A/N: Read and enjoy, please :) (sorry about the horrible title.)
Tifa sighed and picked up a rag, cleaning out the glass left by their latest customer. Around her, silence loomed like a menacing cloud, and she longed to step outside for just a few minutes. Of course, then no one would be there to watch the bar. She sighed again and put the glass away with about fifty others, hidden below the counter. Then she stretched her arms out on either side of her and slumped on the granite countertop, staring miserably at the door.
No one was in the house today. Marlene and Denzel were spending the weekend with Yuffie, who was insistent on teaching them the art of ninjitsu. Despite Tifa's protests, Cloud had actually agreed with the thief, on the grounds that the two children would need to know how to protect themselves should worst come to worst. It wasn't a pretty world, he reminded his childhood friend. So, Tifa relented and sent the kids to Yuffie's for the weekend.
Cloud, on the other hand, was out delivering something or other to someone she had never heard of. He had grabbed the package in excitement and raced to his motorcycle, clearly ecstatic to get out of the house and feel the wind on his spiky blonde hair. Tifa had actually longed to hop on behind him, wrap her arms around his waist, and get away from the house as well. The bar took priority, however, so she instead waved goodbye to his dust trail before wandering back inside.
Tifa straightened and walked out from behind the bar, towards the windows around the room. She opened them, one by one, pausing at the one that overlooked the city. A slight breeze made her feel just a bit less depressed, and she leaned out of the window as if that motion would bring more fresh air to her. It didn't, so she reluctantly came back inside the bar, glancing around as the setting sun cast shadows on the tables and chairs. Cloud should be back soon, since he left around noon and she wasn't willing to bet that the house was in the next country.
Just then, the bell above the door rang, signifying a customer. Tifa quickly hurried behind the bar once more, a forced smile playing on her lips as her intelligent brown eyes scanned the man who entered. Her stomach clenched uneasily as she recognized Juno, a sleazy guy who came into the bar about once a week. He seemed pretty innocent, never drinking more than one mug of beer before leaving, but something about him didn't agree with Tifa.
Juno smirked at her and sat down in one of the bar stools, swiveling to face her. He took in her appearance, lingering one moment too long on her breasts and bare stomach. Tifa put her hands on her hips and tried to be courteous.
"What'll it be, Juno?" she inquired, straining to keep the bite from her words.
He looked back up at her face, glancing around the bar once more, "Beer, as always. Where's your little helper today?"
"Cloud?" Tifa blinked in surprise. Juno never even acknowledged Cloud when he came in, instead focusing all of his attention on her. "He's out on a delivery right now."
"Really?" Juno replied, though he clearly knew that already.
Tifa shifted, turning around to get his beer. She filled up one of the glass mugs to the rim, allowing just enough time for the fizz to die down before rounding back to face her customer. She let a tiny gasp escape her mouth, and the beer dropped to the ground, spilling the liquid all over the wooden floor. Her eyes stared in shock down the barrel of the gun, pointed just above her nose. Juno's smooth smile was barely visible to her, but it remained burned into her brain as she swallowed.
"Sorry about this, Tifa, baby. But I know what a feisty one you are, and it won't do for you to fight back when I'm trying to abduct you."
Tifa glared. She'd be damned if she'd go willingly; she'd rather be shot than taken hostage by this man. Juno's laugher filled the bar, and she shuddered at the sound—it reminded her of a predator's cry as it attacked its prey. Juno removed the safety on the gun, proving that he was deadly serious, no matter how he crooned at her.
"Come on; get out from behind there. We'll go out the back way, because I can't have your neighbors seeing," Juno thrust the gun at her threateningly, so Tifa slowly made her way out from behind the bar. She was sure to take her sweet time, doubting that he would shoot her for that, all the while plotting on how to get out of this situation. The odds were against her, as there wasn't much one could do with a gun pointed at her head.
Then she remembered the floorboard that jutted out from the rest, causing a convenient little bump in the floor. It never failed to trip her at least once a day, and countless glasses had been broken because of it. Cloud was taking his sweet time getting around to fixing it, but now that annoying piece of wood could work to her advantage.
