Tifa's Super Cool Twenty-Third Birthday Bash!!!
Big day after a small day. The quiet after the storm followed immediately by Tifa Lockhart's twenty-third birthday. Everyone who was there at the bar or the day before wished her happy birthday and gave her more weighty tips than usual, gil spilling freely from their fingers as they left, left, left. Emptying the bar in preparation for the real party from her friends.
Tifa Lockhart, resident motherer of AVALANCHE. Hardly anyone had not been taken under her wing when they were sick, or wounded, or too tired to go on, or had nobody else to worry over them. This was in gratitude to the blood, sweat, and tears Tifa had shed over the years.
Cloud Strife, resident hero of AVALANCHE. The great man in front of Tifa Lockhart, a great woman in herself. He entered the bar with two heavy steps, boots clamping down on the thuds with rubber to silence themselves. Tifa looks up from her counter where Denzel and Marlene are helping her wash dishes.
"Cloud!" A few scattered glances for the people who should have been there. "Where's Barret and the rest of them?"
"They might be coming in through the back…" Cloud said wearily.
"Oh, right--" Tifa wipes her hands hurriedly on the towel conveniently set down by Denzel. "I forgot to unlock it after the storm! Ah… Be right back, Cloud!"
She hurries to the back. As soon as she is out of earshot Denzel flashes a grin and a thumbs-up to Cloud. "I did the thing, Cloud."
"Good." Now they have anywhere from two minutes to twenty until she gets back. "That would give us enough time… I think."
Yuffie Kisaragi, ninja, shimmies in sideways through the door as Cloud watches. "Is she gone, kid? Is she in the back?"
"He did the thing," Cloud informs her. "We're cool, we're cool! We just have to work fast."
"Okay!" Yuffie hurls her shuriken with a clatter onto the floor. "Yuffie does fast!" The ninja spins and twirls while Barret comes in eagerly.
"Marlene! You been good for Tifa, honey?"
Marlene runs and hugs her father tightly. "Yes, Papa."
"Good. Now stand back, Daddy's got to do his work."
"I did the thing," Denzel informs him helpfully.
The machine arm is lowered. "Oh. All right then!"
"Bastard!" Yuffie hisses, from where she and Cloud are fastening orange streamers to the roof.
"Don't cuss in front of mychild, bitch!"
"Shh!" Cloud makes a motion threatening to whack them both into order. "We just need to get this done! Come on!"
Marlene is attentive as a silent, red-cloaked presence wafts into the room. "Hi, Vincent!" she says brightly, waving.
"Hello, Marlene." The barest hint of a smile flickers across his face, just for her. Then he gets to work, asking as he does: "Denzel, is Tifa in the back?"
"Yeah." Denzel is not so trusting. Cloud can't really blame him for being wary of all the sharp, pointy things on Vincent and the tattered cloak poorly enshrouding it all.
"So Cid's coming in through there?" the leader asks. Bright flowers scatter across the tabletops, strewn by Yuffie's adept hand.
"Yes." Red comes in with Cait Sith on his back. "What can we do?"
"You just lay steady for a while," Yuffie wings one end of a banner over to Barret and they hang it across the door cooperatively. "I think we're almost done."
"No, no, no, no-you stay right where you are, young lady, or I will gut you!" That is Cid's warning yell. They all duck and cover as Tifa gives a sudden yelp of pain.
"Ow! Wh-what are you covering my eyes for?!"
Cid steers Tifa firmly into the room, gloved hands clearly not budging anytime soon from the woman's eyes. Cloud nods to him silently under the table and then Tifa is released:
"I ain't trusting none of you to cook!" Cid snarls, standing at the kitchen door with spear in hand.
"C'mon!" Yuffie pleads. "My present is crap! I want to give it first so she won't remember-"
"You'd burn everything!" Cid glares at her and the spear twirls expertly. "Anyone else wanna piece of me? Huh?"
"...Anyway," Vincent points out, as they all back away slowly. "If we want a decent meal we'll have to fill the time up with gift-giving or something."
"Don't tell me you all got me presents!" Tifa laughs, half-embarrassed by the attention.
