;;Disclaimer// I disclaim any ownership.

;;Summary// It is when Cloud finally answers her call that Tifa realizes something: the words – those words - may have been unspoken, but the feelings that she had hitherto thought nonexistent are there – pure, deep, and wholly real.

;;Author's Note// Let's just assume that this happens approximately one month after Advent Children. I have dated this as I have for my own purposes.

- - - - -

Incoming Call: Home

by natural spring water

- - - - -

20th of April

Sometimes Tifa wonders, in moments of frustration and when she cannot maintain a firm grip on her patience anymore, why the hell Cloud even bothers with a cell phone.

Let's be realistic here. Cell phones were invented for the purpose of convenience. Cloud Strife seems to believe that they were invented for the purpose of neglect.

When she is feeling particularly cynical, Tifa thinks that he deliberately ignores her calls, just to irk her.

She puts down the telephone she'd used mere seconds ago in an attempt to check up on him. Shockingly enough, no one has answered.

Or perhaps he's just tired of hearing your voice, a condescending voice mocks in the back of her mind.

She shakes her head to ward the thoughts off. She is all too aware of the possibility of that statement, and dwelling on that possibility is sure to be nothing short of painful.

Tifa, too, is tired. She is tired of hearing the same monotone of Cloud's voicemail three or four times a day.

Maybe. . .maybe it is time for her to give up the chase. She is only hanging on to feelings that are one-sided, unreciprocated. She is always telling – no, nagging – Cloud to leave the past behind. While she, idiot that she is, lives on nothing but that promise, made so many years ago.

Is it really that long ago?

Maybe it is time that she follow her own advice.

- - - - -

21st of April

Cloud frowns as he looks at his phone's screen for the millionth time in that same hour.

Granted, it wasn't a tremendous variance of his usual facial expression, but this frown was different. The corners of his mouth dip downward a whole fraction of an inch.

Just to be sure, he pulls up at the side of the road and slips his hand into his pocket, producing his cell and flipping it open.

›› Call Log ›› Missed Calls

Caller//Time;Date

Bar 6:36 AM; 20 April

Bar 3:19 PM; 20 April

Bar 7:02 PM; 20 April

Bar 7:21 AM; 19 April

Bar 10:03 AM; 19 April

Bar 2:05 PM; 19 April

Bar 8:34 PM; 19 April

His frown deepens as he sees that, indeed, all the missed calls were from yesterday or beforehand. He checks his voicemail once more only to find that none of the messages were from today.

Something is not right, he thinks. Tifa hasn't called him once today.

Maybe he should call, just to see if everything is alright – and for a second he almost presses the green call button while 'Bar' is highlighted in his phonebook, the number that will direct him to where all four of them reside – but he cannot possibly allow himself even that little indulgence.

Maybe someday he will knock some sense into himself and gather up the courage to change 'Bar' into 'Home'.

- - - - -

"Tifa."

She would have been surprised at the voice that suddenly came from behind her, but she's known that voice for years. Others may have interpreted the greeting as ordinary, but she knows him too well and too long to overlook the underlying urgency in his tone.

"What is it, Cloud?" she asks with concern, putting down the rag she uses to wipe the tables and turning to face him.

He searches her face with – as usual – solemn, if slightly troubled, eyes. Whatever it was he was looking for, he seems to have found it, for the next second, he shakes his head and dismisses the matter with a simple "Nothing."

She looks at him dubiously for one moment longer, then sighs and resumes the task at hand. She is subdued and does not have the strength to ask him about his day as she listens to the sound of his soft footsteps slowly disappear.

I'm finally starting to let go of our past, Cloud. I just hope that you'll find it in you to make peace with yours.

- - - - -

27th of April

"Oh, geez," Tifa groans as she stares at the refrigerator. "Out of eggs."

It is a Saturday. Marlene and Denzel always expect eggs on weekends, for Tifa does not allow them that luxury on weekdays. An excess of eggs do bad things to your heart, Tifa explains every time the children ask her.

Well, whatever the case, she'd have to disappoint the kids today. She is going to have to find a way to make it up to them.

"Sorry, guys," she says apologetically as the two eager faces appear in her line of vision. "We're all out of eggs today."

As expected, simultaneous whines follow the announcement.

"How about this," Tifa tries to compensate, "Eggs and bacon for tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday, then pancakes for the rest of the week?"

"Yay!"

Tifa smiles as the two practically dance around the room.

"But for today, I'm afraid all I can give you is cold cereal."

Quick as a blink, their faces fall again, and Tifa laughs.

Later on, once she has finished preparing the children's breakfast, she heads upstairs to Cloud's office, to leave him a message.