Tifa was careful to keep staring straight ahead, afraid that if she looked at Juno she would get the overwhelming urge to punch him and have her brains blown out as a result. The end of the bar came all too quickly, but Tifa knew exactly where to step in order to lose her balance. Her right foot caught on the floorboard, and she fell forward, holding her arms out to minimize the damage.
"Hey!" Juno cried, but Tifa—now out of the line of fire—didn't hesitate. Her left leg swung around and knocked him to the floor, and the gun clattered out of his hand. She lunged onto him, landing punch after punch to knock him out, but he brought up his knee and shoved her off. She rolled to the floor, trying to dodge the tables and still get to the gun before Juno did.
He scrambled for the weapon as well, elbowing her nose in an attempt to knock her aside. She cried out in pain and scowled angrily, fingers scrabbling for the weapon. Unfortunately, another swift kick from Juno had her on the ground, and he triumphantly held the gun at her head once more, standing over her body.
"Try that again, girl, and I won't hesitate to end your life," he growled, no longer smiling sickeningly at her. She breathed heavily through her mouth—as her nose was bleeding from his elbow's jab—trying to regain the wind that he knocked from her lungs. She closed her eyes when she started to see spots, but they jerked open again when the front door opened.
"I'm back, Tifa," Cloud's voice drifted through the room. "Jeez, why is it so dark in here?"
"Cloud…" she wheezed, and only the gun's cold metal against her forehead stopped her from sitting up. Though she couldn't see anything but Juno towering over her, she heard one of Cloud's many swords being unsheathed.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, voice icy cold.
Juno's face darkened, "Stay where you are unless you want me to shoot her."
Silence once more loomed in the room, now dim due to the sun's disappearance below the horizon. Tifa took a deep breath and tensed, ready to try again for her freedom, since Cloud was clearly torn on what decision to make. Not that she blamed him—he usually wasn't impulsive, and a friend's life was not something to gamble with.
"Let her go," he ordered, and she heard him take a step forward.
Juno chuckled, "Take one more step, and there won't be anything to let go. I'll blast her head clean off—don't put it below me."
Tifa could practically see Cloud's face, twisted in anger and venomously glaring at the man before him. But there was nothing he could do. Juno poked her forehead with the gun, "Get up."
She slowly got to her feet, stomach still aching from the kick and tears coming down her face from the pain in her nose. Her head involuntarily swiveled to Cloud, giving him a reassuring smile. His blue eyes widened in horror as he saw the blood on her face.
"Don't worry, Cloud," she said quietly, trying to calm him.
His fist clenched the sword's hilt so hard that she could see his knuckles turn white. He took several deep breaths in an effort to keep his mind clear, but she could tell he was seeing red. Juno noticed as well, and clearly took pride in having the upper hand of the situation.
"Are you worried about your little friend?" he inquired in an oily tone. "Don't worry. I'll be sure to take very good care of her." He ran a finger across her face with his free hand, and she involuntarily shuddered.
Something in Cloud snapped. He let out a fierce cry and lunged forward, moving so quickly that Tifa had a hard time tracking him. His sword sung as it sliced through the air, and Tifa was pushed to the ground once again as Juno brought up the gun for protection. She was sure Cloud's sword would slice clean through it, but by some miracle the metal held, and only a small dent was left on the weapon. She was having a hard time seeing the two men through the minimal light that filtered through the window, so she quickly scrambled to one of the torches that lined the walls.
The minute the fire was lit, she turned back to the fight, cringing at the gunshots. Cloud was blind with fury, slashing and hacking at whatever got in the way of him and Juno. In horror, she watched her entire bar get destroyed—chairs hacked clean in two and legs of tables knocked onto the floor. Juno's gun fired repeatedly, singing the thick wooden walls and very nearly hitting Tifa herself. Only her extensive training had saved her, and she leapt out of the way nimbly, pain in her stomach and nose forgotten.
Cloud was getting nowhere fast, for even he couldn't go up against a gun with just his sword. Tifa normally didn't like going two on one, but Juno hadn't exactly proven himself worthy of honor codes, so she lunged into battle as well. With Juno focused on Cloud, it was easy to get behind the man and deliver one swift kick to his back, knocking him to the ground. Without even a second to recover, Cloud's boot rammed down on Juno's wrist, grinding until the man released the gun. Tifa quickly scooped it up and threw it behind the bar's counter. When she turned back to face the two, she frowned.
