was less obviously tired than the young girl, but Cloud and Tifa both knew that he would be out like a light as soon as he was lying down. "He's gotta find routes and plan schedules and-"

"-And there isn't much left to do," Cloud finished, giving Denzel a mild push on his shoulder towards the unoccupied bed. "Tifa and I can finish it quickly."

Marlene struggled into a sitting position, looking up at Tifa blearily. "What about all the dishes that need to be washed?"

"We'll do those together, in the morning, I promise." She somehow managed to get the girl to lie down once more, pulling up the comforter again and tucking a tattered teddy bear in next to her. "Right now you need to sleep."

"But I'm not tired," Denzel protested yet again. Cloud only dignified this one with a mildly pointed look, and finally the boy sighed and climbed into his bed. Just as usual, he was asleep before he even really settled in, and Tifa smoothed his blankets down around him. It happened almost every night, as if Denzel's body was trying to make up for all the times he couldn't get enough sleep when he had lived on the streets as an orphan.

The two adults were almost out the door, Cloud before Tifa, when Marlene's voice came sleepily from her pillow once more. "I wanna talk to Papa."

Tifa paused, then turned back to the bedside as Cloud leaned in the doorway, watching the two girls as the elder knelt to be on eye level with the younger. "He's calling tomorrow, sweetheart." Barret Wallace was still out somewhere on the Planet – they never knew exactly where until he talked to them – trying to find both "himself" and new sources of energy to replace Mako. The oil fields he'd so far discovered had been a great help, but Reeve's team had confirmed a fear of theirs, that burning and refining the oil would pollute the environment very severely. After Mako, no one was quite willing to do that while there still might be other ways to provide their power. As he searched, Barret would call once every three days (except when he was in an area where his PHS didn't work) to speak to Marlene and generally find out how things were, and both of them were always extraordinarily glad for their talks.

"But I wanna talk to him now," Marlene demanded sleepily. "I need to tell him about the rabbit we saw, and drawing his picture, and… and the chocobo that tried to eat Cloud's hair… and… the big… big…"

Marlene's voice had been steadily dropping in volume as she spoke, until finally it faded out entirely in the soft breath of sleep. Tifa once again smoothed the blankets under her chin, then placed a soft kiss on her forehead and followed Cloud quietly out of the room.

"We do need to have Barret come back more often," she commented as they made their way down the hall. "Marlene's growing up without really knowing who he is."

Cloud nodded, knowing it was all too true. Barret loved his little girl more than anything, but he still didn't feel like he could be a proper caretaker, and his own doubts were interfering with the relationship the two of them should have had. But he had an idea. "When he calls tomorrow, see if he can come back in two weeks."

"What's in two weeks?" Tifa asked, bending down to pick up a sweatshirt Denzel had left in the hall.

"We're getting married," Cloud responded, turning to go in the master bedroom.

Tifa froze in her kneeling position on the floor. Did… he just…?

"Cloud…"

"What?" he asked, stopping just before the doorway.

"What did you just say?"

"…We're getting married in two weeks," he repeated, a little baffled as to why Tifa didn't seem to understand.

There was silence in the hall for a few moments, Tifa still kneeling on the floor and Cloud watching her with one hand on the doorway. She looked up into his startlingly blue eyes, the ones that still bore evidence of his treatment with Mako, and he met her gaze with a small question in his. "Cloud…"

"What?"

"…Why the hell didn't you ask me first!" Tifa half-shouted, pushing herself quickly up with her left leg and shooting her right foot out to connect solidly with his chest. The breath was driven from Cloud's body with a muffled 'oof,' and he bent forward, stumbling back a little…

…not realizing the stairs were about three feet behind him.

The bar shook with the thuds and crashes Cloud generated as he tumbled head over heels down the stairs, finally landing on his back at the bottom and groaning in pain from the knocks he'd taken on the way down. There was a reason he didn't want to face Tifa with fists or feet, and that had been it.

Before he could regain his breath, though, something landed on his stomach, driving the air out of him once more with a gasp. Two small yet very strong hands grabbed his wrists, pinning them to the floor as Tifa's face pushed its way into his vision. "Aren't you gonna answer me?" she demanded.

"Can't… breathe…"

"I know very well that that one kick isn't going to do you in, so answer the question."

"Wanted… to be… a surprise…"

At last, Tifa sighed and shook her head in mild exasperation, sitting back and letting him breath a little better though she was still straddling his stomach. "Cloud Strife, that has to be the absolute worst marriage proposal I've ever heard of."

He drew a deep breath, grateful to feel his lungs expand with no problems. "You know I'm…"

"Not at all good with things like that?" Tifa finally smiled, leaning down again so the ends of her dark hair brushed his cheeks. "You wouldn't be Cloud if you weren't."

From the top of the stairs, the small girl watched as her two caretakers finally decided to stop making noise. Muffling a yawn so they wouldn't know she was out of bed, Marlene crept back into the room she shared with Denzel, wondering in a muted way why adults, Cloud in particular, seemed to be so bad at things like that. She was asleep before she could settle on an answer.