As she dials his number, she thinks it is both funny and sad that she knows there are a total of twelve rings before his voicemail answers, and that she knows said voicemail by heart ('You've reached the Strife Delivery Service. We are not currently available. Please leave a message.').

Imagine her surprise when, by the second ring, someone picks up.

"Hello?"

She blinks, unsure if she has called the right person. "Cloud?"

- - - - -

It has been a whole week since she called last.

And for every night of that week, when Cloud arrives back to the house, he has watched Tifa. Nothing was different about her, he thinks as he quietly observes her wrap the day up from a corner of the bar. But what has changed? Had he done something wrong?

She doesn't seem to be angry with him when she talks to him. So, what? What has happened?

He is torn from his thoughts when his phone rings.

Incoming Call: Bar

It is Tifa. Without a thought, he answers.

"Hello?"

- - - - -

"Cloud?"

"Tifa."

So it is him. She is in a silent stupor for a moment.

"Tifa?"

Tifa jumps at his calm, deep voice. She is not used to talking with him over the phone. She wonders what has brought about this sudden change. To think, this is the only time he has answered after what must have been thousands of her calls.

"Did you need something?" he prompts as she remains quiet.

"Oh! Um," She searches her brain to remember what it is she needs him to do. "Yes. Cloud?" she asks again, just to make sure he is real.

"Yeah?"

"I. . ." she gathers her thoughts and puts them in order. "Yes, can you buy me a dozen eggs and three boxes of pancake mix on your way home?"

"Sure." He replies, for all the world emotionless as ever.

". . .Thanks, Cloud."

"No problem."

An awkward silence follows. Or, at least, to Tifa, it is awkward. She does not know what to say next.

". . .That's all. Thanks again, Cloud. Stay safe."

The other line is silent, so Tifa hangs up and sits down on a nearby chair, not knowing what to think. What could this possibly mean? Sometimes Tifa thinks that Cloud hates her, and so there are times when she loses all control and becomes angry with him, but mostly, she becomes angry with herself. Because she loves him so, so much, and he avoids her like she is the epitome of the plague. Every call that he has left unanswered is a thorn to her heart.

She wonders why she is not good enough. She does not confront him about it, because she knows it will only drive him further away.

But now. . .

When he answered that call she allows herself to entertain a small hope. Those words that have been left unspoken, those feelings that she had hitherto thought were nonexistent, perhaps she can allow herself to entertain the small hope that they are there.

- - - - -

When Cloud comes back that night, Tifa smiles at him. It is only then that he realizes that he hasn't seen her smile for a long time. He is tempted to smile back, but instead he nods and holds out the bag of groceries she had requested earlier.

She is still smiling as she moves towards him to collect the bag, and he decides that he likes it when she smiles. Their fingers brush together as she takes the groceries, and he sees a blush grow on her face. He resists the urge to hold on to her hand a second longer.

- - - - -

Late into the night, as Tifa heads to her room, she sees that Cloud's light is still on.

Frowning, she comes in and prepares herself to chastise him and tell him to go to bed when she realizes that he is already sleeping. On his desk, in a rather uncomfortable-looking position. She sighs and walks closer to him.

He is majestic when he sleeps.

Tifa looks at his face and tries to embed it into her memory. He seems so peaceful, as if he has no troubles to speak of, as if he is a man who could be happy and who could love as he is loved.

She trails her fingers over his cheek for a millisecond – only a millisecond – and whispers, "I love you, Cloud."

He stirs and, panicked, Tifa puts her hand on his shoulder, like she had been planning to shake him awake all along.

"Shame on you, Cloud," she reprimands him, but it is only half-hearted. "How many times have I told you to sleep on your bed?"

He looks at her guiltily, and she smiles, tugging on his arm. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."

He grasps her hand, and perhaps it is meaningless to him, but the simple touch was something Tifa would treasure always. Even as he lies down on his bed, he holds on to her for a second longer, and then he falls immediately back to sleep.

Before she leaves his room, she looks back at him once more.

Maybe he will never say the words, and maybe there will be times when she will lose hope, but. . .

. . .But they are a family, and maybe that will be enough.

- - - - -

Exclusive: From the Cell Phone of Cloud Strife

›› Call Log ›› Missed Calls

This folder is empty.

›› Call Log ›› Received Calls

Caller// Time;Date

Home 5:23 PM; 2 May

Home 8:02 PM; 1 May

Home 10:57 PM; 1 May

Home 12:36 PM; 30 April

Home 5:28 AM; 29 April

Home 11:18 AM; 29 April

Home 7:35 PM; 28 April

›› Call Log ›› Dialed Numbers

To//----- Time; Date

Home--- 12:01 AM; 3 May

- - - - -

;;Author's Note// If any of you guys aren't aware, Tifa's birthday is indeed on May 3.