by Imperial Strife

He wasn't in school the next day.

Or the next, either.


Tifa steps across the gravel of the parking lot, breathing in the sweet smell of freshly cut grass that's wafting in on the wind, from the playing field. It's still early, and the grounds are blissfully silent save for the occasional chirping of a bird.

She fiddles with her collar as she makes her towards the main building, her long raven hair flowing out behind her with the morning breeze. Tifa's halfway up the stone steps when she sees him, leaning against one of the marble columns and staring up at the orange sky. She stops, suddenly unsure of what to do.

It's not like I'm even close to him…

Still, her curiosity gets the better of her, and she slides up next to him on the steps, careful to make her presence known. She still remembers what happened the other time she surprised him.

There's no sign that he even knows that she's there.

She doesn't say anything.

He doesn't say anything.

And they just sit there, basking in the orange dawn.


It's Cid's class again, and everyone's struggling to stay awake as Cid lectures animatedly about airships. Again. Actually, they were supposed to have moved on to submarines by this time in the school term, but Cid being Cid, let's just say that he decided to extend the syllabus.

Everyone's surprised as Cid is stopped mid-sentence by a sharp rap on the door, and a few of the faint-hearted cower in their seats as they observe Cid change several shades of colour to a very bright purple. Evidently, Cloud's frequent disruptions of Cid's classes have left Cid traumatised.

Silence reigns in class as Bugenhagen steps in, followed by thatdistinctive shock of blond hair. And it is at this inopportune moment that a certain redhead sniggers as Cid's face changes color rapidly again, before settling on a decidedly ambiguous pink.

Bugenhagen glides across the room, his emerald robe sliding soundlessly over the tiles, and some people in class wonder if the venerable old man was ever a ballroom dancer. If he had been he sure was a damn good one.

There was some noise at the side of the class, as Biggs and Wedge engaged in yet another fight for the light switch. Some things just never change. Not to mention that, if you squinted, you could see Cid fuming in a dark corner as he was left out of the figurative and literal spotlight.

Bugenhagen pretended not to notice and instead cleared his throat, putting his gnarled hands on the table.

'Now, I'm sure all of you are aware of the, ahem, incident that occurred between Cloud and Reno two days back.'

A pause, for dramatic effect. In addition to being a superb dancer, Bugenhagen was also a known theatric known for his moving renditions of Romeo and Juliet. As the friar, no less.

'As we all know, the punishment for fighting and violent conduct in the school grounds is-expulsion'

Tifa sneaks a peek at the blonde standing behind Bugenhagen, his hands stuffed into his pockets as usual. He looks nonchalant as usual, the customary cocky smirk still on his face, and she wonders how he can even smile at this time.

'However, when you take into account the circumstances, it was quite clear that Cloud had been provoked, and the school administration will not be expelling him.'

Reno snaps upright in his chair and opens his mouth, as if to say something, but Bugenhagen shoots him a sharp look and the redhead wisely keeps his mouth shut. The old man turns around, giving the blonde a barely perceptible nod, and Cloud shuffles off down the aisle to his seat.

And as everyone has come to expect, the bell for break rings right after.


Tifa carries her tray over to their usual table, and ignores Reno who's positively convinced that she's dyingto go out on a date with him. As if.

'Tee-fuh! What were you doing on the steps this morning with-' Yuffie mumbles, before a tired Elena tells her automatically not to talk with her mouth full, and Jessie stealthily kicks Yuffie under the table.

'So, Tifa, how was your morning?' Elena asks, in between shoveling potato salad into her mouth while Yuffie protests at the blatant double standards. Jessie kicks Yuffie harder.

Instantly, Tifa's mind goes into panic, and her fork stops halfway in the air, en route to her cherry red lips.

'What? No, no, it's not like that!' Tifa splutters, noticing the coy smile tugging at the corner of Elena's mouth.

'Go girl. We're behind you all the way,' Jessie says as she rises from the table, winking slyly over her shoulder.

All Tifa could do was groan.


School was out for the day, and almost everyone was home already. Tifa had been helping some of the weaker students with their schoolwork, and by the time she was done the blazing sun was already sinking out of sight, behind the grimy skyscrapers of Midgar.

She trudges across the parking lot wearily and fishes into her tote for the car keys. Tifa didn't particularly like tutoring this group of students: it was simply tiring having to teach them something only to have them forget it the very next session.

The door of her coupe swings open easily, and she stabbs the key into the ignition before twisting it. A deep rumble, then, nothing.

Great. The car's dead. How am I supposed to get home now?

Tifa sits there, in the leather seat, while baking in the stiflingly humid air. The air conditioning wasn't working either.

Guess I'll have to call Dad, then.

She reaches for her cell and punches in his office number, only for his secretary to tell her, infuriatingly, that he was in a meeting and probably wouldn't be done for another few hours.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes of listening to the crickets chirping, and Tifa was still stranded, her dark tresses splayed out across the headrest. She checks the rapidly darkening sky and was dismayed to see little pinpoints of light winking into existence; the last vestiges of light were disappearing as the sun sank beneath Midgar's famous skyline.

She sees him then, that head of golden-yellow hair that was impossible to miss, even in the dark, seemingly floating in the air as he walks down the school steps in the shadows.