Everyone looks at Yuffie, who balks at the pressure. "Changed my mind!" she announces, and gives Cloud a push. "Go on, fearless leader! I'm going second so she really won't remember what I got her."
The ex-SOLDIER is silent. "Um…" The weight of what his guilty hands are digging for in the depths of his pockets falls into an awkward silence. "It's… on my bike." A few more seconds, and then he makes his way out of the bar without a backwards glance.
Barret glares after him. "Baby, youknow he's gonna hop on that bike and drive to the nearestgift-shop." It sounds like a dirty word from him. "Here--I got you something before today."
"Thanks, Barret." Tifa accepts the gift gratefully, but a quick glance at the door betrays another feeling.
Just as Tifa finishes her exclamation of joy, Cloud slides back in surreptitiously. But the door closes hard and everyone looks at him.
"Cloud?" Tifa asks.
"Whoa!" Yuffie exclaims. "Either you really had something on your bike or you are fast, man. Give it to her already!"
She's just digging for more time. But Cloud takes something out of his pocket and throws it. "Here."
Tifa catches it, puzzled.
"Just… don't open right now. It's crap."
"That was my excuse, bitch!" Yuffie throws her badly wrapped present at Cloud, who catches it roughly although nothing breaks.
"Stop cursing in front of the kids!" Barret yells. Things start to get generously ugly as Tifa, birthday girl forgotten, shakes her present curiously next to her ear and tucks it into her pocket. She sighs and prepares to break them up forcibly if needed before another voice springs out:
"Hey! Ingrates!" Cid wallops the kitchen door open, standing solidly in one of Tifa's aprons. "Would you keep it down for a second? I'm trying to concentrate here!"
There is abrupt silence as everyone takes in the particular magenta-orange apron strapped to Cid's frame. Then Yuffie squawks, "Cid…! You-you're wearing a--"
"I'm frying things, it's oily, oil hurts when it's hot," the pilot rattles. "So shut the hell up and give Tifa her crap already, will ya? Or so God help me, no food for the lot of you."
Yuffie runs with super speed over to Cloud, snatches up her present, and stands in front of Tifa in a second--because after Tifa, Cid is the best cook. Then Tifa realizes what Cid has done for her and smiles, touched.
"No problem." He turns, effectively removing the bulk of the apron from everyone's sight, except for the straps. Yuffie collapses under the weight of her suppressed laughter and shoves her gift at Tifa.
"I. Need. A. Camera," the ninja gasps, holding her side with one arm. "Cid, in anapron!"
"Now what did you get me, Yuffie?" Tifa asks, attempting to distract her. But Yuffie will not follow.
"Aw, just open it!" Yuffie hangs onto a table and bawls, "Oh, man, that almost tops Cloud in a dress! Thank you, God, for teaching me that life is worth living!"
After many assurances that "Yuffie, your present is not crap even though you don't know what the little side thingies are-I'm sure I'll figure it out!" and general merrymaking with a notable absence from Cloud (because even Vincent manages to look half-cheerful with Marlene, Denzel, and Barret), Cid bursts out of the kitchen looking plain without the apron and informs them that "Your damn dinner's ready, all right? Stop laughing!" (To Yuffie, and maybe everyone else.)
Cid tends to surprise them all when he cooks for them, despite his constant rhetorical questions like "How do you think I eat on an airship a million miles from anywhere?" This time it turns out the frying he was doing wasn't chicken, but small batter-covered pieces of things that Cid says, are vegetables, because he'd never tried that before. Yuffie pokes at hers for a moment while Tifa takes a more trusting bite. She is the only one to do so and Cid fumes while everyone watches her nervously.
When Tifa's eyes light up, they all sigh in relief and dig in.
"This isn't regular chicken batter, Cid," Tifa remarks. Cid seats himself at a corner of the table and shrugs.
"No, it ain't-but the rest of you uncultured idiots can't tell that."
"I thought there was something different about it," Red points out, miffed.
Cid scowls at him and says, "One: you don't count because your senses are better than all of ours, and two-why aren't you eating it?"
"In case you couldn't tell, I'm not the vegetable sort."
"I'll take it, Red!" Yuffie offers. The plate is shoved over without a fuss.