Cloud was standing over Juno's body—much like the man had done to Tifa just minutes before—with his sword pointed centimeters from the flesh of Juno's neck. It was clear that her childhood friend wouldn't settle for giving Juno a warning. The man would be lucky to be able to walk out of the bar.
"Please don't kill me," Juno begged, his voice small now that defeat was inevitable. "I'll never bother either of you again, I promise!"
Tifa glanced at her friend, who narrowed his eyes bitterly, still livid at what this man had tried to do with her, "Why the hell should I just let you go?"
Juno fell silent. Even he had the decency to realize that none of his actions would tilt in his favor. Cloud scowled, and Tifa could see that he was close to using his sword as a butchering tool. She quickly put her hands on his arm, and he looked at her in surprise, cold sapphire eyes instantly softening.
"Don't slice him up," she stated. "I don't want to have to clean the blood off of the floor."
He quirked a smile and turned his attention back to Juno. He nudged the man with his foot to get him to stand up, "Get out of here. It's only because of Tifa that you'll live to see another day right now, but if you ever come within fifty feet of this place again, I won't hesitate to kill you."
Juno said nothing more, instead scrambling for the door and stumbling down the street as fast as he could. Cloud watched until the man disappeared from sight before coming back inside the bar, closing the door behind him. He turned the sign on the window to 'closed'.
"I don't think you need to deal with anyone else tonight," he stated, sheathing his sword and turning to face her. She was in the process of lighting all of the torches in the room, and when his gaze fell on her she huffed angrily.
"Why do we still have torches in this place?" she demanded. "Electricity may be new, but it's out there, and we should have upgraded already."
He chuckled and walked across the wreckage of the room, taking Tifa gently by her shoulders and turning her around to face him. His eyes scanned her nose, which had stopped bleeding, eyes drifting over her bloodied face and bruised arms to rest on her stomach, where another particularly nasty bruise was already forming. His brow furrowed, and she could see the anger replenish in his eyes and the set of his lips.
"I'm fine," Tifa assured him, shrugging. "I've had worse, you know that."
Cloud's eyes darkened, "But you shouldn't have gotten hurt at all. If I had only gotten here sooner, none of this would have happened."
"Don't be stupid," she retorted. "You may have stopped him today, but you can't always be around when these things happen."
He clearly didn't like this idea at all, though he struggled keep calm, "I want you to be more careful in the future."
Tifa rolled her eyes, "It wasn't that bad, Cloud. Nothing at all compared to Sephiroth and everything that went along with him. Stop worrying so much."
"Dammit, Tifa!" Cloud shook her shoulders, eyes flashing. "You could have died tonight! That guy would have shot you without a second's glance should the urge have overcome him. One wrong move, and I could have come home to you lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood!"
She stayed silent, stunned at this sudden outburst of emotion. Cloudnever talked like this—he must have really been scared by the past events. She opened her mouth to speak, but he wasn't finished yet, although the fire in his eyes was dying out.
"Where would I be if something happened to you, huh? Where the hell would I be if… if you died?" his blue eyes dulled at the thought, and he looked so helpless that Tifa wrapped him in a hug. To her immense surprise, he actually hugged back, strong arms engulfing her and pulling her close to him. He buried his face in her hair, holding her as if she were the most important thing in the world to him.
"Hey," she said quietly, "nothing will happen to me. You're much too good for that—you won't let it happen."
Cloud smiled slightly into her hair.
"Besides," she continued. "you won't get rid of me that easily."
He tightened his grip on her, but she could tell the worst was over, "Just be careful. You're not invincible, you know."
She scoffed, "Look who's talking!"
He started to retort, but she pulled back and held a finger to his lips to silence him.
"I promise I'll be careful. Now, since you ditched me all day today, you get to clean up this place. And I want you to fix that floorboard by the bar!"
Cloud mock bowed, "Your wish is my command."
A/N: Hope you liked. :) My first try at Final Fantasy VII fanfics. There will probably be more to come. Reviews are appreciated.