Tifa hesitates for a moment, before she makes up her mind.

He's a guy. Let's hope he knows something about cars. It's not like those three are around anyway.

She fumbles with the door, and sprints across the gravel surface, after Cloud.

'Hey, Cloud, wait up!' she calls out somewhat breathlessly.

The figure in front stops and looks over his shoulder, but to her surprise and chagrin, he starts walking forward again, as if he hadn't seen her.

Tifa surges across the lot, desperate, and skids to a halt in front of Cloud, panting slightly from her exertion. The blonde sighs and stops, giving her a quizzical look before asking.


'I'm having some trouble with my car, and I was just wondering if you would be so kind as to help me out.'

Cloud readjusts the strap of his duffel across the shoulder, before glancing at the red coupe. He scratches the back of his head before setting off towards the car, with a slightly bemused Tifa following in his wake.


'Watch the head, Cloud,' Tifa reminded him as the blonde withdrew his head from under her car's hood. This was followed immediately by a loud clunk and Tifa had to stifle a giggle as Cloud's grease-streaked face twisted into a scowl. Somehow she just knew that people like Cloud didn't like being laughed at.

'Thanks Cloud. So, what's wrong with my ride?' she asks, after handing him a paper napkin to wipe all the oil and dirt off.

He stares at her, as though he's just seen the weirdest thing in the world.

'What?' Tifa exclaims, suddenly self-counscious.

The blonde smirks, before he slams the hood shut and pulls the door open, pointing at the gauges.

She was out of gas.

Oh my god.

Tifa wished a hole in the ground would open up and swallow her whole.

And he looks like he's having a hell of a time just trying to keep a straight face.


They're sitting on the hood of Tifa's car, sipping their drinks. Tifa had offered to pay for both their drinks, in thanks for Cloud's help. and with the ulterior motive of sealing his mouth. Cloud had firmly declined her offer and insisted instead on paying for hers, like the old-fashioned, chivalrous gentleman that he certainly didn't look like.

He drains the last of his drink and throws the crumpled can over his shoulder, onto the ground, before swinging off the hood and crunching into the gravel. Cloud digs into his pocket and pulls his cell out, flipping the display open and letting the white light spill over his sharp features.

He hesitates for a moment, but in the end he asks Tifa, hand scratching the back of his head.

'It's late. You need a ride home?'

Dad probably isn't done with his meeting yet, and it is late. I suppose it's okay…

She nods.

'You sure it's alright?'

'I guess. Where's your place?'

She tells him, and his brow scrunches up in thought.

'Sure. It's on the way. C'mon.'


The pair walked down the dirty streets, through the regularly spaced patches of concrete that the street lamps illuminated. Tifa found herself following Cloud closely, more for protection than anything else. The city of Midgar was not safe at night, or even, in the day, especially for a young and pretty girl like Tifa. She lacked the sureness and confidence that Cloud had, moving through the beggars, vagabonds and homeless that littered the streets at this hour.

She followed him down a flight of stairs, into an underground garage where the walls were covered by graffiti, and was stunned when Cloud walked up to a sleek, black, and totally sexy bike.

She stopped short on the tarmac, and gaped.




'I'm afraid of bikes…' Tifa falters.

That annoying smirk appeared on his face again. Oh, how she wanted to wipe it off that pretty face of his!


'You'll be fine,' he mumbles, rummaging through his bag for something.

'Here. Goggles,' he says, and throws her a spare pair.

'Wait! Aren't you supposed to wear helmets?'

'The cops don't really care, either way, as long as you don't get into an accident. Anyway, helmets really screw your hair up,' he explains, and is mildly surprised when Tifa starts laughing, in spite of herself.

He is so vain!

'What?' he asks, and gives her a weird look.

'Nothing, nothing.'

'Alright. Get on then,' he says, pulling the goggles over his eyes while giving her suspicious look.

The engine roars to life and they tear down the streets of Midgar.


Riding pillion on a bike was more fun than she imagined: Tifa had always had an unspoken fear of anything that moved on two wheels, ever since her painful attempts at trying to ride a bicycle. Of course, it helped that she had her arms around somebody buff. She could feel his rock-hard abs…


Tifa slapped herself mentally to get rid of those offensive thoughts and felt her face flush hotly. She was glad he couldn't see her right now.

The lamps flashed by, and Tifa almost went into hysterics when Cloud ran a red light at a junction. She settled down somewhat when she realised that Cloud ignored every single light and that he seemed to know what he was doing anyway.

Dad would throw a fit if he saw me like this.


A quarter of an hour later, they screech to a halt outside a row of posh brownstones that reflect the wealth and social status of its residents.

'Thanks,' Tifa says rather shakily as she dismounts from the bike, still amazed at how Cloud had managed to run that route in fifteen minutes. She normally took three times that to get to school.

He slouches over the bike, with its engine still running, and pulls his leather gloves snugly over his fingers.

'See you in school, then,' she says, and runs up the steps to the door.

It's only when she's inside that she realises his goggles are still with her.


He watches as she disappears into the interior of the brownstone, before turning the bike around.

On the way, my ass. Now I've got an hour long trip back home.

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