Cid gets up before anyone else finishes, so he can get the main part of the meal; and as the door opens, yes, there is chicken. The smell saturates the room, warm and heady and baked-Cid brings out a whole platter of chicken parts to Red's relief and the eagerness of everyone else, and after the meal Tifa remembers napkins and wipes her hands carefully.
Denzel, who is seated next to her, pipes up suddenly, "Tifa?"
"Are you going to open Cloud's present now? You've even opened Cid's."
Cloud huddles, conveniently situated far away from Tifa at the opposite end of the table. This puts him in-between Barret, which is bad, and Yuffie, which may or may not be even worse.
"Small-ass present," Cid quips smugly.
"I told you to stop swearing in front of the-"
"Yes, Denzel, I will open Cloud's present now!" Tifa announces, which effectively shuts everyone up. Vincent takes his hands off Marlene's ears.
"Did I hurt your head?" he asks, in an undertone.
"Nope!" Marlene is cheerful. "Papa does that all the time and he never hurts me."
"Oh yeah--thanks Vince," Barret adds.
"You're very welcome."
They immediately return to staring at Tifa, then Cloud at turns. It is a small, plain black box with no wrapping on it except for a string to hold it together-also black. Tifa unties it carefully and tilts the lid up to take a look inside.
Cloud squirms silently, and with as much dignity as he can muster he tries to pass it off as nonchalance.
Tifa, birthday girl, gives it a long, long look and tilts her head slightly in confusion. Then her already wide dark eyes widen; and then she snaps the box shut. "Cloud? This is a ring."
"Right." Cloud shrugs uncomfortably. "Your old one broke. Didn't it?"
Actually they all remember that. Tifa had been sparring with Vincent and the big silver ring had broken against the metal plates on his arm, shattering so it cut her hand and glove pretty badly.
"Well, okay… Thanks. That was nice." Tifa brings out the small, plain, silver ring and absentmindedly starts to put it on her right hand.
"Nmphzz…" comes a mumble, which stops Tifa.
"I said." Cloud looks down as he continues mumbling just a little more clearly than before. "Don't… put it on that hand."
"Oh!" Tifa laughs nervously as everyone gawps. "Um… Okay, so I won't." She slides it onto her left hand and then folds both her hands together discreetly. Another awkward silence, and then Tifa takes a breath to say something before Yuffie jumps up.
"Come on!" she exclaims furiously. "You can't say you didn't see this coming!"
They are all shocked into silence as Yuffie, who is used to breaking silence, forges on with a vengeance.
"Shall I compare thee to a bunch of old fluffy novels I've read? Let me count the ways. One! You two live together. I'm pretty sure you've adopted a poor sick orphan child together, unless Denzel here just happens to be leeching off you both without you knowing it. Then there are the awkward glances, the sighs, the single emo tears, and the fact that you two have known each other since… like…forever!"
"Only since we were kids," Tifa protests weakly.
"Only since we were kids--since when does that mean anything other than the most screwed up 'I love you like a sibling but maybe I don't and hey, now I desperately want to get into your pants now--'"
"Yuffie!" Barret and Vincent have their hands on Denzel and Marlene's ears, respectively. Both children are struggling to listen to what is going on.
"And now you have gotten her a ring. What's that? It was only to replace the first one, which she broke? Big deal, it was a fugly ring anyway! Take off your gloves, man, show us what you got under there!"
"No!" Cloud answers, articulating clearly out of rage.
Yuffie is on him in a flash, shoving him hard on each word. "Take. Off. Your. Gloves."
He scowls and takes off his right hand glove. Vincent and Barret judge it is safe to let Denzel and Marlene hear again.
"Other one!" Yuffie hammers.
"All right, but I am only showing this to Tifa!" Cloud storms over to the woman, yanks off the other glove, and positions himself so that none of them will see. But they all know.
"Papa, what just happened?" Marlene is dying to know.
"Honeychild, Uncle Cloud almost asked Tifa to marry him. But he didn't. So Yuffie had to make him."
"Why didn't he just ask?" Denzel ponders.
"Because he's Cloud," Vincent answers. "He never just asks."